A letter to Art Bell

On last night’s program, Art Bell featured a woman who labeled this latest high school shooting a sign of the coming apocolypse, and that we have “Manchurian Candidate” children wandering the halls of our high school. I took offense and wrote him this letter. I don’t know if he’ll ever read it (he gets a lot of emails), or, if he does, if he’ll read it carefully, so I figured I’d post it here, hoping at least someone would get something out of it:

*First, the compliments. I’m new to AM radio, but in the few months I’ve listened, I’ve found you to be most amiable, most levelheaded, and least acerbic member of a motley crowd of gratingly self-centered talk-radio hosts. The kindness and patience you demonstrate, even when the quagmire of paranormal claims (the evidence for which is almost always indirectly proportional to their proponents’ zealousness) and rebuttals must threaten to swamp your sanity, are truly admirable traits. You always seem to find the time to give everyone, from the skeptic blinded by hopelessly impenetrable dogmatism, to the self-proclaimed “six-fingered alien anti-Christ,” his or her (or its, I suppose) fifteen minutes of AM fame. I truly like you as a person and wish you all the best.

Now…to March 5/6th’s program and its segue from blood-soaked Santana High to the apocalyptic musings of Kathleen Keating. I must take issue.

I am 21 years old, attending college, at least obstensively, and still attending to wounds suffered during my high school years. I say “obstensively” because, on my darker days, the unresolved issues and old pains experienced within the walls of ______ H.S. strand me in a past I fear I may never be able to fully abandon.

Let me be blunt: if you are physically weak, or poor, or eccentric, or in any way left of center, high school will break down your very self, will leave your ego in shambles, and, unlike the military, which purports to at least reconstruct, albeit according to its value system, will offer nothing to fill the void save a calligraphy scrawled roll of paper that may or may not assist you in your future endeavors, if you’ve the strength to face the future, that is. These precocious mass-murderers who have captured an already necrophilic nation’s attention with their uncanny aim and lack of remorse are not the pawns of an ancient evil, but are simply confused teenagers whose still nebulous moral systems have been confused by violent imagery and whose rage can now be vented in a hail of gunfire, an option once largely unavailable in comparison.

It angers me to hear a complex social phenomena reduced to Keeting’s dangerously glib doomsday forecast. Reason and logic and moral integrity aside, what millenarianists seem to lack more than anything is a sense of the past and, ironically, the future. To quote a song the title of which I can’t remember, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.” Plagues of deadly buboes, the ebb and flow of calamitous weather patterns, social upheavals, and disturbing technological trends are nothing new. Example: the Great Depression of the 1930s and the sweeping corrosion of America’s farmland during the aptly named “Dust Bowl” all sandwiched between the two deadliest wars in human history, the rending of the atom and the searing, miles-high explosion that followed…if these weren’t “signs of the end times,” I don’t know what is. Yet, here humanity stands, irrevocably altered, but still existent. And, let me remind you, the year 2000 came and went without incident.

If conspicuous consumption, greed, and wanton violence were precursors to a grand, God-driven purging of civilization, the earth would have been awash in its own blood centuries ago. Of course, prophets of the Second Coming have an advantage in that, as long as he or she carefully straddles the line between time-tested vagaries and date-specific prognostications, he or she can never be “wrong.” The danger these sorts of frenzied, unfounded philosophies court is a dissemination of the idea that we live in a world that deserves destruction, that this realm is hopeless, and that, either consciously or subconsciously, allowing admittedly disastrous behaviors to continue (pollution, for one) will ultimately (and paradoxically) lead to the creation of a paradise. Whether this is an inborn reaction to civilization’s inclination towards increased complexity, and therefore entropy, or whether this is Keeting and company’s only way of dealing with America’s post-Christian environment, it is speculation borne of fear and ignorance, and it damages more than it helps.

But back to the high school shootings…Keeting’s claim that these are “Manchurian Candidates” flies in the face of my personal experience and diminishes my pain and my struggles. It also diverts attention from the true evils: the lack of respect for the less fortunate, a destructive trait teenagers so often display, the laughably easy availability of guns, and a image driven, violence fueled entertainment industry that foments and stealthily encourages dark fantasies. As long as superstition supersedes badly needed intervention and social reforms, and as long as the media gorges itself on these sorts of aberrations (I‘m not saying you‘re doing this, because you only mentioned the shooting once), they will continue until they are no longer aberrations, but instead common occurrences, which will in turn fuel the fires of doomsday prophecy, which will in turn lead us closer and closer to an Armageddon of our own making.

I was there, Art, in the war zone. Don’t ask Keeting. She just doesn’t know.

But I do.

Well-put. I’m sorry for whatever hell high school put you through, and I don’t doubt for a minute its effect.

Taking a greatly simplified approach to the phenomenon of high school shootings, I think it does come down to three of the factors you alluded to. In reverse order, they would be:

  1. The general collapse of previously in-place restraints on human behavior (fueled – I don’t see how it can be argued otherwise – by a steady diet of media violence).

  2. The greater availability of means to carry out violent action.

  3. The general propensity for cruelty evidenced by many children and teens, and the ultimate effect a steady diet of this will have on some victims of it.
    I don’t know that this last is anything new, but it’s a crucial question to me. Why are (at least some) children so incredibly cruel to others? What is missing in these children’s upbringing that allows them to visit this behavior on others?

We have friends with a son who’s 11 or so – a great kid, really; intelligent, creative, good-natured – who is unfortunately saddled with a non-standard first name. It’s not the worst thing a kid has ever been called, but it’s different enough that I’m sure it doesn’t help.

I don’t know if its his name, his intelligence, just that he’s somewhat different – probably a combination of all of these things – but this child cannot even go out of his house without being tormented relentlessly by the neighborhood kids, boys and girls alike.

He has had eight-year-old girls tell him “I wish you would die!” and swear at him like sailors, using sexual innuendo of the worst sort. He’s had older kids threaten him for no reason other than they can; some have visited real physical violence upon him. It’s got to the point where his parents have to drive him to school now, because the simple act of waiting on the corner for the school bus (and for that matter, riding it) has become intolerable.

I know this kid well enough to know that there’s no way he could have done anything to bring this treatment on, other than being slightly “different” from what appears to be the standard issue child these days.

Obviously, you can’t use this kind of treatment as a justification for the latest (and other) school shootings. But at the same time, you can’t ignore it as a causal agent.

I know some kids have always had a propensity toward cruelty to others. But it really does seem like the ante has been upped in recent years.

And obviously, so has the payoff.

I read that the number of school shootings has been actually going down in recent years, there’s just been more media attention paid to them.

Badtz, do you have a cite for that? Not that I’m challenging you; it’s something I’d like to store away for future reference.

I also read somewhere (probably here) that the worst school shooting took place in the 1920’s, but I haven’t been able to find anymore information on that. Can anyone help?

That is a very nice letter, Recently; very well stated :slight_smile:

Gr8Kat:

Yeah, that’s what I recall as well. I (and possibly you) heard about the 1920’s school shooting shortly after Columbine. There was some speculation at the time over whether or not Columbine had the largest death toll of any school shooting, and then the '20’s incident briefly popped back in the news as being the all time worst, by body count.

I don’t remember the details, but I believe it happened in the northern midwest, maybe in a suburb of Chicago. I also seem to remember it was an employee of the school that committed the crime, maybe even the principal or someone on the schoolboard. The cause was frustration in his personal life, financial troubles or something like that, IIRC.

This is just from memory and may not be entirely correct; if I knew the name of the school I’d look it up on the 'net, but I don’t remember any of the relevant names.

Bath, 1927

That last post should have had a “?”

This was the only major school killing from the 20’s I could drag up on a search, but it wasn’t student on student violence so it isn’t really a valid comparison.

Thanks Commander Fortune, that’s exactly the one I was thinking of. You’re right, it doesn’t bear much similarity to Columbine or the other recent school shootings, other than the simple fact that it did happen in a school.

Recently Digested wrote:

… because you forgot to run your spellchecker on this letter, which would have told you that you ought to spell it “ostensibly”? :smiley:

<ducking and running>

I’m not an Art Bell fan. At all.

But I’d just like to take this time to say that Kathleen Keating is a waste of perfectly good O[sub]2[/sub], and needs to have her drooling, acephalic self comitted at the first available opportunity, if not sooner.

Thank you and good evening.

Oops.

Mea maxima culpa. I thought we were in the pit. David, Gaudere, I’ll consider myself warned.

BigStar303 described an 11-year-old who gets picked on:

He may have gained a reputation for being an easy target. Or – and this is sheer speculation on my part – there may be differences in the pheromones given off by kids who get picked on a lot and kids who don’t.

Holy flying coincidences, Batman!

Tonight’s episode of The Simpsons proposed the very hypothesis I put forth in my previous post to this thread!!