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The Sandy Hook Slaughter and Copy Cat Killers in a Media Celebrity Society: Analyses and Plans for Action

With the brutal massacre of children and administrators at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut on December 12, 2012, following assassination of innocents in an Oregon mall earlier in the week, 2012 may be remembered in part as the year when mass shootings spiraled out of control and shocked the conscience of the nation. As President Obama declared in his speech the night of the tragedy with tears in his eyes: “As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago – these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.” And then with a resolute look, Obama declared: “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

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School shootings attract maximum media attention and shooters, craving publicity and the public eye, gravitate toward schools, which may be why the Sandy Hook shooter chose an elementary school, whose pupils are the most innocent and vulnerable, and whose slaughter would gain maximum media attention. In April 2007, Korean-American student Seung-hui Cho carried out “The Virginia Tech Massacre,” killing 32 and wounding 17 in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, in which Cho was star, director, and producer. His writings and videotaped pronouncements revealed he imitated images from films and enacted a vengeance drama like that of the Columbine School shooters, whom he cited as “martyrs,” in a clear example of “copy cat killers.”

The February 14, 2008 shootings at Northern Illinois University featured former student Steven Kazmierczak, who leaped from behind a curtain onto a stage in a large lecture hall. Armed with a barrage of weapons and dressed in black, he randomly shot students in a geology class, killing five before he shot himself. While his motivation is still unclear, he created a highly theatrical spectacle of violence remindful of the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings.

The epidemic of school shootings intensified throughout 2012. On February 10, 2012, a 14-year-old student shot himself in front of 70 fellow students in Walpole, New Hampshire, while on February 27 a former classmate gunned down three students and injured six at ChardonHigh School in Ohio. On March 6, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida, a 28-year-old male high school teacher, after being fired, shot and killed the headmistress; and on April 2, 2012 in Oakland, California, a 43-year-old former student shot seven people and wounded several others at OikosUniversity. Furthermore, in 2012, mass shootings took place in movie theaters, malls, Sikh Temples, and elementary and high schools, as well as Universities.

The Aurora Colorado shooting during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises killed 12 and wounded 78. Evidently, no public space is now safe in the United States, as the epidemic of male violence and mass shootings proliferate.[1] The shooters are also increasingly modeling themselves as military killing machines. In December 2012, both the Connecticut and Oregon killers loaded themselves up with lethal weapons, body armor, and planned assaults in public places where they were likely to get maximum media attentions and days of celebrity infamy. The Oregon mall murderer was reported to have run through the mall screaming “I am the shooter” before firing his AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, similar to the one used in Sandy Hook, which mercifully jammed after two people were killed and one wounded, leading the shooter to aim the gun at himself and take his own life.[2]

Perhaps for the first time in decades, serious discussions are emerging after the Sandy Hook slaughter concerning the need for gun control in an out-of-control gun culture and for better mental health care in a society in which mentally disturbed young teenagers and men have been producing an epidemic of mass murder. In the media frenzy in the face of mass shootings, we need to better understand that we face a crisis of masculinity in the country, and that young alienated males are increasingly turning to guns and murder to construct their identities and resolve their personal crises.[3]

By crises of masculinities,” By “crises in masculinity,” I refer to a dominant societal connection between masculinity and being a tough guy, assuming what Jackson Katz (2006) describes as a “tough guise,” a mask or façade of aggressive assertiveness, covering over vulnerabilities. The crisis erupted in outbreaks of violence and societal murder, as men acted out rage, which took extremely violent forms such as political assassinations, serial and mass murders, and school and workplace shootings.

In this article, I argue that the cycle of mass shootings throughout 2012 and the past decades suggests that young men are constructing media spectacles to achieve celebrity though attempting to overcome their alienation and failures by turning to weapons and gun culture, and carrying out mass murders.

I suggest that our media/celebrity culture has helped produce an epidemic of predominantly male copy cat killers who resolve their crises of masculinity through immersion in gun culture and carry out deadly mass shootings in public places.

Unless we begin to have national discussions on the dangers of gun culture, alienated men, mental health problems, and societal crises as the context to discuss mass shootings and take serious action to address the problems, we are condemned to repeat endlessly the cycle of the mass murder of innocents.

Admittedly, the problem of mass shootings and social violence is complex and involves multiple aspects that require multiple social and political action to address the problem. In the following study, I will first interrogate the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in the context in the United States of an outburst of mass shootings by alienated males during the past years, and then present analyses of some of the key aspects of the crises of masculinity and factors which help produce gun violence that are generally overlooked in mainstream media discussions. Then, recognizing that the sources of mass shootings are complex and that multiple measures are necessary to address to issue, I will offer some reflections on why we urgently need discussion and action on gun safety reform, concluding with some suggestions concerning long-term steps toward dealing with the problems of crises of masculinity and gun violence. 

The Sandy Hook Slaughter and Media Spectacle

On Friday, December 14, 2012 reports circulated that scores of children and adults working at the Sandy HookElementary School had been killed by a gunman. For the following days, the story completely dominated the cable news channels and network news reports, newspapers, the Internet, and social networking. Initial information turned out to be wildly false. Within hours of the initial reports of the shootings, wire services and television networks identified the shooter as 24-year old Ryan Lanza; by the next day, it was reported that the shooter was actually his brother Adam Lanza. Initial reports had the shooter killing his mother, Nancy, said to be a school teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, and then slaughtering students in her classroom, with suggestions that the shooter had committed matricide and in all-consuming hatred of his mother killed those she loved the most, her students. It was initially stated that Lanza had been allowed to enter through the school security system, while the next day authorities claimed that he shot his way into the school and that his entrance was thus forcible. Further, it was soon revealed that the shooter’s mother was not a teacher, that the schoolchildren murdered were not her students, and that the mother was killed at home, apparently before the mass shooting at the school, creating a puzzle concerning why the shooter chose the elementary school to act out his male rage and carry out his spectacle of carnage.

The initial reports painted the mother as an extremely nice person who loved gardening and her children, and was a model homemaker whose house was always neat and attractive, even after a divorce from her husband who was the shooter’s father. By the weekend, media reports highlighted that the mother was a gun collector who took her children to rifle ranges to practice shooting, that she apparently never let any neighbors or trades people into her house, and that the arsenal of hand-guns and assault rifles found in the school where the shooting occurred had been legally purchased and registered by the mother.[4]

Media reports at first claimed that the shooter had used Glock and Sig Sauer semi-automatic handguns in his killing spree, but the state coroner reported the next day that an AR-15 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle had been used in the killings, that extremely lethal bullets and a high-speed gun magazine firing 30 rounds had been deployed, that hundreds of bullets had been shot, and that the young children were so bullet-riddled that none had survived the carnage, although a couple of adults shot in the school had survived and were taken to emergency rooms of hospitals.

Contradictory reports also circulated concerning the shooter. Adam Lanza was evidently a loner who apparently had few, if any, friends, and was barely remembered by classmates. While he was described by some who remembered him as “smart,” and as “one of these real brainiac computer kind of kids,” he left no traces on the Internet, just as there were no pictures of him in his school yearbooks and few images of him otherwise available. While the police reported that they had taken his computers from his home after the shooting, and had “very good evidence” that would explain the “why” and the “how” of the killings, police reported over the weekend that the shooter’s home computer had been “smashed,” thus intensifying the mystery concerning why the shooter carried out his spectacle of terror at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Over the weekend of December 15-16, the media spectacle of the Sandy Hook slaughter focused on the victims of the shootings and their families, the interfaith memorial service that President Obama attended, and how the people of Newton were coping with the tragedy. These themes continued to play out the next week as funerals for the victims began, allowing a chance to memorialize the lives of the individual victims and their families. Heroes appeared such as the principle and teachers who reportedly gave their lives to protect the children. Little new information appeared about the shooter, his family, and his mother, whose murder began the killing spree.

The issue of gun control became a major media story of the day with cable channel news focusing on public outrage and demand to have strict gun control, starting with banning the sale of assault rifles and requiring background checks on all gun sales. Congressmen, families of children shot at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Newtown, and members of the public came on screen, demanding urgent change in the gun laws with politicians, including those who had previous opposed gun law reform, promising swift action. Hence, a watershed seemed to have been passed and serious debate and a demand for action was emerging as an immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Yet the mainstream corporate media so far refuse to see the gun crisis as a crisis of masculinity, of young men who attempt to resolve their personal crises through guns and acts of violence.

 In every case of mass shootings, young men turn to guns, get involved in gun culture, and then act out their fantasies through acts of aggression involving shooting and killing usually innocent victims, unrelated to the shooter. The Sandy Hook Slaughter involved a case where the shooter killed both his mother, for as yet unspecified reasons, and then went on a rampage, indiscriminately shooting children at a grade school in his district. Obviously, this was a young man in crisis, but the media reduced his problems to unspecified “mental health” issues, as if mental health were the key variable to the problem of school shootings.

Obviously an out-of-control gun culture and mental health crises are both important factors in the epidemic of school shootings, but so is a crisis of masculinity as more and more men spiral out of control. I am writing this paragraph after just watching a MSNBC report around 9:45 am on December 19, 2012 that indicated that in the past day Oklahoma public schools were shut down because of a “credible threat” to school safety; in Utah, a student was detained because he was found with a gun at school, which he claimed his parents had told to take to school to protect himself; in Ohio, a male student was arrested when his car was found to be full of knives, a revolver and ammunition; in Maryland, a male student was arrested after drawings and diagrams outlining possible gun murder scenarios was found. This two-minute report on out of control young men found to threaten others with gun violence could be happening everyday, but it is apparently so common that it rarely gains media attention. Reflection on the threats and actions carried out by men-out-of-control signifies a serious crisis of masculinity in the USA today and the need to take immediate action.

Minutes after the MSNBC report on December 19, President Obama came on television and made a dramatic announcement that he had appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head a task force consisting of cabinet secretaries and outside organizations to come up with proposals by January that would inspire “very specific” initiatives on gun violence early in his next term, insisting that “this time, the words need to lead to action.”[5]

Further, Obama argued that a consensus was beginning to build around very specific measures on gun safety, stating: “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.[6] A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.”

Dramatizing the explosion of gun violence throughout the United States and emphasizing that gun violence is a facet of everyday life, and not just occasional media spectacles of mass shootings, President Obama stated in a White House Briefing Room statement on December 19:

Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri and taken off life support just yesterday.

Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year — violence that we cannot accept as routine.

So I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed the at preventing more tragedies like this. We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try. It won’t be easy, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.

And I’m not going to be able to do it by myself. Ultimately, if this effort is to succeed, it’s going to require the help of the American people. It’s gonna require all of you. If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and, yes, gun owners — standing up and saying, enough on behalf of our kids.

It will take commitment and compromise, and most of all it will take courage.

Obama thus made his strongest pledge so far that he and Biden would lead the way to achieve meaningful gun safety in his second term. Interestingly, after his forceful comments on going forward with concrete actions on an out-of-control gun culture, the White House press corps spent the rest of Obama’s news conference with question after question on battles with the Republicans over debt crisis and the so-called fiscal cliff, not once mentioning the problem of gun safety. The performance of the press showed the relative indifference on behalf of the mainstream corporate media to significant problems like gun violence and their obsession with political infighting in Washington.

Yet the Newtown tragedy deeply influenced the public, and there discussions about gun violence and the need for significant measures of gun control throughout society intensified during early 2013 in the public, Congress, and media. There were increasing number of reports that the NRA was losing its grip on Congress and the public after having contributed millions to defeat Obama and more to congressional candidates, only about 50% of whom won in the 2012 elections.[7] There appeared to be a backlash against the NRA and an increasing number of individuals speaking up against it, including many of its own members calling for reasonable limits on gun access. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun safety activist who had contributed millions to defeat rightwing politicians supported by the gun lobby in the 2012 election, promised that he would spend millions to counter NRA propaganda and support of pro-gun politicians, and to help create a counterbalance to its sphere of influence.[8]

On December 21 as the people of Newton rang 26 bells in commemoration of the death of 26 beloved people exactly one week after the shooting and President Obama held a moment of silence in the Oval Office, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called in the press for a 30 minute lecture on Guns in America, and argued that “armed police officers” in every school was the solution to school shootings. Combative and defiant, LaPierre claimed it was “monsters” who were doing the killing, erasing categories of people and guns, and attacked Hollywood film, video games, and the country’s mental health services for causing violence in society. LaPierre was interrupted twice in his rant by protestors, first, by a banner held by Tighe Barry of Code Pink standing in front of the NRA stooge and TV cameras with a large sign stating “NRA killing our kids,” before he was hauled away. Then, after LaPierre resumed his speech, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink stood up holding a banner reading, “NRA: Blood on your hands”, and was also pulled out of the auditorium by security forces.

After his tirade, LaPierre was immediately criticized by many, with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg insisting that: “The NRA leadership is wildly out of touch with its own members, responsible gun owners, and the American public who want to close dangerous loopholes and enact common-sense gun safety reform.” New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called LaPierre’s comments “a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe.”

Critics noted that the NRA argument that people are safer owning guns is bogus and that research indicated that having a gun in your gun made it 22 times more likely that one would be a victim of a gun crime; further, research revealed that “people who carried guns were 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to get killed compared with unarmed citizens.”[9] Thus NRA gun discourse went against academic research as well as common sense and is becoming increasingly discredited.

Following his lunatic rant, LaPierre was assailed throughout the country.[10] While LaPierre’s speech might appear tone-deaf and angered both NRA critics and some members, it made apparent that the main function of the NRA is to boost the gun industries which pay it to serve as their PR and lobbying agency.[11] The National Rifle Selling Association (aka NRA) thus was involved in a fierce struggle to make sure that no arms were removed from the streets so that the gun industry could maximize its profits. The NRA was also spreading its usual fear that the government was coming to take away their precious weapons, and accordingly weapon sales of all sorts were booming, especially semi-automatic assault rifles that were under legitimate scrutiny and might well be restricted.

The NRA is also correctly perceived as an arm of the rightwing of the Republican party whose candidates it had supported for years, although not so successfully in the 2012 election. The night before LaPierre’s tirade, the Republican Party’s inability to pass an alternative plan to President Obama’s proposals to address the fiscal crisis brought the “fiscal cliff” perilously threatening, with pundits proclaiming that it would be “Cliffmas” this year with the overwhelming majority of citizens facing higher taxes in January if Congress and the President did not come up with fiscal plan to resolve the debt crisis.

There appears to be a parallel between the Republican Party refusal to compromise on taxes and the NRA refusal to compromise in the least on gun safety, suggesting that both taken the Republicans and the NRA have been taken over by extremist factions who are incapable of political compromise and thus democratic decision-making.

Clearly, both groups are currently putting their rightwing ideologies and visceral hatred of taxes and gun reform before the public interest and public opinion of the majority of citizens.

With the NRA making it clear that there could be no rational compromise on the issue of gun control, and Congress unable to forge a consensus concerning the debt crisis, the country confronted an impasse as it faced a not-so-Merry Christmas and frightening New Year. The end of the world prophesized for December 21 by the Mayan capital was finally correctly interpreted as the end of one calendar cycle and the beginning of a new one, but there wasn’t much hope that the new political cycle beginning in January would be a promising one, as the country was further polarized by the intransigence on taxes and gun control by the Republicans and NRA.

Time For Gun Safety and Mental Health Reform NOW!

Will the brutal massacre of children and administrators at the Sandy HookElementary school in Connecticut finally initiate a serious discussion of the burning need for a conversation about gun safety reform in the United   States that aims at practical steps for curbing gun violence? The many shocking mass shootings in 2012 all elicited declarations of intent to tackle the out of control epidemic of gun violence, but no meaningful action followed. After the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords in 2011, President Obama promised “sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.” However, no resolution emerged, although a more intensive background check on individuals purchasing firearms was promised by the Justice Department. Likewise, while Obama cited the need for stricter gun laws in summer 2012 after the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, no action had been taken on the federal level to promote gun safety reform until the Sandy Hook massacre seized the attention of the media and the conscience of the nation. Previously, under the Obama administration, gun laws around the country have become more lax, allowing people to carry concealed weapons, and there are more places where people are allowed to openly carry guns, while weapon sales have boomed.[12]

Could it be different this time? The mass slaughter of children in school is unprecedented and should concern every thinking and feeling person. The 2012 election is over and Obama and his administration have four years to carry out meaningful gun safety reform legislation. During the past election, Republicans were widely defeated, and, in particular, extreme conservatives lost in race after race, losing six out of seven contested seats in the Senate to liberal Democrats. Clearly, the public is fed up with conservative Republicans’ politics, like their insistent opposition to ANY gun control measures, and may be ready for “change that matters” in gun laws.

Perhaps President Obama’s emotional speech at a Sandy Hook Memorial service on Sunday December 16 could mark a turning point in the national attitude toward gun control. In a heart-felt speech full of Biblical references and resonances, Obama insisted that we must do something and take up the challenges of mass shootings:

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose – much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook slaughter, throughout the media and public sphere, there have been calls to return to the ban on assault rifles carried out by the Clinton administration in 1994 and which expired during the Bush/Cheney administration allowed to expire in 2004. The shooters at both the Oregon Mall and SandyHillElementary School in December 2012 carried AR-16 assault rifles and high-speed gun magazines allowing hundreds of high velocity bullets to be fired rapidly.

Fire arms similar to the Bushmaster rifle which was identified as the murder weapon in Sandy Hook massacre had been deployed as well in other recent mass shootings, leading to debates whether such rapid-fire semi-automatic rifles should be banned. The Bushmaster assault weapon was targeted toward men, and the Bushmaster website even made a connection between owning the gun and being a “man”:

“Visitors of bushmaster.com will have to prove they’re a man by answering a series of manhood questions. Upon successful completion, they will be issued a temporary Man Card to proudly display to friends and family. The Man Card is valid for one year.

Visitors can also call into question or even revoke the Man Card of friends they feel have betrayed their manhood. The man in question will then have to defend himself, and their Man Card, by answering a series of questions geared towards proving indeed, they are worthy of retaining their card.”[13]

This blatant connection between hard masculinity and Bushmaster rifles makes clear part of the reasons why so many young men in crisis turn to guns as a means of becoming a “real man.”

It raises the question why men need a “Man Card” to validate their masculinity, and why they think buying an assault rifle makes them men.

The Bushmaster Firearms International Logo seems to offer an answer in what appears as a bright-red Chinese dragon coiled up as a snake with what appears to be an erect penis protruding from its base.[14] Obviously, the Bushmaster Man is manly and fully erect and ready for action and must have his gun handy and ready as all times, reminding me of the old Beatles song “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” with its refrain, “bang, bang, shoot shoot.”

Soon after the Sandy Hook Slaughter on Christmas eve, 2012, in a suburb near Rochester, New York on a beachfront strip off Lake Ontario, ex-felon on parole, William Spengler Jr. killed his sister with whom he lived, set the house on fire, and then used his Bushmaster assault weapon to kill two firefighters and seriously wound two others before using a weapon to take his own life. The Bushmaster Assassin left behind a typewritten note that indicated his mindset and plan: “I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best — killing people.”

Guns, however, were becoming lethal in the economy and market place, as well as the public sphere. On Monday after the Sandy Hook shootings, a private equity firm Cerebus announced that it was selling off its shares in the fire-arms company that made the Bushmaster, after pressure from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the second largest pension fund in the country, threatened to sell its share of Cerebus, unless the firm sold the company that produced the Bushmaster and other assault weapons. Walmarkt pulled Bushmaster rifles from its online store as furor grew over the sales of ammunition and guns online with no background check, but continued to sell rifles in its stores and sales were reportedly booming of semi-automatic assault weapons throughout the country, a trend that continued through the Christmas holidays.[15]

Such deadly assault weapons as the Bushmaster, used by the military, are properly seen as weapons of mass destruction and the shooters involved in mass shootings should be viewed as terrorists. After 9/11, the country came together and agreed on harsh measures concerning domestic security in airports and airlines, and hopefully after Sandy Hook, there will be concern for school safety and the need to protect the public against gun violence. Interestingly, previously to Sandy Hook, the NRA and the gun lobby talked incessantly of “gun rights” and the Second Amendment to attack any efforts at gun law reform, and the media went along with this discourse, whereas now the term “gun safety” and protecting the public against gun violence has become a national discourse.In the light of such awesome and destructive fire-power creating such carnage, surely a consensus could be constructed that there is no rational reason to let private citizens run amok with deadly semi-automatic assault weapons, such as the rapid-fire assault weapons that were used in both Oregon and Connecticut to kill innocents in a mall and public school. Likewise, there were multiplying calls for more intensive background checks and even gun registration after the Sandy Hook Slaughter which would surely limit gun ownership among criminals and people with mental health problems. It is scandalous that over 40% of guns in the United States are sold privately at gun shows or other venues and that there are no background checks in these cases; the payoff here is that over 80% of the crimes with guns are committed by those who had no background checks in obtaining their weapons.[16] Further, the existing data base for mental health and criminal prohibitions against selling guns to specific individuals is not even functional in many states creating a Wild West situation in the U.S. that seemingly anyone can buy a gun.[17] Such unrestricted gun sales are a clear and present danger to safety in the U.S. and must be addressed by those seeking a secure and rational society.

While there are serious mental health issues involved in the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S.,[18] it is definitely a mistake to reduce the problem to mental health since all of the mass murders this year have involved males deeply immersed in gun culture who used guns to perpetrate mass murders. Until we understand the depth of the problem of the crises of masculinities and an out-of-control gun culture in the U.S., and take rational steps to control them, we are condemned to repeat endlessly the cycle of the murder of innocents.

Media pundits and anti-gun control conservatives often just reduce the mass shootings to mental health saying “he’s crazy” and that’s that without looking at the intersection of mental health, guns and guns culture, and the crises of masculinities. For instance, in his infamous NRA speech referenced above Wayne Pierre denounced the mass shooters as “monsters,” as if using such a concept would end discussion about gun safety reform. Such people not only reduce mass shooting to mental health categories, but when specific gun control measures are proposed, they divert discussion by claiming it’s primarily an issue of mental health. For instance, freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who had received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, stated on TV that: “To me, one of the issues that I think comes — screams out of this — is the issue of mental health and the care for the mentally ill in our country, especially the dangerously mentally ill. And so we need to have a broad discussion before we start talking about gun control.”[19]

Indeed, the nexus of mental health issues and unrestricted gun possession is a key variable in all of the mass shootings. Thus, as Newark Mayor Cory Booker recommends to seriously address gun violence we need the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to be deployed for all gun sales, ending the gun show/private dealer loopholes and make all guns subject to background checks, including mental health checks. This would require mandating criminal background and mental health data bases so that adequate information could be used to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. Further, as Booker advocates, we must tighten anti-trafficking laws, passing laws “that makes gun trafficking a clear, substantial, and practically enforceable federal crime,” which stronger penalties for illegal gun sales and possession, since, “as recently noted by the bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns, carries the same punishment as for the trafficking of chicken or livestock.”[20]

Crucially, all of the mass shootings of recent years involved semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines, hence it is obvious that these weapons of mass destruction need to be banned. Killers can buy unlimited amounts of ammunition and even guns unchecked over the Internet; James Holmes had reportedly bought over 6,000 rounds of ammo from the Internet, as well as an arsenal of guns from local gun shows. No assault munitions, guns, or perhaps even gear used by the police or military should be sold over the Internet, and there should be heavy penalties for illegal sales of this material.

However, it would be a mistake to wait and expect politicians on the national or local level to solve this problem of mass shootings and the need for gun safety reform. This is an issue that concerns every individual who cares about their fellow citizens and wants to see a reduction in gun violence. We need a national discussion to pressure politicians on the national, state, and local level to move toward seeing the extent of the problem of gun violence, and the need for serious steps to address the cycle of mass shootings. Otherwise the epidemic of mass killings will become worse and there will no nowhere safe from gun violence.

Crises of Masculinities, Mass Shootings, and Media Spectacle

In this article, I have argued that in order to carry forth meaningful discussions of the scope of gun violence and mass murder in the U.S., we need to better understand how a wide range of school shootings and acts of domestic terrorism have multiple dimensions and need to be addressed by a diverse range of responses. Indeed, school shootings and domestic terrorism have proliferated on a global level.  In 2012, there have been school shootings in Finland, Germany, Greece, and other countries as well as the United States.[21] Although each case of gun violence has specific causal features and context, in all cases men act out their rage through the use of guns and violence to create media spectacles and become celebrities-of-the-moment. In the following sections, I will argue that dealing with problems of school and societal violence will require reconstruction of male identities and critique of masculinist socialization and identities, as well as changing gun laws, effecting stricter gun control, and offering better mental health service.

The mainstream corporate media have rarely, if ever, seriously discussed the crisis of masculinity and its connection with gun violence and mass shootings. Invariably, when shootings or acts of social violence are mentioned in the corporate media, the word “male” is rarely, if ever, used. In the concluding discussions of this article, I want to suggest some of the connections between crises of masculinity, gun culture, and mass shootings and how a reconstruction of masculinity and different models of male socialization are necessary to seriously address the problem of mass shootings and social violence in the contemporary U.S.

In the following discussion, I argue that media culture, gun culture, gang culture, sports, and military culture produce ultramacho men as an ideal, generating societal problems from violence against women to gang murder (see Katz 2006 and Kellner 2008). As Jackson Katz urges, young men have to renounce these ideals and behavior and construct alternative notions of masculinity. Katz concludes that reconstructing masculinity and overcoming aggressive and violent macho behavior and values provides “a vision of manhood that does not depend on putting down others in order to lift itself up. When a man stands up for social justice, non-violence, and basic human rights -– for women as much as for men -— he is acting in the best traditions of our civilization. That makes him not only a better man, but a better human being” (Katz 2006, p. 270).

Major sources of violence in U.S. society include cultures of violence produced by poverty as well as many other factors, including masculinist military, sports, and gun culture; ultramasculine behavior in the corporate and political world; high school bullying and fighting; general societal violence reproduced by media and in the family and everyday life; and escalating violence in prisons. In any of these cases, an ultraviolent masculinity can explode and produce societal violence, and until we have new conceptions of what it means to be a man that include intelligence, independence, sensitivity, and the renunciation of bullying and violence, societal violence will no doubt increase.

Lee Hirsch’s film Bully (2011) has called attention to the phenomenon of bullying in schools, by showing intense bullying taking place on school buses, playgrounds, classrooms, and neighborhoods. Focusing on five victims of bullying from various regions in the United   States, two of whom committed suicide, Hirsch’s film puts on display shocking physical mistreatment of high school students by their peers. In an allegorical mode, the wildly popular film The Hunger Game (2012) also presents a stark view of a dystopic world in which only the strongest survive and violence is valorized as the key to survival, although this time the hero is a young woman.

Sports culture is another major part of the construction of American masculinity that can take violent forms. In many of the high school shootings of the 1990s, jocks tormented young teenage boys who took revenge in asserting a hyperviolent masculinity and went on shooting rampages. Ralph Larkin (2007: 205ff) provides a detailed analysis of “Football and Toxic High School Environments,” focusing on Columbine. He describes how sports played a primary role in the school environment, how jocks were celebrities, and how they systematically abused outsiders and marginal youth like Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

The “pattern of sports domination of high schools,” Larkin suggests, “is apparently the norm in America” (2007: 206). Larkin notes how football has become incorporated into a hyper-masculinized subculture that emphasizes physical aggression, domination, sexism, and the celebration of victory. He notes that more “than in any other sport, defeat in football is associated with being physically dominated and humiliated” (2007: 208). Further, football is associated with militarism as George Carlin notes in his comedy routine:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! (Carlin, cited in Larkin 2007: 208).

Larkin argues that football culture has “corrupted many high schools,” including Columbine where “the culture of hyper-masculinity reigned supreme” (2007: 209). Hence, Larkin concludes that: “If we wish to reduce violence in high schools, we have to de-emphasize the power of sports and change the culture of hypermasculinity. Football players cannot be lords of the hallways, bullying their peers with impunity, sometimes encouraged by coaches with adolescent mentalities” (2007: 210).

Hypermasculinity in sports is also often a cauldron of homophobia and many of the school shooters were taunted about their sexuality and responded ultimately with a berserk affirmation of compensatory violence.[22] Indeed, hypermasculinity is a problem for young men beyond high school and college. Professional sports like football, boxing, and wrestling promote hypermasculine images of men and tough guy behaviour, as does body-building culture, some forms of gym culture, and informal sites of male-bonding like fight clubs.[23] Pro football players are our modern gladiators, highly trained and armoured to go out every week and “kill” the other side.[24] TV sports programs promote violent TV sports and reward hypermasculine winners.

Yet hypermasculinity is found throughout sports, military, gun, gang, and other male subcultures, as well as the corporate and political world, often starting in the family with male socialization by the father, and is reproduced and validated constantly in films, television programs, and other forms of media and gun culture. Further, media culture is full of violence and the case studies in Chapter 3 in Guys and Guns Amok of violent masculinity show that Timothy McVeigh, the two Columbine shooters, and many other school shooters in the 2000s were deeply influenced by violent media culture. In particular, Cho at Virginia Tech was a failed film writer who left a dossier full of cinematic images and arguably orchestrated the “Virginia Tech Massacre” as a cinematic media spectacle (see Kellner 2008). There are reports that Norwegian shooter Andreas Breivik, Adam Lanza, and other mass shooters were fans of the military first-person assault video game Call to Duty, a program used by the military to train recruits.[25]

I do not, however, want to claim that either film or video games “causes” mass shootings, as influences of media culture are but one factor in a complex nexus of societal influences that include gun culture and other societal influences, as well as media culture. Yet, while media images of violence and specific books, films, TV shows, video and computer games, and other artifacts of media culture may provide scripts for violent masculinity that young men act out, it is the broader culture of militarism, gun culture, violent sports, ultraviolent video and computer games, subcultures of bullying and violence, and the rewarding of ultramasculinity in the corporate and political worlds that are major factors in constructing hegemonic violent masculinities. Media culture itself obviously contributes to this macho ideal of masculinity, but gender is a contested terrain between different conceptions of masculinity and femininity, and between liberal, conservative, and more radical representations and discourses (Kellner 1995).

Crises in masculinity are grounded in the deterioration of socio-economic possibilities for young men and are inflamed by economic troubles. In a time of neo-liberal capitalist economic crisis young men without a positive economic future and prospects for good jobs turn to guns for empowerment. Their rage is intensified by gun culture and declining economic prospects. Gun carnage is also encouraged in part by media that repeatedly illustrate violence as a way of responding to problems. Explosions of male rage and rampage are also embedded in the escalation of war and militarism in the United States from the long nightmare of Vietnam through the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In this context of escalating societal violence, adoption of a more rational policy addressing access to guns is one solution to this problem. It was initially heartening that people appalled by the Virginia Tech shootings campaigned to close loop holes for gun shows that enable the purchase of firearms without adequate background checks, as in the case of the girlfriend of one of the underage Columbine shooters. Yet failure to act to close these loopholes, or to reverse ending the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons in succeeding years, has been disheartening.

We also must examine the role of the Internet as a source of ammunition and firearms, where anyone can assume a virtual identity and purchase lethal weapons; it is perhaps not coincidental that the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shooters both bought their ammunition from the same on-line business,[26] and it is incredible what one can now find on the Internet promoting guns and male violence.[27]

However, escalating gun violence and random shootings is a larger problem than gun control alone. Underlying causes of rampant gun violence include increasing societal alienation, frustration, anger, and rage in schools, universities, workplaces, public spaces, and communities. To address these problems, we need better mental health facilities and monitoring of troubled individuals, and also of institutions.

Schools and universities, for example, have scrambled to ensure counseling and monitoring programs to help troubled students, and offer safety plans on how to address crises that result in violence and have increased video surveillance. Schools themselves should be assessed on how well they provide a secure learning environment and counseling for troubled students. Schools can also teach non-violent conflict resolution and media literacy courses that critique media representations that associate power and gun violence with masculinity and should cultivate alternative images to the ultraviolent images of masculinity circulating in media.

To be sure, in an era such as ours of ongoing war and poverty and societal violence, male rage shootings will no doubt be a problem for years to come. It is essential, therefore, that we address the issue of crises of masculinity and social alienation, and not reflexively resort to using simplistic jargon – “he’s just crazy” – to explain away the issue. Mental illness is a complex phenomenon that has a variety of dimensions and expressions.

It is also important not to scapegoat the Internet, media, computer games, prescription drugs, or any one factor that may very well contribute to the problem, but is not the single underlying cause. Rather, we need to admit to both the complexity and the urgency of the problem of school shootings, and enact an array of intelligent and informed responses that will produce a more peaceful and humane society. In the concluding section, I will conclude with further suggestions of the sort of social reconstruction and cultivation of new sensibilities necessary to address challenges of mass shootings and domestic terrorism.

Scapegoating, Social Reconstruction, and a New Sensibility

After dramatic school shootings and incidents of youth violence, there are usually attempts to scapegoat media culture. After the Virginia Tech shootings, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) issued a report in late April, 2007 on “violent television programming and its impact on children” that call for expanding governmental oversight on broadcast television, but also extending content regulation to cable and satellite channels for the first time and banning some shows from time-slots where children might be watching. FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, who is in favor of the measures, did not hesitate to evoke the Virginia Tech shootings: “particularly in sight of the spasm of unconscionable violence at Virginia Tech, but just as importantly in light of the excessive violent crime that daily affects our nation, there is a basis for appropriate federal action to curb violence in the media.”[28]

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason, noted that the report itself indicated that there was no causal relation between watching TV violence and committing violent acts. Further, Gillespie argued that given the steady drop in incidents of juvenile violence over the last twelve years, reaching a low not seen since at least the 1970s, it was inappropriate to demonize media culture for acts of societal violence.[29] Yet, in my view, the proliferation of media culture and spectacle requires renewed calls for critical media literacy so that people can intelligently analyze and interpret the media and see how they are vehicles for representations of race, class, gender, sexuality, power, and violence.

In the wake of the Columbine shootings, fierce criticism and scapegoating of media and youth culture erupted. Oddly, there was less finger pointing at these targets after the Virginia Tech Massacre, perhaps because the Korean and Asian films upon which Cho modeled his photos and videos were largely unknown in the United States, and perhaps because conservatives prefer to target jihadists or liberals as nefarious influences on Cho (Kellner 2008, Chapter 1). I want to avoid, however, both extremes, neither demonizing media and youth culture, nor asserting that it is mere entertainment without serious social influence. There is no question but that the media nurture fantasies and influence behavior, sometimes sick and vile ones, and to achieve mental health in our culture requires that we are able to critically analyze and dissect media culture and not let it gain power over us. Critical media literacy empowers individuals over media so that they can establish critical and analytical distance from media messages and images. This provides protection from media manipulation and avoids letting the most destructive images of media gain power over one. It also enables more critical, healthy, and active relations with our culture. Media culture will not disappear and it is simply a question of how we will deal with it and if we can develop an adequate pedagogy of critical media literacy to empower our youth (see Kellner 2004).

Unfortunately, there are few media literacy courses offered in schools in the United States from kindergarten through high school. Many other countries such as Canada, Australia, and England have such programs (see Kellner and Share 2007). In previous studies, I have argued that to design schools for the new millennium that meet the challenges posed by student alienation and violence and that provide skills which students need for a high-tech economy requires a democratic reconstruction of education (Kellner 2004, 2006, and 2008).

I would also argue that to address problems of societal violence raised in this article requires a reconstruction of education and society, and what Herbert Marcuse referred to as “a revolution in values” and a “new sensibility.”[30] The revolution in values involves breaking with values of competition, aggression, greed, and self-interest and cultivating values of equality, peace, harmony, and community. Such a revolution of values “would also make for a new morality, for new relations between the sexes and generations, for a new relation between man and nature” (Marcuse 2001: 198). Harbingers of the revolution in values, Marcuse argued, are found in “a widespread rebellion against the domineering values, of virility, heroism and force, invoking the images of society which may bring about the end of violence” (ibid).

The “new sensibility” in turn would cultivate needs for beauty, love, connections with nature and other people, and more democratic and egalitarian social relations. Marcuse believed that without a change in the sensibility, there can be no real social change, and that education, art, and the humanities can help cultivate the conditions for a new sensibility. Underlying the theory of the new sensibility is a concept of the active role of the senses in the constitution of experience that rejects the Kantian and other philosophical devaluations of the senses as passive, merely receptive.  For Marcuse, our senses are shaped and molded by society, yet constitute in turn our primary experience of the world and provide both imagination and reason with its material. He believes that the senses are currently socially constrained and mutilated and argues that only an emancipation of the senses and a new sensibility can produce liberating social change.

This is not to say that masculinity per se, or the traits associated with it, are all bad. There are times when being strong, independent, self-reliant, and even aggressive can serve positive goals and resist oppression and injustice. A post-gendered human being would share traits now associated with women and men, so that women could exhibit the traits listed above and men could be more loving, caring, emotional, vulnerable and other traits associated with women. Gender itself should be deconstructed and while we should fight gender oppression and inequality there are reasons to question gender itself in a more emancipated and democratic world in which individuals create their own personalities and lives out of the potential found traditionally in men and women.

Since guns are identified with hypermasculinity and societal violence, a reconstruction of masculinity could help individuals and society deal with the ongoing American obsession with guns and resultant outbreaks of gun massacres. Developing new masculinities and sensibilities and overcoming alienation of students and youth is of course a utopian dream, but in the light of growing societal violence, domestic terrorism, and indiscriminate mass shootings, such a reconstruction of education and society is necessary to help produce a life worthy of human beings.

 

Notes

[1] For an ever expanding “Time Line of Worldwide School and Mass Shootings” since 1996, see http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777958.html (accessed on December 20, 2012). For a global “list of rampage killers,” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers (accessed on December 26, 2012). For information on specific mass shootings, including guns used and a map of the shootings, see “Mother Jones Guide to Mass Shootings” at
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map (accessed on January 26, 2012).

[2] Mariano Castillo and Holly Yan, “Details, but no answers, in Oregon mall shooting,” CNN, December 13, 2012 at http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/12/justice/oregon-mall-shooting (accessed on February 9, 2013).

[3] See my analysis of connections between crises of masculinity, an out-of-control gun culture, and media spectacle in Kellner 2008.

[4] Questions were later raised concerning why Nancy Lanza purchased such an arsenal of assault weapons, took her mentally disturbed child to target practice with her, and did not keep her gun collection secured, allowing her son Adam to use her arsenal for mass murder. It was reported that many people in her community of Newtown were angry with Ms. Lanza and did not include her in their memorials of the murdered victims; see Kevin Sullivan, “In Newtown, Nancy Lanza a subject of sympathy for some, anger for others,” Washington Post, December 19, 2012, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-newtown-nancy-lanza-a-subject-of-sympathy-for-some-anger-for-others/2012/12/19/5a425f1c-4a1e-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html (retrieved December 20, 2012). A later Washington Post story gave a more detailed account of Adam Lanza’s solitary life, indicating that Adam was alone in life except for his relation to Nancy Lanza, who homeschooled him, and that when his father remarried, Adam broke off relations with both his father and brother. See Marc Fisher, Robert O’Harrow and Peter Finn, “A frustrating search for motive in Newtown shootings,” Washington Post, December 22, 2012 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/a-frustrating-search-for-motive-in-the-madness/2012/12/22/1cbe1cbc-4956-11e2-820e-17eefac2f939_story.html (accessed on December 22, 2012).

[5] See Ewen MacAskill, “Obama puts gun control centre stage as Biden appointed to lead task force. President pledges to force action on gun control as politicians implored to summon ‘courage’ in wake of Newtown massacre,” The Guardian, December 2012 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/19/obama-gun-control-biden-task-force (accessed at February 1, 2013).

[6] As it turns out, December 2012 polls indicated a majority of Americans do not support banning assault rifles, whereas there was a strong majority supporting background checks and a significant majority supporte banning high-capacity ammunition clips, so it appears that U.S. gun safety reform will begin with reforms supporting by the majority; see “After Newtown, Modest Change in Opinion about Gun Control. Most Say Assault Weapons Make Nation More Dangerous,” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, December 20, 2012, at http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/20/after-newtown-modest-change-in-opinion-about-gun-control/ (accessed January 30, 2012).

[7] See Matea Gold, Joseph Tanfani, and Richard Simon, “Gun lobby’s grip loosens on Congress,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2012: A1, and Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger, “Even before Newtown tragedy, NRA was losing Democratic support,” Washington Post, December 19, 2012 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/even-before-newtown-tragedy-nra-was-losing-democratic-support/2012/12/19/9b32738a-4952-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html (accessed December 21, 2012).

[8] Michael M. Grynbaum, “Bloomberg, Incensed by Shooting, Vows Stiffer Fight to Rework Gun Laws,” New York Times, December 20, 2012, at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/nyregion/bloomberg-vows-stiffer-fight-to-overhaul-us-gun-laws.html?pagewanted=all (accessed January 27, 2012).

[9] Ewen Callaway, “Carrying a gun increases risk of getting shot and killed, October 9, 2009 at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17922-carrying-a-gun-increases-risk-of-getting-shot-and-killed.html (accessed December 27, 2012); see also American Journal of Public Health, DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.143099 (accessed December 27, 2012).

[10] Newspapers were even more scathing with Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post featuring a giant headline GUN NUT, while its’ competitor the New York Daily News ran a headline CRAZIEST MAN ON EARTH. A New York Times editorial was less incendiary describing LaPierre’s “mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant.” In general, the media was angry because a press conference was announced and LaPierre did not take any questions, using his 25-minute free network airtime to present a sales pitch for guns as the only solution for gun violence, while attacking the media, video games, the mental health system, and other targets for allegedly being responsible for gun violence. For discussion of media response to LaPierre’s speech, see Matt Williams, “Wayne LaPierre’s Newtown statement pilloried by US newspapers. New York Times and Hartford Courant among publications to denounce NRA leader’s response as ‘almost deranged’” The Guardian, December 22, 2012 at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/22/nra-lapierre-statement-pilloried-newspapers (accessed on December 23, 2012).

[11] For a striking report on how the gun industry funds the NRA that functions as the industry lobby, see “National Rifle Association Receives Millions of Dollars From Gun Industry,” at http://www.vpc.org/press/1104blood.htm (accessed on December 26, 2012).

[12] On the failure of Obama and other leaders of the Democratic Party to address gun control during the 2008 presidential election, see Derrick Z. Jackson, Missing on Gun Control,” Boston Globe, February 19, 2008 at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/02/19/missing_on_gun_control/ (accessed on April 4, 2012). Adam Winkler recently claimed that: “Few presidents have shown as little interest in gun control as Barack Obama… It’s as if ‘avoid gun control at all costs’ has become a plank in the Democratic Party platform.” Cited in Mitchell Landsberg, “NRA is restless despite clout. The group is so worried about Obama that it is willing to ignore Romney’s past.” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2012: AA7.

[13] See the Bushmaster web-site at http://www.bushmaster.com/press-release-050710.asp (accessed December 18, 2012).

[14] The logo was accessible on the Wikipedia Bushmaster site on the top right hand side when I accessed it on December 22, 2012 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushmaster_Firearms_International.

[15] Walmart had previously been the subject of campaigns against the easy available of assault weapons and ammunition; see George Zornick, “How Walmart Helped Make Newtown Shooter’s AR-15 the Most Popular Assault Weapon in America,” The Nation,” December 17, 2012 at http://www.thenation.com/article/171808/how-walmart-helped-make-newtown-shooters-ar-15-most-popular-assault-weapon-america (accessed on December 21, 2012).

[16] Cory Booker, “It’s Time to Emphasize Pragmatic and Achievable Gun Law Reform,” Huffington Post, December 21, 2012 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cory-booker/gun-law-reform_b_2346911.html (accessed on December 27, 2012).

[17] Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage, “Gaps in F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks for Guns,” New York Times, December 20, 2012, at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/us/gaps-in-fbi-data-undercut-background-checks-for-guns.html?pagewanted=all (accessed on December 27, 2012).

[18] Mental health professionals argue that only 5% of shootings in the contemporary U.S. are attributed to those with diagnosed mental health issues, and that such people are more likely to be a object of violence rather than subject. See Michael Menaster, David Bienenfeld, et al “Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Criminal Behavior, Medscape, April 12, 2012 at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/294626-overview (accessed at January 20, 2013).

[19] Sean Sullivan, “Lines drawn in gun-control debate,” Washington Post, January 6, 2013 at http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-06/politics/36208427_1_checks-on-gun-buyers-gun-control-gun-laws(accessed at January 20, 2013).

[20] Booker, op. cit.

[21] In China, the same day as the Sandy Hook slaughter, a man attacked 23 school children with a knife, but none were killed, highlighting the more lethal violence used by angry men on a rampage in the United States; see Carlos Tejada, “China Grapples with Latest attack on School,” Wall St. Journal, December 17, 2012 at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324407504578182904026663998.html (accessed at December 20, 2012).

[22] Yet as the Penn State football scandal revealed in 2011-2012, a deified football culture can also lead sports and university leaders to cover over sexual abuse of young men and women, as has the Catholic Church. See Henry A. Giroux, “From Penn State to JPMorgan Chase and Barclays: Destroying Higher Education, Savaging Children and Extinguishing Democracy,” Truth Out, July 24, 2012 at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/10301-from-penn-state-to-jpmorgan-chase-and-barclay-destroying-higher-education-savaging-children-and-extinguishing-democracy (accessed on July 30, 2012), and “Henry Giroux on Penn State, College Athletics, and Capitalism: Solidarity Is “Impossible When Sports Are Driven by Market Values,” Truth Out, July 24, 2012 at http://truth-out.org/news/item/10496-henry-giroux-on-penn-state-college-athletics-and-capitalism-solidarity-is-impossible-when-sports-are-driven-by-market-values (accessed on July 30, 2012).

[23] On men and fight clubs, see Henry A. Giroux, “Private Satisfactions and Public Disorders: Fight Club, Patriarchy, and the Politics of Masculine Violence, at http://www.henryagiroux.com/online_articles/fight_club.htm (accessed on January 3, 2013).

[24] There have been steadily growing serious injuries in pro football in recent years and calls to better protect players; see Kevin Cook, “Dying to Play,” New York Times, September 11, 2012 at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/opinion/head-injuries-in-football.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print (accessed on January 3, 2013).

[25] See “Report: Newtown Gunman Adam Lanza Spent Days In Basement Playing Call Of Duty,” CBS News New York, December 19, 2012 at http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/12/19/report-newtown-gunman-adam-lanza-spent-days-in-basement-playing-call-of-duty/ (accessed on December 26, 2012), and Barney Henderson, “Connecticut school massacre: Adam Lanza ‘spent hours playing Call Of Duty.’ The Connecticut school massacre gunman Adam Lanza spent hours playing violent video games such as Call Of Duty in a windowless bunker, according to an interview with a plumber who worked at the family home.” The Telegraph, December 18, 2012 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9752141/Connecticut-school-massacre-Adam-Lanza-spent-hours-playing-Call-Of-Duty.html (accessed on December 26, 2012). The Norwegian killer Anders Breivik was also reportedly a devotee of Call of Duty which he reportedly played hours on end. See Douglas Kellner, “The Dark Side of the Spectacle: Terror in Norway and the UK Riots,” Cultural Politics, 8:01 (March 2012): 1-43.

[26] See “Gun dealer sold to both Va. Tech, NIU shooters,” USA Today, February 16, 2008 at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-02-16-gundealer-niu-vatech-shooters_N.htm (accessed on April 16, 2012). Interestingly, Eric Thompson’s company, TGSCOM Inc., which sold Cho and Kazmierczak weapons through his Web site www.thegunsource.com offered customers weapons at cost for two weeks to help citizens get the weapons they needed for their own self defense, see “Owner of Web-based Firearms Company that Sold to Virginia Tech and NIU Shooters to Forgo Profits to Help Prevent Future Loss of Life,” April 25, 2008, TGSCOM Inc. at http://www.thegunsource.com/Article.aspx?aKey=Guns_at_Cost (accessed on April 16, 2012).

[27] See, for example, Barry Meier and Andrew Martin, “Real and Virtual Firearms Nurture a Marketing Link,” New York Times, December 24, 2012 at http://t.co/Ixlio00V by nytimesbusiness 283397456211894273 (accessed on December 25, 2012). Barry Meier and Andrew Martin, “Real and Virtual Firearms Nurture a Marketing Link,” New York Times, December 24, 2012 at http://t.co/Ixlio00V by nytimesbusiness 283397456211894273 (accessed on December 25, 2012). The article reminds us that a “Norwegian who killed 77 said later that he honed his shooting skills by playing many hours of Call of Duty.” On the Norwegian shooter, see Kellner 2012.

[28] Cited in Nick Gillespie, “The FCC’s not mommy and daddy,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2007: A23.

[29] In his book (2008) Guyland. The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, Michael Kimble carries out a thorough and insightful mapping of the terrain of male culture in the contemporary United States, but does not address the problems of guns and culture, downplays the impact of video games and media culture (152ff), and does not adequately address the problems of hypermasculinity and violence.

[30] See Herbert Marcuse, “A Revolution in Values” in Marcuse 2001, and on the new sensibility see my introduction to the volume of collected papers of Marcuse on Art and Liberation (2006).

 

References

Katz, Jackson (2006) The Macho Paradox. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebook.

Kellner, Douglas (2004) “Technological Transformation, Multiple Literacies, and the Re-visioning of Education,” E-Learning, Volume 1, Number 1: 9‑37.

_____________(2006) “Toward a Critical Theory of Education,” Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy Today. Toward a New Critical Language in Education, edited by Ilan Gur-Ze’ev. University of Haifa: Studies in Education: 49-69.

________ (2008) Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombings to the Virginia Tech Massacre. Boulder, Col.: Paradigm Press.

________ (2012) “The Dark Side of the Spectacle: Terror in Norway and the UK Riots,” Cultural Politics, 8:01 (March): 1-43.

Kellner, Douglas and Jeff Share (2007) “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education,” Media literacy. A Reader, edited by Donald Macedo and Shirley R. Steinberg. New York: Peter Lang, 2007: 3-23.

Kimbel, Michael (2008) Guyland. The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Understanding the Critical Years Between 16 and 26. New York: HarperCollins.

Larkin, Ralph W. (2007) Comprehending Columbine. Philadelphia: TempleUniversity Press.

Marcuse, Herbert (2001) Toward a Critical Theory of Society. Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 2, edited by Douglas Kellner. London and New York: Routledge.

________ (2006) Art and Liberation. Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 4, edited by Douglas Kellner. London and New York: Routledge.

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