-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Littleton Killings Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 11:27:24 -0400 From: Ralph Larkin <rlarkin at banet.net> Reply-To: rlarkin at banet.net To: PROGRESSIVE SOCIOLOGISTS NETWORK <psn at csf.colorado.edu>
As the author of "Suburban Youth in Cultural Crisis" (Oxford U. Press, 1979), a participant-observation study of an upper-middle class high school 25 years ago, I feel that I should comment on what happened in Littleon, Colorado.
Although class, race, and gender played important parts in the stratification system at the high school that I studied, it was very clear to me at that time that students could be divided into "winners" and "losers." The school supported the winners and the losers were left to fend for themselves, except when confronted with the local police, 90% of their time was spent controlling juveniles. School counselors were considered a joke by most students. Twenty-five years ago, the particular school had four identifiable subcultures: the jock/rah-rah crowd, intellectual politicos, greasers, and freaks. Of course the j/rr and greaser crowds had their legacy in the 1950s, while the IPs and freaks, represented political and cultural radicalism of the 1960s. It looks as though Columbine HS had at least two subcultures: the j/rr crowd, and the "Goths," the latter combining the alienation of freaks and greasers, with the inclusion of 1980s-1990s right wing idology. The Trenchcoat Mafia (TM) was a subgroup of the latter.
White male suburban youths have generated culturally disaffected subcultures for a long time. In the 1980s and 1990s, they have been the devotees of heavy metal and rap. More white kids buy rap than black kids.
It is my hunch that the administration, staff, and faculty of CHS, along with the vast majority of the student body, regarded the TM as a minor irritant. We know that they had confrontations with the jocks. However, it is my thesis that the adults in the school tolerated the ridiculing of the TM and did not take them seriously.
The worst cultural slap is to be dismissed and regarded as not serious. There is a price to pay for social snobbery; those who are regarded and treated as lesser humans hate those who consider themselves as socially superior.
Why are white male adolescents engaging in killing sprees? Besides the obvious access to guns and the wherewithal to carry them out, one thing that has not been commented on by PSN members, is that one underlying dynamic is a relative decline in white skin privilege and patriarchy. White males defined as losers, when by all accounts they belong to the dominant social categories are denied their birthrights. This would account for the racism and sexism of the killers. It also accounts for their desire to kill those who are "good" or who are successes. No longer can white males automatically derive status from their whiteness or maleness. They feel threatened by upwardly mobile minorities and striving women. They want to keep them in their place. Therefore, they become the targets of male hatred.
One other thing I found out in my study is that interpersonal competition has been intensified throughout the years. Young people must deal with academic competition, an intensified and diversified sexual competitive struggle, and a hip competitive struggle. In my study, I found that HS kids felt highly vulnerable to attacks on their selves and attempted to fend off such attacks by adopting a persona that was viewed by themselves as false. One could be a loser in so many ways; the peer group was extremely mercurial, at one time providing support and at another being extremely cruel.
The intensified competition and the fear of being a loser (which most are defined as such) leads to desparate acts. The intense copycat actions across the country suggest that the social processes at Columbine HS are general.