When I was in fifth grade, I slaughtered my entire class. In my own series of comic books, I was Captain Kid, the courageous superhero who rid the world of its most vile supervillains (my classmates' alter egos) one issue at a time. Each issue would begin as the supervillain terrorized some poor nerd; then Captain Kid would swoop in and defeat his foe in a splattering of blood and intestines. I went through dozens of red markers. So, around seven years later, when this sort of thing started happening for real, I was horrified to find myself relating to murderers. I knew exactly what they were going through -- right until the moment when they lost all hope. Up until recently, when schoolyard victims lost hope, they just got rid of themselves; the next day, society would mourn and wonder melodiously "Why'd they do it" but never really ask -- never, as a collective, vocal society, really try to figure it out -- let alone actively try to prevent it from happening again. But now, the loss of hope for one can equal the loss of life for many. Now, we equate hopelessness with aggression, as though the teenage suicides of the past were not themselves acts of violence against the individual by a suburbia that incubates hate. Now, the victims of American childhood are no longer satisfied to fade silently into oblivion. Now, the loss of hope is accompanied by a loss of patience, and while the materialization of all this loss chills me through my bones, I must point out, mournfully and hopefully, that we're seeing results -- people are discussing. They began this search for answers after Columbine, but talk quieted down, and it has shamefully taken another tragedy to propel this issue back into public discourse. The short-sighted will ask, "Why do kids kill?" and the broader thinkers will ask, "Why are kids miserable?" In the twilight of our "kid-ness," it is our responsibility to add a freshly-veteran perspective into this conversation, so here is what I see, having only recently left the trenches: I see unfocused blame. First, it was placed on guns. Fine, a valid, but incomplete observation. Now, the media is narrowing in: bullying. Closer, and almost synonymous with what I see as the problem. "Bullying" is a physical action -- a symptom, not a disease. The problem as I see it can exist without punching, without even name-calling. Simply being ostracized is enough to embitter. Violence and verbal abuse are all just superficial markings of a larger social structure that systematically isolates smart kids, fat kids, different kids; deprives them of early socialization and turns them all into doomed awkward kids. A smart, lonely 30-year-old is not isolated because other 30-year-olds pick on nerds; he's isolated because the bigotry of second graders prevented him from ever learning how to have a normal conversation. The easily-dismissible cruelty of elementary school packs victims into a system of outcast tracking. Once on that track, one can either suck it up and hope for a better future, or give up and grab a gun. So you can go into high schools and preach acceptance all you want, but once the freaks and nerds get that old, all the anti-bullying legislation in the world won't make the well-meaning, well-adjusted kids want to be their friends. That's the real root of the problem -- not violence, but isolation: lack of intimate contact. Ostracized kids lash out because they are alone. So the moment they enter the school system, we have to teach kids to be friends with those who are different -- that's the key to the problem, and, in a larger sense, the point of America. But how on Earth can "we" do it? This problem exists outside of political sway. It's a cultural problem, and a cultural solution. That solution can't come from a teacher. It can only come -- frighteningly enough -- from popular entertainment: the real teachers of America's children. Kids aren't going to learn camaraderie when they're obsessed with Pokemon, an enterprise based on violent competition. They can't avoid judging each other on looks when they watch Britney Spears jiggle her breasts on the Disney Channel. If outsider kids are to be saved, they must be exalted in the media. Only then can everyone else learn to do the same. When I was in fifth grade, a chubby, bookish nerd with a distinct swish in his step, I'd turn on the TV and the closest thing I saw to my own reflection was Steve Urkel. He went to school with the reflections of my classmates, and they laughed at him. And the unseen studio audience, the reflection of America, laughed on, approvingly. Nobody laughed but me in "Captain Kid" comic books. And no one's laughing at all in Santee, California. They're talking. They're talking everywhere, and I only hope it doesn't take more blood to sustain this volume of conversation, and keep it going until America stops breeding murderers.Comments powered by Disqus
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