In 1999, when the mass shooting at Columbine High School happened, I was in college. That quarter, I was in an English class where we had to write several papers revolving around a topic of our choice. My choice of topic for the quarter was “individuality”. Anyway, I was in the middle of writing one of the papers to turn in later that week when the news broke.
Yesterday’s shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School is what makes me want to tell the anecdote I’m about to tell. I know people who live in Marysville and one of the 4 people I rank among my best friends graduated from that school.
Anyway, as I was writing my paper for English class, news reports were coming in about what may have been going through the minds of the shooters. Already people were blaming the music the shooters may or may not have been listening to as a possible explanation. Essentially, there were people trying to blame a mass shooting on music like Marilyn Manson.
Now, Marilyn Manson may not be one of my favorite artists, but he does happen to have a time and a place in my musical likes. As an early adult, I happened to gravitate toward some of the heavier music that was popular at the time. I was a young father trying to get through school and trying to be happy in an unbalanced relationship. That meant that I understood Marilyn Manson’s place in the popular music of the day. And those who know me would never suggest that I was anywhere near a risk to anybody for anything similar to what was happening at Columbine that day.
I wrote my paper about a short history of blaming music for horrible acts. I spoke about the Parents Music Resource Council and they’re filthy fifteen songs they felt should be banned from radio. I spoke about the Senate hearings surrounding said list and problems associated with freedom of speech issues surrounding banning songs from radio play. I also spoke about the erroneous correlation between people hearing angry music and people being violent people. As an example, I drew a connection between the incredible number of people who liked Marilyn Manson and the smaller subset of people who were involved in mass shootings.
The paper was turned in within days of the shootings at Columbine. I’d like to think I had the first academic paper about the Columbine shootings, playing my own little part in defending the rights of free speech, even speech that people may find abhorrent, evil or spiteful, from those who wish to curtail their right to say it.
A few years later, Michael Moore interviewed Marilyn Manson in the movie Bowling for Columbine. Both of them made this point better than I ever could, but it felt good to have essentially the same idea I’d had portrayed not just in any old movie, but one that won an Academy Award for best documentary.