At 11:10 a.m. on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold arrived at Columbine High School. Nine minutes later, they began a killing spree that over ten years later stands as one of the most horrific acts of violence in American history. In less than an hour, they killed twelve students and one teacher and injured another twenty-four.
Before the dust was settled, stunned Americans wondered why it happened. Some found their answer in the entertainment the pair allegedly consumed. First-person shooter video games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were blamed. Marilyn Manson was labeled as somehow responsible for the massacre (even though it was later revealed the pair did not listen to the shock rocker).
Other headline-grabbing crimes followed the same pattern.
The assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan is connected with the movie Taxi Driver due to John Hinckley, Jr.’s marathon viewing of the movie — which features a psychopath who attempts to kill a presidential candidate — and Hinckley’s infatuation with Jodie Foster, one of the stars of the movie.
In Hamilton, Ohio, Tonda Lynn Ansley shot her landlady in the head. Her response, dubbed the “Matrix Defense,” was to claim that she believed her landlady was “part of a conspiracy to brainwash and kill her.” Others have used the “Matrix Defense,” including a San Francisco man who offered a “Matrix” explanation when he chopped up his landlady.
Mark David Chapman “believed that he would become Holden Caulfield, the young protagonist of [Catcher in the Rye], when he killed [John] Lennon.”
And most recently, the brutal beating death of a seven-year-old adopted girl from Liberia is being blamed on the book To Train Up A Child, a book by a Christian minister and his wife. The book is an unapologetic defense of corporal punishment, advising the reader to “switch your kids” in order to train them to be obedient.
It was found in the home of Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who have been charged with the torture and murder of their adopted daughter Lydia. Mike and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up A Child, are now being tied to her death, with some going so far as to lay blame right at their feet:
Legal liability and moral responsibility however, are two different matters and there is no doubt that Pearl bears a measure of the latter whether he realizes it or not. Of course, the real challenge is not to Michael Pearl, it is to the rest of us, especially those who own Pearl’s book, believe, or teach, that hitting kids is a religious act. This is no longer a phenomenon about which any of us can plead ignorance, and we all bear a measure of moral responsibility for every slap and punch.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 also focused on the Pearls’ book. In the segment, they interview District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who doesn’t hesitate to point fingers at the Pearls for the death of Lydia.
Next: What does a veteran clinical psychologist say about the influence of media on the criminal mind?