The Columbine Tapes

  They were images you won't see on "America's Funniest Home Videos" anytime soon. They featured the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre explaining why they were going to kill as many of their schoolmates as they could. As shocking as they were, the videos revealed more than the twisted minds of these young murderers may have realized. They gave us a glimpse of the corrosive effects of American popular culture. What's clear is that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn't act out of an uncontrollable rage. On the contrary, they had thought through what they were going to do down to the last detail. So much so that Harris stopped taking his medication so that he would be in the proper emotional state when the time came to pull the trigger. Experts will spend months analyzing the tapes for clues to the boys' emotional condition, but I suspect we already know everything we need to know about the influences that led the pair to the great tragedy at Columbine. No one can seriously doubt, after seeing these tapes, the extent to which the hyper-violent world of film and video games helped shape the worldview of these young men. In fact, Harris and Klebold went to great lengths to let us know that they were not merely imitating other school shootings. They were originals. They wanted the world to talk about them long after they were gone, even discussing who should produce the movie about them. But what was really striking about their comments was how much the attitudes and ideas expressed on the tapes owe to the nineteenth-century philosopher Frederic Nietzsche. These boys did not deny that there is a difference between right and wrong, they just believed they were above such things—beyond good and evil. Remember, Nietzsche believed God is dead and that we are all moved by the will to power. This is the thinking that moved Adolf Hitler. Unsurprisingly, both boys were great Hitler admirers. Of course, this thinking leads ultimately to the philosophy of nihilism. But how, you might ask, could these two have come under the sway of a German philosopher who died a century ago? The answer is that they absorbed Nietzsche, second-hand, through American pop-culture. As Thomas Hibbs, a professor of Philosophy at Boston College, writes in his new book Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld, the worldview presented in today's popular culture is heavily indebted to Nietzsche. Over the past twenty-five years, movies and television have becoming increasingly nihilistic—which Hibbs defines as a "state of spiritual impoverishment and shrunken aspirations." As a result, what our kids are seeing depicted is a world where justice is elusive and where life is meaningless. This is what happens to young minds that have been fed on Nietzsche, intravenously, through what they watch and what they listen to everyday. Ultimately, it was popular culture as much as it was the failure of parents, school officials, or law enforcement that led to last April's tragedy. And until we wake up to the source of such problems, the chances are very good that we will see even more tragedies like the one in Littleton. If we really want to protect our kids, we need to see that simply improving school security isn't the answer. The answer lies in confronting a culture that spiritually impoverishes our kids.


Chuck Colson


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