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Massacre of the Different, April 25, 1999 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

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archived soapbox: April 25, 1999
"Massacre of the Different" [permalink]
    keywords: TV, crime, school, internet, media, journalism
    soapbox #: 184
    written: April 25, 1999
    words: 3285

"Massacre of the Different", an Essay

It's certainly been an interesting week, and to tell you the truth, I wasn't particularly interested in the whole Littleton school shooting until I was dragged into it. Perhaps what I was feeling was more like disgust. At any rate, I didn't read about it much. The attention I received from last week's fiasco (please read it for background for this essay) has subsided as people have relented on their searches for the Trenchcoat Mafia online. But I was reading Slashdot.org (a tech/nerd/geek news site) yesterday and came across the responses to Jon Katz's article, "Voices from the Hellmouth" (they're on the same page), which really piqued my interest.

In it are e-mails from high school students with reports of what they've had to put up with since the school shooting in Colorado. Naturally, the kids are geeks or antisocials or loners or whatever you will, presumably the usual type of reader on Slashdot.org. They prefer the online world. Being one of those types, I fully understand.

Listen to the stories. I cannot authenticate them, of course, so take them how you will. I doubt people are fooling around about these though. One girl was called to the nurse's office to have her raincoat searched, a step less than the strip search supposedly originally intended. Then the girl was asked if she played Doom or Quake or other such games.

Another student was called one of the Trenchcoat Mafia by someone else in the school hall. The other kid spit in his face, threatened him, and punched him in the throat. All because he dressed and behaved different.

A quote that has made its way around the tech sites is from someone who said he told people he played Quake a lot, and then he was asked if he owned any guns. People treated him as if they were scared of him.

Children have been getting their computers confiscated by concerned parents, students are being dragged into the counselor's office for wearing trenchcoats or mentioning the Trenchcoat Mafia or saying anything about killing people.

Some people even voice their sympathies with the killers. They say that they were bullied a lot in high school too, and they could understand how being pushed further and further every day could lead someone to violence. Personally, I think there's a big difference between hating someone and wanting to commit violence upon them. Maybe I'm weird that way.

Seems kind of hard to believe this is happening in 1999, huh? This is the way it is now. Even with the wealth of information available, people ignore it all because they believe they know the truth already. They don't bother finding out the answers for themselves. I commend the people who, on their own, found my site, read my disclaimer, and realized the misunderstanding. They did a good job for themselves.

I was a first-hand witness to the panic unfolding in this whole situation. As you probably know, reporters blitzed me and asked me all sorts of pointless questions, trying to link my school and me to the killers, or trying to get my opinion on whether I was scared in school, or if I was a loser too. Other people wrote me and told me I was the kind of person who bullies others into violence by stereotyping them like I did. The Plano police department was contacted by parents who had heard rumors from fairly credible news sources that my site said my old high school might've been involved. One man, I was told, asked why the police department didn't send a SWAT team down to the school to check things out. It didn't matter whether what I was saying was true or false or not -- if I really wanted to exploit the media, I could have. And the more gullible people would have bought every single word I said, for their lack of better sources. Journalistic integrity indeed. But I told the truth.

Everyone is flipping out over this. A mayor in Minnesota is proposing a boycott of Marilyn Manson's concert there (story), since Marilyn Manson's song lyrics and themes are said to have inspired the boys to go on a rampage at Columbine High School. Quake and Doom, two violent, bloody computer games, are being looked at as official problem signs of trouble in youths. As one account expresses above, students are being asked point-blank by school administrators if they play those games. As if games cause anything. Also, trenchcoats are banned in Denver, I hear. It's a bizarre little situation indeed.

The usual suspects have been called in for a line-up: goth culture (usually associated with dark makeup and black leather, however incorrect that generalization might be), computer games, the Internet, musicians, etc. etc. This you know about and have had drilled into your head after each of these school shootings that occurs every once in awhile.

But this time seems different to me. There's more panic, there's more fear, there's more of our nation's true colors showing, when students are literally being shaken down and ostracized in the safety of their own high schools. This time, it's physical. It's not people discussing it in the paper, it's kids being beaten up and suspended and insulted because whatever thing they do happens to relate them to the Trenchcoat Mafia.

The outsiders, the loners, the people who think different are being physically attacked for their peculiarities. And there's nothing they can do about it when ignorant parents and even more ignorant school officials step in. They can only sit back and take it.

When I was in high school, I was by no means one of the popular kids. But I wasn't bullied that much either. I didn't really stick out. I chose not to express any individuality. I didn't make an impression. Do you want to know why? People always told me I should speak up more, make my opinions known. They asked me why I never did anything.

The reason I never did anything was, even though I didn't hate high school, and I actually learned quite a bit from my more advanced classes, I knew that fighting the system was pointless. Any individuality I had was better used outside of high school.

You just go along with the flow of the system and leech anything useful off it. But don't rely on it or fight it.

There are people who dress differently, or speak differently, or do things differently, to somehow show everyone that they are different. Doing things superficially in order to get respect. This, ironically, is what the so-called jocks and cheerleaders do.

They need other people to define who they are, how they think, why they are alive.

Forgive me for the reference to The Matrix, since that is what everyone's doing these days, but the movie covered a lot of turf, and had something important to say in all cases. Neo comments, in the car while in the Matrix, that all of his memories weren't real. He asks Trinity what this means, and she tells him, and I paraphrase, "What it means is The Matrix can't tell you who you are."

I cannot fathom how any human being can possibly sympathize with the killers. They said it themselves...they just wanted to be different. They didn't want other people judging them based on false assumptions and lies. They didn't want other people judging them, period. They were tired of only being tools of other peoples' ignorant minds. Why were the killers losers? Because in their defining moment, they made their situation even worse. They chose to kill the students who bullied them, to let everyone know that they had the power. They terrorized a school and killed themselves to end it all.

They chose to "free" themselves from the stereotypes of other students by killing and harming them. The killers, from life to death, defined themselves completely on what others thought of them. Instead of doing what most of us do, which is put up with the shit until we can get away to college and become successful, normal adults, they went out in one stupid blaze of glory. To me, they'll always be remembered as complete failures who were too weak to deal with this world. They couldn't even use the negative energy and put it into something creative and good, like many do. That is weak. That is inhuman. They were pathetic beasts, just like anyone else still living who has the same thoughts as they did.

Getting back to my high school experiences, I definitely had times which sucked. I was shat on by people I thought were friends, and there were types who would pick on people like me. The administration never even knew I was a student, though. Teachers hardly knew I was in their classes. I knew then, and I am certain now, that most everyone I met in high school was useless with nothing to learn from. I cannot really think of one person from my school except for a small handful who will ever end up leading a unique, original life. It was a school full of drones. Why should I contribute when these people have nothing to offer?

What I learned was either from good teachers or from sources outside of school. This is important. I got involved in online networks early, and learned HTML and web design while in high school. Back then, I imagine that was rare. Using the Internet allowed me to expand my mind and explore exactly which areas I was interested in. It was a self-paced education. This works for people who prefer to learn that way. I was doing contract work on the side and honing computer skills far beyond whatever a high school could teach. I also read a bit, although not as much as some, outside of class, and that influenced me also. I had nothing to do with my school beyond classes and tennis. I didn't keep many friends in high school. Why should I? There's more to learn than what's at school.

All this time, I never really noticed it. Until now. I didn't let myself be defined by other students. Naturally, I had my own insecurities, and I still do, but I never let it compromise my true character. I'm proud of that. Some people are not like that. Some people define their whole existences by how they do in high school. Jocks, alternatives, and even many of the smartest kids all refuse to see past high school. Yet, once you get out of high school, you realize how pointless it all was, except for a test of strength and stamina.

So I got through it. And I'm happy now. But what about the kids who are still in high school, like I was not too long ago? What about the kids who had it much, much worse than I did? What about the kids who just want to find out who they are, and are hit, bullied, and made fun of? How are they supposed to deal with it? And how are they supposed to handle this media blitzkrieg of attention towards those who happen to like wearing trenchcoats, playing computer games, voicing opinions, and listening to Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie and Type O Negative and Tiamat and whatever else? No one will believe them when they say they don't feel like hurting anyone. They get all this abuse from the ignorant people, and they can't fight back. Why should they be forced to prove their worth? Why do they have to go through so much just to learn from people they don't trust much in the first place? They come to the Internet to share their experiences with those who understand what they're going through. Most people in the real world don't understand. A lot of people thought just using the Internet at all on the 26th would make their computers get the Chernobyl virus. They don't understand these kids at all. It's so sad. I am grateful to have gotten through it all virtually unscathed.

I am here to say that I support those who are different. When I called the Trenchcoat Gang Mafia at my school a bunch of trenchcoat-wearing AD&D losers who were unkempt and such, it came off wrong. I never really had a problem with those people at all! They had their own thing going. They were just different. They seemed good-natured and interested in their own stuff. They weren't much different from me, in truth.

I am, after all, a Quake 2 junkie who's been playing violent computer games from Wolfenstein 3D to DOOM to DOOM2 to Rise of the Triad, etc. etc. I play Q2 Capture The Flag a lot. How much? This much. I'm not good-looking and I don't dress like a p1mp. I am indeed a loser, a Net geek! Purely unspectacular. Do normal people see The Matrix three times? No. I sample drug-induced techno by ninja-tune DJs, Marilyn Manson "Devil music", hip-hop praising Mary Juana. I like to go to clubs and raves, cesspools of sex and drugs. I appreciate the goth scene, with its ostentatious attire and vampiric/lycanthropic/unholy literary roots.

Why do I do these things? Because they're fun. Because they're youthful. Youth is good. Youth is a blast! All this, and yet I'm a healthy senior-year student ready to start off a promising career. The simple equations the mainstream is trying to draw from this just don't apply -- if they can dismiss this as being caused by material things, it is easier for them to understand the insanity behind these shootings. Which is exactly what it was. Insanity. A predisposition for murder?

How well I do in the future is solely dependent on MY actions. Not how people treat me. I have defined my life that way. The success I find is completely derived from how much I substantively deserve it. If you're a student in high school, I recommend that you just do what you love to do and don't let anyone scare you or bully you. Don't take out your actions on other people, because they're not worth it. They are just ignorant -- they don't know better. You're better than that. Besides, you don't find your independence in permanently impressing your reign of terror into their minds. You find your independence by bucking the stereotype, by becoming successful despite the hurdles.

The media is fanning the flames, the parents are biting every piece of bait that hits the water, and the kids are further segregating themselves. The sickness of it all makes me feel pity towards anyone who isn't out of high school yet. The only thing I can say is that it gets MUCH better once you get to college. Particularly one like UT Austin, which has groups from virtually every walk of life attending it. Most assuredly, UT has its problems with the Hopwood decision, which banned affirmative action, but it seems to me as if everyone is allowed to do their own thing here. You just have to be strong enough to graduate from high school yet.

I certainly wouldn't want to be a parent right now. I understand their concerns, but they all seem to be overreacting. They do not do their homework. They read what the frontpage tells them. If parents researched things about their kids just like they would do with their stocks or purchases or any other choices, they would be far better off. Anyone who read more than a few articles about death metal or computer games or whatever would understand that there is no correlation between physical violence and these products. See your kid doing something you don't understand? Don't take it away. Read more about it, or ask your kid to tell you more about it. You know, like talk to your fucking kid. And ask about the plastic explosives sitting on the dresser, too.

I wonder if my parents ever worried that I was doing something stupid and illegal and dangerous. Well, obviously they did, but you can see where my question leads... I don't think I told my parents much about what I was doing, and they pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. But I've tried to honor them and these days, I tell them what I'm up to. Don't ask me how that happened that I would be so communicative with my parents.

Anyway, this whole thing just exacerbates the differences between the in-crowds and the out-crowds. All the geek sites and channels and boards I visit on the 'Net are full of people who feel basically the same way I do, that they are being included with a bunch of insipid twits, the killers. So what if they used the Internet, or played computer games. So do a lot of people. Is watching TV symptomatic of problems too? The computer geek crowd is becoming further alienated from the mainstream, in my opinion, despite recent ameliorations between the two from the popularity of the Internet. The underground is becoming far more hard-to-find and remote. Netizens respect non-Netizens even less. The Netizens very readily accept the outcasts into their fold, while the mainstream labels the same people and throws them out.

I am disgusted. Humans claim they are special beings, the works of God, yet they subvert to this kind of barbarous, animalistic behavior, like regular rodents and lower mammals. This whole thing confirms two opinions of mine: 1) that people are merely the most advanced animals for the time being (as opposed to being a unique species foreign to this earth) and 2) that there are only a small number of people (relatively speaking) worth ever talking/listening to, the geniuses, the innovators, the watchdogs, the doers, the people who make us a better species.

This is the society we live in. Maybe kids DO want to learn, but their conservative, timid parents and administrators won't let them. Learn all you can, as long as it's what I teach you...as I heard on a MUD I play on. Imagine if things weren't so cozy and comfy for our economy and morale. All the hints of sensationalism and ignorance that you see cropping up in events like the Columbine High School massacre could burst out into full-fledged panic and paranoia, turning into an outright inferno in no time. As it is, the flames are hidden under a cool, calm demeanor that people find pride in. The Salem witch hunts don't seem all that unrealistic right now, mmm?

People still wonder why I use the Internet instead. It's a world without rules, using a large feedback system instead. It's a world entrusted to and owned and controlled by the outcasts. They're doing a much better job than the gatekeepers in the real world, aren't they? The Internet seems in much better shape than the real world, in comparison. Maybe there's something to be learned from that.


 
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