Are teenage girls glorifying mass murderers?
ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY BUZZO RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED WORDS BY EMILY WADDELL BY TEENAGE GIRLS? On February 27th 2012, Thomas ‘T.J’ Lane a 17-year-old high school senior walked into Chardon High School, east of Cleveland and opened fire killing three other students and wounding another three. Nearly a year later on March 19th 2013, he walked into his sentencing wearing a hand made t-shirt with the word ‘KILLER’ scrawled on it. As he smiled throughout the hearing the now 18-year-old T.J Lane was sentenced to three life sentences. After the sen- tence was passed he turned to the courtroom which held many of the parents of the victims and said ‘The hand that pulls the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck you all’ Lane’s vulgar statement has been receiving coverage all over the world as the public reflects on what kind of deranged mind could say such things without any conscience. America has had one mass shooting RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED BY TEENAGE GIRLS? per month since 2009 and the numbers are staying consistent, oddly they’re not on the rise as pre-1950’s mass shootings were a lot more commonplace, coverage however has been the highest it’s ever been. If this were 60 years ago T.J Lane’s statement would have been written down by a court transcript, one journalist and he would have been written off as a psychopath and never had any more media attention again. Whether this would be a good thing is a divided topic, if we talk about a mass murder are we glorifying it and if we don’t will we know what signs to look out for so it doesn’t happen again? that maybe these girls are just being deeply ironic are dashed, listed in most of these girls interests are ‘mass murder’ ‘James Holmes’ and ‘Columbine’ with heart emoticons pulsating and glittering surrounding them. My 14-year-old self was deeply invested in the band My Chemical Romance, being a bit strange at school wasn’t something you could get away with so I decided that school wasn’t going to be my source of friendship, the Internet was my friend. Fan fiction, online forums and MSN chat rooms became my saviour and I could talk all night about my deep obsession, it got to the point where I would cry when I thought I would never meet these people, we would never talk and they’d never know how we were destined to be together. Are these Tumblrs just the same, are these girls just relating to these men or is there something altogether more complex happening? Whilst people tweeted, blogged and Facebooked about how horrific the crime was, there was another, slightly darker and more niche side of the Internet that was doing the exact opposite. After looking through my emails it become clear that there were two main types of people that the community had attached themselves to, James Holmes ‘Holmies’ and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold ‘Columbiners’. ‘IT’S 3AM AND I SHOULD BE SLEEPING, BUT I JUST CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT TJ…’ Similarly Tumblr user they-dr0wn-us-0ut-at-sea mirrors this feeling of ennui at the predicament their crush is in and posts ‘It’s 3am and I should be sleeping, but I just can’t stop thinking about Tj…’ Now in the tradition of the Internet it’s sometimes hard to tell whether these are real posts or if the users are just ‘trolling’, the act of living up to expectations everyone has of the Internet and just being obnoxious for the sake of it. Looking at their specific Tumblrs the hope When I was younger the original Channel 4 series Skins was the television show for teenagers, except when I watched it like most teenagers I didn’t see my life reflected back but a better prettier upgraded version. Comedian Stewart Lee commented on the show saying that ‘watching Skins, as a teenager today would make me feel lonelier than I already would have been’. As most teenage girls do, we find something to be invested in and love so deeply that our other problems go away and with mainstream culture rejecting you with every turn maybe it makes sense to find something a bit, different. RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED BY TEENAGE GIRLS? James Eagan Holmes was 24 when he walked into the Century movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado; he opened fire during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. James Holmes was a seemingly normal person, he didn’t have a police record before his arrest and was on his way to obtaining a Ph.D in neuroscience. Looking at the Tumblr tag for the aptly named ‘Holmies’ fan group there’s a mix between users arguing how the ongoing case is being treated, as Holmes, according to them, is clearly mentally ill. On the other hand there are also posts of them wearing plaid shirts (James Holmes had a penchant for them) and drinking Slushies (Holmes talked about one in a science presentation which is available to watch online) all surrounded by glittering heart gifs and fandom injokes. ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY BUZZO It’s this almost kitsch approach to being a self confessed fan of mass murder that drew me into looking closer at this secret online community. Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post have only prodded into the world of mass murderer fandom’s and withdrew quickly when the reaction they got was disgust, people aren’t interested in reading about teenage girls with emotional problems, because it’s a cliché. Teenage girls are represented everywhere in the media but unlike most teenage girls if they have issues with their body or their mind, they’re also beautiful, capable and not realistic. ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY BUZZO Tumblr has become the outcast kid at the social media party; it likes odd niche things but is somehow much cooler because of it. A meeting ground for unstable teenage girls and geeky meme creating boys, it’s become the best place to find the girls who just can’t stop thinking about mass murderers. Within days of T.J Lane’s hearing, the searchable tag function on Tumblr had adorned its new favourite mass murder his very own tag name ‘laneatics’, a play on the word fanatic. The tag was filled with colleges of Lane taken from news reports of the trail, gifs sprung up of him licking his lips and the statement from court as he raised his middle finger. The username TJLANESHAND was gone within hours of the sentencing. All these posts were accompanied by ‘reaction gifs’ which Tumblr uses to great effect to express a feeling to a post usually in the form of a clip from a film or popular television show, a post of Lane smirking in court is accompanied by a gif of Rachael from Friends sighing girlishly. As soon as my text post had made the rounds on Tumblr, I could see that most of the replies disliked being called ‘fans’ of mass murderers and many distrusted anything to do with the media, after a few articles online had looked at their Tumblr and taken some information out of context. There seemed to be an online debate whether anyone was actually going to talk to me because I was demonstrably apart of the media. After trying to calm down the situation, I received some emails which answered my questions and a few that told me that they knew I worked for a major newspaper and that what I was trying to do was illegal. I tried telling them that someone with so few followers on Twitter wasn’t that important but my social media joshing didn’t appease them. ‘I actually was watching TV when the Breaking News came on my television. When I had heard the shooter survived, I was actually extremely excited’. Amanda Breeden is open about her support of James Holmes. Amanda is studying forensic psychology and doesn’t consider herself a fan, like most Holmies the term conjures a different connotation. ‘The media thinks that Holmies are a ‘fandom.’ We aren’t fans nor followers. We are supporters. We support James and his need for psychiatric treatment. We don’t think he should be thrown away for having a severe mental illness.’ Talking to these girls should be easiest thing in the world; they have blogs on Tumblr, have pictures of themselves and talk about other things in their life. I made a post on my Tumblr with my email address and tagged it with all the relevant tags that the community looked at, asking simply if anyone wanted to talk to me. To my surprise, instead of mild curiosity, I was mostly met with hostility and suspicion. The James Holmes case is a complex one; at the moment there is different arguments to whether Holmes was sane when he committed his crimes. The insanity plea is not one court or media like because the view is that the offender will spend the rest of his life in a hospital and will get better treatment then if he was in jail. It seems reasonable that the victims and families of victims wouldn’t want a murderer to be treated like RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED BY TEENAGE GIRLS? someone who couldn’t control themselves, even if that is the case. ‘We live in a society that we are suppose to automatically hate James because of the act he carries out. People get justice and revenge confused. Justice isn’t putting James to death. So, us supporting instead of condemning him makes us ‘sick’ and ‘monsters’ too.’ It’s Amanda’s eloquent and down to earth view that makes me question whether this knee jerk reaction and media saturation of mass murderers is unfortunately producing fame for its killers, but it’s also prompted discussion into the psychology of killers and down the line, possibly its prevention? A lot of Columbiners find themselves in these two boys who felt they were rejected by society, ‘I was 6 when Columbine happened so by the time I really was in school Columbine and events like it were very much on the minds of most teachers. I was on a watch list at all 5 school I attended and my locker was searched regularly.’ Eric and Dylan could be portrayed as just some kids from the wrong side of the tracks who couldn’t take it anymore that they were different and no one was ever going to accept that. It’s easy to morph these two regular teenage boys in pariahs, people you relate to by reading into videos, pictures and transcripts and changing them into alienated misunderstood anti-heroes. A popular clip of Charlie Brooker’s screen wipe, which mocks and also shows the deadly effect media coverage of mass murders has, features prominent forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz explaining how to stop events like this from happening again. ‘If you don’t want to propagate more mass murders... Don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can, not to make the body count the lead story. Not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localise this story to the affected community and as boring as possible in every other market.’ ‘Supporters’ instead of fans conjures the kind of dedication to real justice that we’ve seen in previous famous criminal cases such as ‘The West Memphis Three’. The difference here is that all the men mentioned have definitive evidence and confessions that indict them to their crimes. When you see esoteric call signs passed between the Holmie community, wearing plaid shirts and drinking slushies talking to them in secret codes. It strikes you that this community is much like the Beliebers or One Direction fans, it’s built on the mutual respect of the amount of knowledge you have about your chosen obsession and unlike the real world, there’s no judgment here. Supporters of James Holmes have a point when they talk about the difference between justice and revenge, but is this defense of slightly simplified humanism and talks of who’s the ‘real victim’ just a veil to openly worship a mass murderers. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were typical teenagers in 1999, they liked Marilyn Manson, playing Doom and apart from misdemeanor theft of tools from a van a few years earlier, they lived normal lives. On April 20th, 1999 they killed 12 students and 1 teacher and injured 21 additional students in worst high school massacre in history. ‘PLEASE, I DON’T NEED STRANGERS COMING AFTER ME.’ Columbine is a famous example of how one incident can become a national issue and for some, define their lives, both in a negative and positive way. As one Columbiner told me, ‘Another blogger who’d stumbled across the ‘Columbiners’ tag was complaining about the community ‘who loved killers’. I was intrigued and looked for myself, which led to personal research and ultimately becoming a Columbiner myself.’ Like most people I talked to, this particularly ‘Columbiner’ wanted to be kept anonymous ‘please, I don’t need strangers coming after me.’ The crime came to define the apathetic misunderstood youth that were created in the 90’s, teenagers were locking themselves in their room and finding that the celebratory feeling of revolution of the preceding decades were long over. Columbine became a symbol and a target for everything that was wrong with America, Micheal Moore’s Oscar winning film Bowling for Columbine is the perfect window into the atmosphere of a country scared of it’s children. It was also the first mass murder where the killers had ‘digital footprints’, Dylan and Eric had a website, they made videos, they had journals, they were people in the world and they left their mark. Unlike Charles Manson where obsessives and collectors could only look at crime scene photos, read witness statements and maybe write to Manson RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED BY TEENAGE GIRLS? in the hope he would reply, Eric and Dylan left deep personal imprints on the world and people connected with them. Looking at Eric and Dylan, one angry at the world and the other at a loss at why he wasn’t accepted into it, it’s easy to see the attraction that some girls would have. ‘I relate in a lot to Dylan Klebold and my personality is very similar. Shy, quiet and reserved. I also like very similar music, very similar video games and very similar movies.’ Kyla, a Columbiner, touches on a common feeling amongst fans, the feeling of someone famous becoming humanised to you through the traits you find in common with them. Although Holmies, Columbiners and Laneatics may not call themselves fans or condone what their particular object of obsession has done, but by glorifying these men, and glorifying can be anything as simple as reblogging a stupid gif , you are feeding into the idea that these men, after everything are good. The words good and evil get thrown around a lot, the death penalty is a conflicted issue and these men probably once in there their life were referred to as good men but we don’t give out praise for people doing what is expected of them in a normal society. By creating a safe place like a Tumblr where everything they’ve ever done can be read into, much like collecting the clippings of your favourite band, you’re not actually learning about the person, you’re creating an image of a person in your head. This person may have been there for the times of your life where you needed them most, someone to reflect on and realize that you’re not totally alone in the universe, but it’s a fantasy. Delving in Tumblr’s dark underworld has taught me that most of these girls can tell reality from fantasy, but maybe maybe if their reality is so bad, its okay that fantasy is all they have’ WORDS BY EMILY WADDELL ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY BUZZO RIOT GRRRL: ARE MASS MURDERS BEING GLORIFIED BY TEENAGE GIRLS?