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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

I just received an e-mail in my Inbox informing me in Caps that we need to pray for our children. The anonymous author of this e-mail was referring to the recent school tragedy in which eighteen year old Morné Harmse killed a fellow pupil in a Krugersdorp high school with a sword.

I heard about the incident this morning as I was sitting in a nurse’s station in Bellville. The rather chatty nurse said my black clothing reminded her of the story and asked if I had heard about it. I said I hadn’t. She told me that Satan made the kid do it. That sounded like clever insanity defence to me.

As soon as I found a computer I made a point of reading up all I could about the case and was very surprised by what I found.

I read three articles by top South African news agencies. Each one made mention of the fact that Morné listened to the band Slipknot and that he was quoted as saying that Satan made him do it. Fair enough. It’s sensational and school tragedies have, up until now, been restricted to US schools so journalists are going to try their damndest to make this kid look like Charles Manson Junior to get the scoop.

What surprised me was the fact that not one article made mention of the motive behind the killings. Citing Satanism and heavy metal as the reason for kids killing each other is just plain ridiculous. I know vegetarians who grew up on a diet of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest who wouldn’t be able to kill a housefly. The fact of the matter is that schools are a training ground for adult life where kids learn some very hard lessons. One of those lessons is survival of the fittest.

Bullying is the real reason for school tragedies. Look at this quote from an article that appeared this morning “They said: ‘Come on, Ninja, what are you going to do? You won’t do it’. That’s when he started going crazy.”

Before Columbine kids took the abuse they suffered out on themselves. They cut themselves, suffered from low self-esteem and anti-social disorders and for many that could not take it, they killed themselves. Some were able to transform the anguish they felt into a form of creative expression, be it writing, poetry or music. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park were victims of bullying, as was Marilyn Manson.

Since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed those terrible acts against their fellow pupils in Columbine High School in 1999 there has been a paradigm shift. Victims of bullying no longer feel that they have to punish themselves for being unpopular, for being ridiculed. The anger is now being directed back towards the aggressor. The victims of bullying are beginning to empower themselves by killing those who torment them. No-one is addressing this issue and I can’t understand why.

The more we label these children as outcasts the worse the problem is going to get.

When I received that e-mail telling me that we have to pray for our children I became very angry. I became angrier still when the e-mail mentioned how video games and music are having a negative influence on the youth, making them more violent and dangers to society.

My response is this. If you do not address bullying in schools there will never be an end to school tragedies in this country or any country of the world. The four walls of a school are the entire world to a child. They cannot see beyond it. What happens to them there encapsulates their entire existence. If you cannot see how our teenagers are suffering at each others hands then you are surely blind. Blaming it on something as intangible as music and games is ridiculous. To an abused child those things are their only means of escape!

That child had a few months left before he never had to set foot in school again but he was so tormented, so angry, that he couldn’t take it just one day longer.

That is the tragedy.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 19th, 2008 @13:42 #
     
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    Thought-provoking post, Sally. I hope not all victims of bullying go round offing their classmates - I know I didn't, bless me - but of course you're right to say that young people's disaffection stems from their social conditions, not from something they saw or read or listened to. We would have snuffed ourselves out by now if it worked that way.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 19th, 2008 @13:54 #
     
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    Its ridiculous Louis. I mean its so bad that these kids are essentially trained not to talk about it to their parents, teachers or counselors because a) that would make them squealers b) it would make things worse c) what can the adults do really?

    They have a whole world of emotions and issues to deal with on their own and its really very sad.

    When I was in school there was a girl that used to beat the snot out of me and I survived it by legging it to another school.

    I don't even want to think about what my future spawn have to put up with.

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  • Sven
    Sven
    August 19th, 2008 @14:01 #
     
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    Give 'em tazers.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    August 19th, 2008 @14:05 #
     
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    I dont think it sensible to jump to blaming the victim because this boy felt he had the right to inflict injury and death on people. I am not sure about the bullying defence - if this boy was bullied - there seems to be something more complex and sinister at stake - that more and more children (most often boys) feel that if they are thwarted by something then they can inflict pain and death on others. I do not think that those killers at Colombine could be justified because they might or might not have suffered a few slights. It is tough being a child and it is tough growing up in an often brutal world. But I do not find it in my heart to excuse killing other children school staff because you are bullied. I think the roots of violence are complex but one of them is that thrill of power it gives the perpetrator - and that desire is not necessarily born out of a soft, gentle heart hardened. Nor out of heavy metal

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    August 19th, 2008 @14:05 #
     
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    Yes, you don't tell tales. I think we're still burdened with that legacy of faux-Victorian stiff-upper-lip, "whatver doesn't kill you makes you stronger" schooling. There's a lazy inability to address and change this. Everyone, including school adminstrators, was traumatised in some way at school, so the cycles of violence just continue. It's the same fearful mentality as a gang. One more manifestation of an abnormally traumatised and violent society.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 19th, 2008 @14:06 #
     
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    I was thinking more along the lines of pocket-sized poison blow darts.

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  • Sven
    Sven
    August 19th, 2008 @14:17 #
     
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    I'm not sure bullying is ubiquitous. I went to one school were there was virtually no bullying at all. Interestingly it was the most ethnically integrated school I went to. When I moved on to a virtually all-white school for my matric the picture changed drastically. I have also heard from friends who attended esteemed institutions like Michaelhouse and St Andrews that bullying at those schools is often enough to totally break boys down psychologically. To some extent it may also be a reflection of class dynamics, and I bet you'll find that the more militarised a class is (think rugby as a school religion) the more bullying and aggression you'll find.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 19th, 2008 @14:28 #
     
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    Kids look for weaknesses and they needle at them until they break their victim down completely. You'll find in a lot of social situations, especially schools (this is where kids learn this awful awful habit) that if someone is being ridiculed by a group and its not you, its safer to join in than stick up for the person being victimised.

    In schools the most common instances will be where a dowdy girl tries to make herself more attractive, the chubby children, the abused children, the sickly ones. Basically anyone who doesn't conform to the "fittest" school of thought.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 21st, 2008 @16:37 #
     
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    I found this article on the Sunday Times website where Morne's parents have actually spoken out and said that their son was a victim of bullying.

    http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=827236

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    August 21st, 2008 @17:05 #
     
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    Really great post, Sally.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 21st, 2008 @17:17 #
     
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    Thanks Lauren, I can get a bit, erm heated sometimes

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    August 21st, 2008 @19:13 #
     
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    Thank you for this incredible post, Sally.
    I was bullied by a group of girls from the ages of ten to thirteen, and it catapulted me into severe depression. It’s terribly difficult to deal with vicious peer pressure when you’re still trying to find your own sense of self. I’ve lived a seriously hectic life, but I’ve never felt such isolation and self-hatred as I did during those years. I don’t condone violence in any form, but my soul-destroying torment stopped when I snapped one day and lashed out at the ring-leader. She shat herself, and backed off. I literally saw red and it was a tremendous struggle to control myself from taking it further.
    And I fully agree with you about the stupidity of blaming music and the old stalwart satanism as an excuse to ignore the real problem. I think many of the kids who find themselves in this horrible situation find recourse by listening to music that is more often than not produced and written by those who have endured much the same pain – society’s outsiders. I’d never listened to Slipknot before (the band blamed for the Krugersdorp attack) but according to my fellow script-writer Greig (who’s a pantheon of knowledge about all things hard-core) and my daughter Savannah (an emo-kid herself) Slipknot is classified as ‘seriously lame’. And Marilyn Manson styles himself as an iconoclast – not a satanist (although I’m not entirely sure about the Columbine perpetrators’ real motives – there are many conflicting accounts).
    Before my daughter even started school I did my best to build up her sense of self-worth – encouraging her to be an individual whatever the cost (and there’s always a cost if you’re different) and I told her about my own experiences. This gave her the confidence to stand up to potential bullies on several occasions, and she also helped out a few victims who were targeted. I’m immensely proud of her for that. I know how difficult it is.

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  • Sven
    Sven
    August 21st, 2008 @22:31 #
     
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    Sarah, I agree with what you say about the relationship between bullying and snapping. I somehow managed to avoid physical bullying when I was in school (god knows I should be walking around with a fist through the back of my head), however I remember really wanting to kill the types of people who subjected me to psychological torture.

    I'd like to comment on the music thing. I had to do an essay on this for psych last year, and learnt in the process that psychological research has indicated that music has a massive impact on emotional and psychological states - to the extent that it can be used therapeutically to great effect.

    Let's say the killer had been listening to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite before going to school rather than Slipknot, it's not hard to imagine there might have been a slightly different result, and that while Slipknot wasn't the causative factor it was certainly an aggravating factor.

    It's probably wrong to attempt to isolate a single causitive factor in this kind of situation, which is what people who blame Slipknot are doing and what you seem to be protesting, however you can't ignore the fact that persistent violent and negative social influences have a significant impact on the way people express negativity and aggression. These social influences seem to be particularly strong in the mainstream media, with music in particular having a special relationship with psychological and emotional states.

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  • Christine
    Christine
    August 22nd, 2008 @08:47 #
     
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    While we're on book sa -- a great read on this subject is "We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver. It gives insights into school slayings and the role of society.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    August 22nd, 2008 @08:59 #
     
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    Speaking from personal experience, when I was a kid, listening to bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails made me feel like it was alright to be different, that there was a culture I could identity with that was way cooler than the mundane world I had to endure everyday. It certainly didn't fuel my already pent up rage towards my aggressors. My imagination did that for me. I distinctly remember writing a short story in which my bully met a horribly sticky involving various machines of torture of the Hellraiser persuasion.

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