Black Metal Saves: The Columbine High School Shootings in Examination
by Spinoza Ray Prozak
When we gather at the feet of such a tragedy as the murder of thirteen classmates by a pair of heavily armed teenagers, we find ourselves questioning deeply existence itself, with often a footnote to our own doubt in existence and the destructive impulse within.
In this case, we must start with the simplest sense of awareness: self. Think of who you are and what you need. Not the easy things, the lists we all could make but rarely perfect, needed for material life but the difficult and extreme: the uncharted and unlinguistic realm of dream, soul, hope and resentment.
When one is fed at the lowest levels, but at the highest levels starved, is not that the pain of alienated modern youth? And if one is punished by the material reward system for different-ness, even a hard line conservative would point out that action is required. With this pain and this frustration, two teenagers went on a murderous rampage which would end in their suicide.
There might be a great uproar at this point over any sympathy for the killers. Sympathy is irrelevant - as is moralizing - where only diagnosis is relevant. Do we wish to find the sources of this situation and correct them? Yes - thus we associate nothing but scientific data collection with the event.
To this author, there is no value in discussing the action. It exists on three levels:
I. Human Pain II. Sociological Demographics of death III. Spiritual Face of evil
This author can only credibly talk about II and III. The human level is reserved for those who were the actors in the event's drama. In the other cases, however, the action exists as an expression of some idea poignant or potent enough to die for, an expression similar to other expressions throughout history in that individuals placed their lives on the line to act out a symbolic re-interpretation of reality.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have gained a media celebrity that might have amused them, if they would not have written it off immediately. They looked like they felt their world had failed them; for many it was a teenage pose, to adept to self-construction with a minimum of pretense. For others it could have been a deep personal void of an frustration in the futility of life, as seen in the context of the struggle of intelligence against idiocy.
After all - these were intelligent children. Excellent students, high test scores, doing interesting things all the time... terrifying intelligence when they talked about weapons, death, retribution, genocide. Even Klebold, with a Jewish genome from his mother, identified with Hitler. Paradox? Hopeless maze of corners?
Children are not stupid. They recognize that even within their own ranks, humans group out like chimpanzees: those who are in need of hte most certainty dominate, and others work to enforce those needs, so that eventually all are preying on each other in tiers of larceny.
And when your face grinds into a locker door, that sociology is a useful way to understand the experience. But frustration will build. It's not a problem, however, unless frustration is contained in a pressure bomb waiting to blast: there is no hope of change. And that's where we must look at their influences and motives.
Because, beneath it all, do we not sense desperation?
I think there's some blame [ in the Colorado shootings ] for Marilyn Manson. He provided an opposition to society by standing up and taking a megaphone from media and screaming every god damn thing he could to fuck the culture with which his audience was familiar - or should I say, the non-culture! - but it was an alternative but not a antithesis; he spoke basically the same hopelessness and flinging into material melodrama without an independent will that every other parent did, beneath the post-Nietzschean posturing and Gothic romanticism of suicide ethics. He was also non-culture; fuck-it-ism.
So these kids got to a certain point in society and suffered for their rebellion: their idols were empty, but even more terrifyingly, empty in the same way as what they spoke against. Hope was dead. The duo planned a shootout to culminate in suicide, in emulation of Adolf Hitler, the last great venture against the crushing simplisticism of normalcy and a feeling of character derived from inertia: the last man not to surrender to his world, but to go out fighting.
They identified with violent videogames such as Doom or Quake, which despite their promise and intense graphics, in the end were as boring or futile as any other military action: seek, destroy, repeat.
They saw promise in Marilyn Manson, who turned out to be a shock rocker as vapid as the society he criticizes. There was also hope in finding others, a "Trench Coat Mafia," who did not find place in society, either. But this too was corrupted for them.
High school, an icon for oppression by an oblivious world while one develops toward a stage of romantic readiness for the surrender to a long repetitive road of adulthood duty, gave these boys incoherent answers to their existential questions while insisting upon absolute obedience to the anticipation of duty.
A future of labor in modern society proved also pointless. Every generation past the mythical point of 'X' generation has been acutely aware of the pointless brutality of working and also, its total lack of reward in exchange for most of one's time removed.
Girls were hard to approach, and often confused by their role in a media-driven post-traditionalist society. Computers were exciting, but like anything else bogged in the morass of poor decisions arising from human need.
Under the weight of this, this author thinks these two teenagers with a large quotient of shared intelligence buckled. And then rebelled against that sagging, fighting back with encompassing violence, but still doomed by the cyclic nature of energy to strengthen their frustration.
This event, as many others do, communicates a vast amount of sociological anchoring to this time in history, an analysis of group psychology which transcends numbers to form a flavor of desperation coherent to the microera. In our times, as in most others, that flavor is a variation on the general feeling of numb inertia: that nothing can change the way it is, so onward to experience that which is there. It is a fatalism uncommon to heroes but not bureaucracts, disciplinarians, high school students.
In adolescence, such a "casting away" of self in the mission of being-less-ness is a healthier phenomenon than one might think; it is the first stage in lifelong acceptance of death and the nihilism behind existence. When the caster sees the pointlessness of such a thing, the action is avoided.
In the case of Littleton, Colorado, however, the casting away was another pointlessness in a field of pointlessness, and so was to a thinking machine as logical a decision as any other. In short, these boys were not as "broken" as the society in which they grew.
Fatalism - sense of no ability to change their world, total lack of efficacy and lack of place - is like insanity a blameless but destructive disease. Our only space to criticize is the method of taking others, who were undetermined as yet, with them. And even that is suspect if the others were leading similar "lives of quiet desperation." Each is locked in his own existence: isolated.
If this simple answer - that these children like the rest of us in modern society are isolated from our world - then where this truth lies is a space beyond blame, justification, or redemption; it is beyond even articulation.
It is the space of human despair, where one is insularized - balkanized - by one's world being composed of the same. If it's each for his own working against all others, soon we're back where we were before society, only filtered through technology and appearance. Paradoxically, almost, these boys reached out to their world by shattering this barrier.
With no hope, these boys saw a world the selves in them wanted to touch, but could not do so while remaining a whole self - it would have been reduced too much to a product of the world. Instead they chose to go out in a conflagration of their own destruction - seemingly a very nihilistic thing to do.
It is useful to understand the difference between nihilism and fatalism. Nihilism is the study of nothingness; it is nothing-ism, or the belief that no inherent value exists in the world. It is a method of perception. Fatalism, however, is a substitute for decision: "Belief in fatality; the doctrine that all events are predetermined by fate" (OED); fatalism is a signing off of all ability to change existence.
Which is where black metal would come into this scenario, as shocking loud music which is not as useless as the society it satirizes. Bands such as Darkthrone or Burzum embrace the darkness in their world so profoundly that the end product is a triumph of intelligence riding from out of a dimensionless eternal void, transforming the pain of the impermanence and meaninglessness of existence into a storm of unified appreciation for the beauty within life.
Their darkness is an entry point, and not a goal or identification; within it they produce a clarity of vision, and from the spiritual strength of this truth create a restless desire to overcome the void by assimilating it.
Where Marilyn Manson produces a large show that fills concert arenas, black metal is barely known - representing, like the Trench Coat Mafia themselves, a minority of a percentage point - and speaks a world of difference. The romanticism extended to the point of hopelessness is dead and replaced with a view of darkness as the space of possibility, fantasy, dream and design. Black metal mocks the "scariness" of its own appearance and takes itself unseriously to work seriously; Marilyn Manson takes his unserious appearance seriously.
Unlike most music black metal addresses the sublimated void within human experience. A truly dark representation of loneliness, isolation, nihilism, darkness, fear, pain and doubt, once you peel back layers of socialization and entertainment, is the world-view of black metal.
Society hides this darkness, but art has periodically brought it forth coherently, in such stalker-killer classics as _The Catcher in the Rye_ and _In Cold Blood_ or the rigorous minimalist violence of heavy metal. But black metal is the first to approach it with love and acceptance, and through it, to realize that the what society hopes to evade is not the worst scenario it is presupposed to be, and in fact preferrable to the suffocating sterility of a world in which all has been rendered neutral to avoid the potential pain of its loss.
Would black metal have "saved" these people? Probably not physically - the endorsements of violence, fascism, genocide, racism, destruction and sodomy in black metal might have given them new directions to take as well - but in the metaphysical world, yes: black metal would have given them a hope of articulating and overcoming their world, where with another commercial "product" to hear, they had none.
As we close our views on this scene, we should remember that this, neither the first nor the last school shooting, was like anything else meant to be taken seriously. People give their lives to the direction they find most appealing or sensible, and if those who are intelligent feel trapped and given no space for the self to develop, it is a strong indication that it is we and not they who have committed collective suicide.