“As the nation mourns the Newtown victims, a number of additional threats and shootings have been reported since the massacre. A Newtown church was evacuated on Sunday after police responded to a threat against those inside. An Indiana man equipped with a 47-gun arsenal was arrested on Sunday after allegedly threatening to kill children at a local elementary school. Oklahoma police arrested an 18-year-old high school student on Friday who was allegedly planning a school-shooting massacre. In Newport Beach, California, an alleged gunman was arrested after reportedly firing 50 shots in a mall parking lot. In San Antonio, Texas, two men were reportedly injured in a shooting at a movie theater Sunday night.”
—Amy Goodman, “Democracy Now,” Dec 17th 2012
It’s a common enough belief that such crimes as depicted in We Need to Talk About Kevin and which occurred at Sandy Hook school, Connecticut, in Dec 2012 (and their depiction by the media), whether in “factual” or fictional form, can and do replicate through imitation. This is what Loren Coleman calls (in his book of the same name) “the copycat effect”: If events and/or reports are shaped to create a more or less standardized narrative (in this case, alienated teenager or teenagers shoot school children and teachers for no apparent reason); and if intelligent writers and filmmakers, et al., swallow this narrative whole and incorporate it into their own works, adding extra nuance and depth, an awareness of psychology, and so forth; this all helps to establish the false narrative — now a meme — in the collective awareness.
A meme can be loosely defined as a mind virus. A meme is an idea, belief, or set of values that, like a mini-culture, spreads through society. A meme isn’t necessarily destructive, any more than a virus is necessarily hostile to its host. Yet there does seem to be a relation between how poorly an idea is understood and how contagious it is. Christianity, for example, only became “viral” once the Roman Empire had adopted it and distorted it to its own ends. A meme spreads through infection, and an infection that’s untreated spreads fastest. The lack of understanding — and the refusal to understand — that surrounds an event like Sandy Hook is like a fog that prevents any kind of forward motion. Calling for wrong-headed solutions (such as the call in the US now for armed guards in school) instead of seeking to understand the problem causes these incidents to proliferate. While half the population lobbies to ban guns and the other half gets busy stockpiling them, the root cause is ignored, and the problem grows.
In the case of an alleged “gunman” like Adam Lanza — or his fictional counterpart, Kevin — the focus is always on the surface. (Not literally, however: scientists are currently examining Lanza’s DNA to locate the source of the “evil,” presumably hoping to eradicate the problem this way.) When people react in horror to an alleged killer’s “aberrational,” “monstrous,” anti-social behavior, they are emphasizing his difference from themselves. When they focus on superficial influences such as video games, or seek “easy” solutions like gun control or policing the schools (less guns, and/or more guns for the right people), they stop short of questioning the social values that have created a demand for these things to begin with, not to mention all the alienated youths and “aberrational” behaviors. They stop short at bringing the focus to the one place it really needs to go: themselves.
Even when attention is directed towards social conditioning, it’s usually in a superficial way that blames the parents for the child’s acts and then views them as monsters also (as depicted in Kevin). There is almost never a willingness to question the dominant social structures, or the discreet government agendas, that have caused the violence, because these are values which everyone adheres to, and without them, there is only an abyss. These are also the same values which concerned parents and caregivers everywhere are trying to “instill” into their autistic children. The belief is that more culture, more socialization, is what’s needed to reduce the problem. In fact, it’s culture and socialization that’s at the root of the problem.
With so superficial (because prejudiced) a reading of events, it’s no wonder they seem incomprehensible. It’s like trying to understand how a car works by looking at the marks on the seat leather or trying to find the midget inside a TV set: it’s primitive thinking at its worst. The incomprehensibility of such occurrences is less to do with the events themselves than with an inability to think coherently about them, a prevailing blindness and a willed refusal to understand them (and to look closely at the facts surrounding them). This combination of denial, ignorance, and (self-)deception on the part of socialized adults is perceived by young people, rightly, as hypocrisy. That perception can only increase their sense of alienation and hostility towards all authority figures, from parents on up. The counter-response is when young people, in a piquant fit of rebellion, insist that violent action is at least as normal or healthy as this hypocrisy, and that it is an appropriate response to it. In a sense, they are right. All the shaking of heads and clucking in horror of adults, and the resulting moves towards gun-control, increased armed protection, DNA-analyses or “early interventions,” is doing little or nothing to protect their children. Why? Because children need protecting, first and foremost, from these self-appointed protectors.
As already described, the “school shooter” stereotype does coincide with a certain type of young person, the social misfit or disaffected rebel type, whether an autist, artist, introvert, or daydreamer. This “type” is already feared and distrusted by society, because it is strange and largely incomprehensible to it. Since it’s human-animal nature (never mind social conditioning) to fear what’s unfamiliar, partly because of this fear and mistrust, many young people do feel hostility towards their parents, authority figures, peers, and society as a whole. Why wouldn’t they? The dreamspace (that false view of reality) widens the gulf between the misfit and society and slowly reinforces the specific dream-roles that are being set — that of self and other. In the process, the necessity of competition, and finally war, between them steadily increases. The strangeness, alienation, fear, and mistrust of the one for the other, instead of being reduced through understanding and communication, becomes intensified and magnified through misunderstanding and mis-communication. Eventually, what is unjustly feared becomes a real threat, justifying and validating the fear.
 The assumption is usually that “works of art” (or entertainment) are only reflecting reality, never that they are helping to create it, and if movies are accused of inciting acts of violence, it’s never the “socially conscientious” kind like Kevin or Elephant. YetI think it is these that are the most responsible, precisely because they ask to be taken seriously as accurate representations of reality. The movie Alpha Dog, based on a true story (Jesse James Hollywood, though I can’t vouch for how closely the film stuck to the true facts), comes much closer, I think, to depicting the teenage sociopath type, and (as the title suggests) the kids in the film were anything but outcasts. The film’s critical reception was unenthusiastic, however, unlike the response to Kevin.