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Children at play

By Mary Fan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 21, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

There's a fast track to fame, and a slow route.

Some people toil for years in the belly of the celebrity machine, trying to make it big. Others rely on brilliance, or sports, or charm, or some combination of the three.

And then there's the trenchcoat mafia, the misfits who allegedly took the fast track yesterday. They reportedly had none of the former four traits. But like we all, nursed a dream.

Two of them allegedly realized it yesterday in gunfire and grenade blasts, in a child's fantasy of a commando attack played out in a comfortable Colorado suburb's high school.

Some of the survivors didn't even realize it was all real until they saw the blood and their schoolmates taking gunshots to the face.

The big question is: Did the shooters realize? We may not ever know for two of the suspects apparently shot themselves and forever slipped into that dark night when lids close and you are left to relive some favorite fantasy.

One student, who pleaded for her life and watched as another girl was shot down beside her, said the shooter informed her he was getting revenge for all the cruelties he endured last year in school. She said the shooters were gunning for the jocks, and the blacks. Basically all those most likely to grow up and be all-American heroes and success stories.

The trenchcoat mafia, on the other hand, was voted most likely to shoot down an estimated 25 students by one clean-cut, handsome young student, clad neatly in a blazer and crisp shirt for an interview with CNN.

That young man gravely described the trenchcoat mafia as a band of 8 to ten misfits who were friends with each other because they could find no other.

They were not only mediocre. Not only boring bourgeoisie, but plain unpopular. What brand more rankling in our society that worships charm?

Yesterday, though, they were stars. They were laughing. It was a movie. And they were shooting, trenchcoats swirling, coming down the steps, the bodies tumbling.

The symbolism is too striking to be called subtle.

Horror when we see it on CNN, but just another glory scene in our new fantasy world reflected back by the entertainment media.

In the aftermath, there will no doubt be much handwringing. We will lash out against movies, and violent video games, and the Internet that brings us such choice sites as "show no mercy." Our pundits and our legislators will flail for a solution.

They will point to the rash of schoolyard shootings in the past year and a half that has resulted in 12 deaths and more than 40 injured. There may be moves to slop a pitiful bandage of censorship legislation, or gun control laws or increased monitoring of "troubled" kids on that scab of schoolchild violence constantly being reopened.

In a city where just this year we had a harbinger, seeing what two teens and a gun can do to three people at an eastside Pizza Hut, we may rally to the cries.

Something, obviously, is wrong. But what is most frightening, and what goes far beyond these conduits of the popular pulse, is popular culture itself.

We are at the interface of technology and life where technology has bought us more freedom and more leisure. The proportion of living solely in the imagination is fast crowding out the proportion spent working and struggling. We are living in an economic fantasyland, but this paradise perpetrates a new understanding: That all can be had, and all is subordinate to the taker. Even life.

Juveniles are the generation birthed and growing in this interface. They are the guinea pigs.

And increasingly, we are seeing through our guinea pigs that the result of this new age and its bounty is a seeming inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and an abandonment of the old habit of making normative, value judgments on actions.

Instead of right or wrong, the question is, "Was it done with style?" "Was it memorable?" And in our cultural aesthetic seeking some reaction from an increasingly numb people, the answers to the questions invariably involve a lot of blood and some vivid killings.

This is a grim take, and gritty as reality often is. Perhaps that's why so many are retreating into a place where blood isn't real, even when it is and spilling. And the deaths in the denouement aren't real, only a movie-tale ending where the shooters can rise again in some sequel.

Who knows? The shooters may have believed this, and in this, we can see how they were still children. And we, left fumbling for what to do in the face of this new problem, are all children.

Mary Fan is a political science and journalism senior. She can be reached at