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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The story behind the story

Newspaper headlines are ghastly creatures, particularly when they gleam of sensationalism.

I am a journalist myself, so I know that after completing each article I need to come up with a witty one-liner to sum up what I’ve written. But I am also a reader, and I feel very strongly about certain subjects, as do many other people I know.

One of the subjects I feel very strongly about is what’s happening to our teens, and it pains me every time I see a headline that reads:

Evil a reality to be faced
Sword killer’s picture on MXit
Satanist takes blame for deaths
Columbine shooting points to the mystery of evil
Teen killer dabbled in vampire cult
School officer shoots teen suspect

Almost every single “investigative” piece I’ve read that delves into the motivations behind school killings cites Satanism, Occultism, heavy metal music and even violence in the media as the root cause. The most recent article I read found that the teen perpetrators were “mentally disturbed.”

At first I frowned, then did disgusted head shakings, but after Morne Harmse attacked his fellow classmates in Kimberley I was just angry. I remember sitting in a nurse’s office waiting in mute terror for her to stick a needle in my arm. She was jabbering away, quite oblivious to my state of nervousness. She asked quite casually if I had heard about the goings on in Kimberly, muttering about “Satan.” She wasn’t alone in her thinking. Half our magazines and newspapers jumped on the same bandwagon, labelling Harmse as a disturbed kid who had all sorts of devils in his closet.

That’s when I put pen to paper and began writing Fuse, and I didn’t stop. I essentially put down everything I wanted to say to those journalists and everyone else out there that looks at these kids in fear – these “killer” kids.

What everyone seems to forget is that these are teenagers. Think back to when you were in high school. Those four walls encompassed the entire world, and the two-o-clock bell that heralded the end of the school day was as far away for me as five-o-clock is today. If someone was hurtful to me, it meant a lot more back then than it does now. My skin has thickened, and I’ve learned a few hard lessons about sticks-and-stones. But when I was in high school, if someone was cruel, it was enough for me to not want to go back, or to lash out at myself. My self worth would take a beating. Not all of us were part if the “in-crowd”.

Bullying is infectious and brutal. It’s a problem that’s very difficult to resolve, and usually leaves all parties concerned feeling powerless. What can a teacher or parent do when a child is being bullied? Any action they take will alienate the child more, and both bully and victim knows this. There is no easy way to resolve this issue, and it’s a disease that plagues all schools throughout the world. The horrible truth is that kids have the capacity to treat each other with such inhumanity and cruelty that I wonder how the victims make it to adulthood at all. It really is survival of the fittest at its worst.

But the suicide rate among teenagers in the US has decreased. So what happened? Perhaps Columbine was the catalyst behind this shift. Instead of the downtrodden kids self-harming, perhaps they are beginning to empower themselves with thoughts of revenge against their aggressors. Some might even go further and engage. This would be when school tragedies occur. In this scenario, the bullied would become the bullies.

Of course, school killings are such a relatively new phenomena that you can’t pinpoint it down to one cause. Factors such as home environment, the current economic climate, peer pressure, social rejection – these could all potentially play a part. But thinking back to my own experience of high school, and I dare describe it as challenging, I can’t help feel that this is about empowerment.

I wanted to make Fuse real, with real characters. The reader gets to ask the question, “What happens to these kids?” and I put forward a fictional account of three very different teenage boys whose lives are all affected by one act.

There was a scene in the documentary Bowling for Columbine when the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, mentioned their own high school days. We all had those thoughts of standing up to our bullies, but high school doesn’t last forever. Look how successful they ended up? Even Marilyn Manson went from being an awkward kid to superstar. We move on and we never have to see those awful kids again. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold couldn’t wait those last few months.

This is the message I really wish we could get out to all those kids who feel like they just can’t take it anymore, and they would rather go out in a rain of fire than carry on – high school doesn’t last forever. One day you will look back and you won’t even remember the name of the person who made your life a living hell. I don’t.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    May 16th, 2009 @01:11 #
     
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    Intriguing post, Sally. I can't help but wonder to what extent such attacks operate on a similar social/psychological principal as the "suicide snowball effect". News reports of suicides have been known to prompt a spate of suicides. As if the initial suicide pops the seal off a can of worms, presenting desperate people with an alternative 'solution'.

    (Just tried to check my facts via the web, but came up empty handed. Will take another look.)

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    May 16th, 2009 @01:15 #
     
  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    May 16th, 2009 @03:15 #
     
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    And here's an even better link from the ensuing comments thread:

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm

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  • <a href="http://novelofdoom.wordpress.com/" rel="nofollow">Vanessa</a>
    Vanessa
    May 16th, 2009 @17:36 #
     
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    Interesting discussion, Sally. I showed Marilyn Manson's interview from Bowling for Columbine in my class last week, as we were talking about censorship and violence in the media, etc. What struck me most was Manson's reply when Michale Moore asks him If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
    Marilyn Manson: I wouldn't say a single word to them, I would listen to what they have to say and that's what no one did.

    Seems to me that people latch onto moral panics about everything from computer games to vampires, because they can't cope with the idea that social reality might be a factor in such terrible events.

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