One of the best books I read last year was Columbine by journalist Dave Cullen. It eviscerates much of the conventional wisdom about the school shooting — that the killers were outcasts, that the massacre was a means of settling the score for a lifetime of bullying — and paints a much more nuanced picture of what motivated Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Most compelling is the argument that Harris was a psychopath, and the implication that as an adult he might have done worse.
I thought of this book a lot while reading a great piece posted on Slate yesterday: Emily Bazelon’s investigation into teenager Phoebe Price’s suicide, for which six of her classmates have been indicted. Bazelon, who has been reporting from the Massachusetts town for much of the year, raises a lot of questions about the rush to lay blame, and whether the bullying of Price was severe enough to warrant criminal prosecution.
It’s a delicate subject, and it’s disturbing that we seem to have less of a handle on bullying now than we did 11 years ago, thanks to technology. But we also haven’t seemed to learn that these meta-narratives we construct following a tragedy often obscure the real issues. ‘The untouchable Mean Girls’ sure makes a grabby headline, but does it really contribute to the dialogue — or just stand in its way?