Academics & Faculty

School shootings the result of crisis of masculinity, gun culture

UCLA prof explores roots of student massacres, other acts of mass violence

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Yesterday's fatal shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University, and similar attacks last week at a Missouri city hall and in a Los Angeles suburb, again raise questions about the eruption of mass violence in America in recent years. What is behind these acts and, more importantly, can anything be done to stop them?
 
In "Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre" (Paradigm, 2008), UCLA professor of education and cultural critic Douglas Kellner argues that school shootings and other acts of mass violence embody a crisis of out-of-control gun culture and male rage, heightened by a glorification of hypermasculinity and violence in the media.
 
"The school shooters and domestic terrorists examined in this book all exhibit male rage, attempt to resolve a crisis of masculinity through violent behavior, demonstrate a fetish for guns or weapons, and represent, in general, a situation of guys and guns amok," Kellner says.
 
Focusing on last April's Virginia Tech shootings, the 1999 Columbine massacre, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and similar events, Kellner places these apparently isolated killing sprees in the broader context of American culture and society and finds that in each case, the male perpetrators suffered from problems of socialization, alienation and the search for identity in a culture that holds up guns and militarism as potent symbols of masculinity.
 
Those images, Kellner says, are perpetuated not just by the traditional media — both in news coverage and in the frequent glorification of violence and murder on television programs and in film — but also by new media outlets like the Internet.

With the pervasiveness of male rage and such violent imagery, what can be done to change the situation and, hopefully, prevent further acts of mass violence? Kellner recommends stricter gun control laws; improved campus and workplace security; better guidance and mental health care on campuses and in communities; a reconstruction of education to promote programs advocating peace and social justice; and projecting new and more constructive images of masculinity.
 
Kellner holds the distinguished George F. Kneller Chair in Education and Philosophy at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. His work focuses on the development of new literacies as a response to new technologies and the design of new teaching methods to meeting the challenges of globalization and multiculturalism. 
 
He is the author of several books, including "Media Spectacle" (2003), "From 9/11 to Terror War" (2003), "Media Culture" (1995), "The Persian Gulf TV War" (1992) and "Television and the Crisis of Democracy" (1990) and is co-author of "The Postmodern Adventure" (2001).
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