Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Apotheosis of Eric Harris

I heard the extremely enthusiastic Dave Cullen on NPR today, pimping this Slate article about the Columbine shootings, and it's an interesting take on the matter. Instead of considering it a terribly bad school shooting, he frames it as a terrorist attack. The two kids had wired several bombs in the school and in their cars in the parking lots. They intended to set off the school bombs, shoot the kids running away from the bombs, and then set off the bombs in their cars once the media and rescue workers arrived. Multiple murderous elements interlocked to create a baroque rampage. In its planning, it was not unlike an al-qaeda plot, although they prefer simultaneous explosions as their signature. Harris considered himself to be in the class of terrorist. Apparently, Harris designed his plot to be superior to Tim McVeigh's OK bombing.

Cullen also puts forward the idea, apparently supported by the FBI's research into the case, that Eric Harris was a psychopath (in the strict psychiatric sense), and (with less evidence) that Klebold had some sort of depressive disorder. Harris was the brains, it seems, and Klebold was extra brawn. It's not unknown in the annals of, say, serial killing, to have a pair of killers in such an arrangement. Leopold and Loeb are the most famous example, I suppose. Like the Columbine kids, they spent time devising a devilish scheme with the intent of aggrandizing themselves.

Much of this conclusion comes from excerpts from Eric Harris' journal, a document which has only been partially leaked and which sounds like a fascinating read. Some portions may be read in this article.

"If we have figured out the art of time bombs beforehand, we will set hundreds of them around houses, roads, bridges, buildings and gas stations, anything that will cause damage and chaos...It'll be like the LA riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, [video games] Duke [Nukem] and Doom all mixed together...I want to leave a lasting impression on the world."

While it's a cliche and generally untrue that "9/11 changed everything," it does sort of blot out the impact of the Columbine shooting. I mean, al qaeda managed to pull their deal off with a bit more success.

Harris had the intention, not of getting petty revenge on his classmates, but rather on elevating himself above a fallen and inferior world by his act of supreme villainy. Again, this is rather like the Leopold and Loeb murder. Loeb, generally considered a psychopath and the mastermind of that murder, had visions of himself as a master criminal with a careful kidnapping and murder plot. Of course, Harris and Klebold failed to work out the timing devices on their bombs. Similarly, Leopold and Loeb's plan got screwed.

They had murdered a boy and called the family demanding ransom, not letting on that their kid was already dead. The pair gave instructions to the family to go to a particular pharmacy, where they'd then receive a call with further instructions on delivering the ransom. When the family forgot the address of the drugstore, the plot was screwed. The child soon turned up dead and ultimately Leopold and Loeb were caught and convicted.

Like Columbine, a movie was made, inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murders. Based on a play, Rope is an Alfred Hitchcock flick which portrays the murder and a discussion of the motive behind the murder, Loeb's feeling of intense superiority to all others and the little value that he placed on the lives of those he deemed inferior. This notion is conflicted by the Leopold character and, ultimately, by Jimmy Stewart, who delivers an impassioned critique of killing people for kicks.

Of course, in the Columbine case Gus Van Sant made the movie Elephant, which decided not to give any obvious explanation or tale for the murders. More of a tone piece, the film depicted two fairly interchangeable young boys who liked Beethoven, Hitler, guns, FPS's, and occasionally popping off to the shower to fuck. I can't speak to their love of the Moonlight Sonata, and the homosexuality which is so strenuously and preposterously denied by Van Sant is something that I'm not aware of in the case of Harris and Klebold.

There was a bit of fagginess in the Leopold and Loeb relationship, of course. Leopold was hot for Loeb, and got the privelege of fucking Loeb's legs (intercrural sex) if he committed some petty crimes with him. This element of the relationship wasn't particularly explicit in Rope. Not that movies tended to have much hot gay leg fucking in the 50's, mind you. It's kinda funny that Elephant, in this case, is truer to the Leopold and Loeb relationship than it is to Harris and Klebold's.

Cullen's article has changed my opinion regarding Elephant. While I still think it is technically accomplished film, my problems with its substance have only increased. I still think that the film inappropriately sanitized the violence of the shooting, and having seen other films since then, particularly the two Kill Bills and Irreversible, I more readily find this portrayal to be lacking. However, the films portrayal of the Harris/Klebold relationship now seems inept. The film could have explored the dynamic of the relationship, of the philosophy and thought of the two, of the psychology and attitudes they held. This is traditionally the stuff of drama, and it certainly made Rope a decent film. Instead, it offered up vague pieces of information about the two and the invention of a homosexual aspect to their relationship. What Cullen's article makes clear is that these kids had a story to be told, and it's a story that Van Sant ignored.

Anyway, read the Slate article, and be sure to check out this additional piece by Cullen debunking other myths about the Columbine shooting, like the Christian martyr chick who never was.

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