THE STRANGER: Of all the school shootings over the past year, this one seems to strike the deepest. Why is that?
SANDY CLOSE: All the national polls that were done three or four days [after the Colorado shooting] show that 80 percent of Americans think it will happen again. I can't think of another event that elicited such a unanimous response. Certainly that wasn't the case with the Oklahoma City bombing. For 15 years, the pre-eminent, almost obsessive, fear was of the thug in the city--the generation of black and Latino kids we call the super-predators. We projected our fear about the new generation into the city. Now we have to own up to what our fear really is: the kid in our own bedroom.
Why is this kind of violence coming out of white kids in small towns and suburbs?
In this era, when we are so wired with technology, we fucking don't "conversate" with the kids in our own homes. We call ourselves the communication society. In 1988, a news special declared that urban black Americans had lost their values, and we all bought into that. Meanwhile, the suburban kids were so hungry for values that they could only identify with the last great white warriors, mainly the Nazis. I think those polls show the depth and unanimity of the angst over the new generation growing up in our own bedrooms. There is no arguing with what Littleton is presenting to us. This is not the kid coming out of the forest, like in Jonesboro. It's not the small town we can write off as Stephen King territory, or the inner city. It's right there. Right in the hometown where the majority of young people are growing up. It's the suburb.
People and pundits are trying to pin this on all kinds of societal ills--violent video games and movies, lack of parental supervision, the availability of guns, and so on. But these factors seem too easy.
I don't think sociology is going to get even close to this. You can't do this based on some sort of quantitative data or statistical approach. Literature comes closest. We've come a great distance from the world of J. D. Salinger, where the worst thing that ever happened to you was that you never left home and were stuck at that suffocating kitchen table with your mom who wouldn't stop talking. That was the greatest fear of the '60s generation. Now we have a generation raised on Stephen King, where the worst thing is to be alone in a universe of random terror. You have nobody to talk to, because anyone may betray you. You can't organize to defeat the terror, because you are in a condition of aloneness. Kids have a powerful word to describe what they most want. It's to conversate. We have lost the ability to conversate.
Kids have grown up without the ability to use language to connect them to other people, because how do you learn that language without people to teach it to you? Violence has been the way to leave your mark. Now they have discovered--and hiphop had a lot to do with it--poetry. Poetry is a language of seduction. You seduce the listener to come close. There is a very heavy emphasis in youth culture to seduce the listener. Poetry is all over the fucking place. They want the connection. Communication is not a fiber-optic cord; it's an umbilical cord.
It's ironic, given that we're so busy wiring schoolyards and providing Internet access to kids.
Well, that isn't a substitute for the schoolmarm. Look at Huck Finn--he ran away from the schoolmarm because she had a choke-hold on him. Kids tell me that the worst thing is that after three months you're called upon and the teacher doesn't know your name. We '60s people like to talk about empowerment. Kids, all they know is power. They're looking for intimacy, and power is no substitute.
It seems like adults have been much more surprised and shocked by the most recent shooting than kids have been. One teacher told me a child in her class responded with a casual "That's cool." Do they know something we don't?
Kids are fascinating for writers. They are who we are becoming as a culture. They have understood that we are becoming a culture of "alones." That's the worst fate. In Stephen King, you wind up "an alone." Big daddy government isn't there anymore. You are alone in a universe where evil is real. As King would tell us, if you don't acknowledge that, you will die. Kids know that the alones can't survive unless they strike back in a way. The urban kids feels sorry for the kids in the suburbs, because they are more alone. Urban kids have city streets, while suburban kids only have the anonymous landscape of the mall.
Are parents absent from this equation because they're all working two jobs to pay the bills, or is there a willful shirking of parental responsibility?
A lot of it is that my generation of the '60s really bought into the idea that you go out and make the world safe for democracy and eradicate racism. You do everything in your life that celebrity culture rewards, but you do it as an individual in the public light. I'm right at the center of that. My office is more comfortable to me than my home. You only function well in public life as an individual--you can't be dealing with a child's ear infection. Community is the absence of choice, but we prattle on as if we know all about community. My generation ran away from it so fast we didn't stop.
Clinton embodies everything about us. Why care about the woman he just raped who's lying on the bed with her lip bleeding? He says, "Get an ice pack--what matters is, I am going to save the world." It's about power. These kids don't want power, they want intimacy. They want [Clinton] to come back and comfort her.
One of the most eerie aspects of this whole thing is the fact that Harris and Klebold were heard giggling in the hallways as they shot their classmates. Why were they laughing?
These white kids in Littleton. The paradigm is all breaking down. What do they reach back to? The era where the white warrior was king of the world. The white kid in jail will say that to be white is to be weak in this culture, and you have to fight all that much harder to prove yourself. Whether you're the white kid in the mansion in the suburb doesn't matter. So, they reach back to mythic figures. Mythic race figures. They made up an identity that wouldn't make them feel alone, in which they could be at the center. I think that [during the shooting] they jumped to some mythic kind of scenario. The movie The Matrix makes for an interesting comparison [where rebels with superhuman power battle the forces of evil]. Except the movie had one thing their script didn't: redemption. The kids in Littleton, of course, took their own lives.