Gender and Geography in Mass Shootings

The recent mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012 at the Century movie theater during a showing of the new Batman film–“The Dark Knight Rises”–highlights a number of sociological issues to do with gender and violence (David Brooks’ comments notwithstanding). Sociologists look for patterns in behaviors like this and some of the striking patterns in recent history have to do with the gender, race, class, and lives of the shooters. Hugo Schwyzer draws a number of these connections in his post, “Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men.” Michael Kimmel and Matthew Mahler’s (2003) article on random school shootings in recent U.S. history (1982-2001) draws a number of similar conclusions regarding a particularly pathological concoction of masculinity, homophobia, bullying, and entitlement that lie behind a great deal of these and similar incidents.

One issue that is less addressed is the cultural fascination with the geography of these horrific events. I remember seeing the issue of Newsweek that reported on the shootings at Columbine High School. What I remember most was the architectural image that depicted the school, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s paths through the school, and where various attacks occurred (just 15 miles west of Aurora, CO).

The Virginia Tech mass shooting was no different. We saw graphic details of the campus map with intricate lines drawn representing the path Seung-Hui Cho through campus during his massacre. Time-stamped images give viewers a minute-by-minute graphic to imagine the spaces within which these violent acts occurred. Our ability to depict these images is insufficient to explain the cultural fascination with them. It’s simply no longer enough to know what happened and why, we’re simultaneously captivated by the where.

I’m actually not completely sure what I think it means, but it’s something that I anticipate every time a young man commits a crime like this and James Holmes’ mass shooting in Aurora was no different.

Certainly, information like this might be important for the police, or for investigations in the courtroom, but why is this what the rest of us seem to want to see as well?

This is a bit of a different kind of post, but I’ll leave that open to conversation in the comments if anyone has any interesting interpretations.

2 thoughts on “Gender and Geography in Mass Shootings

  1. Hey Tristan. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m fascinated by the “where” because I can easily picture myself being in that situation; it hits close to home. A school, a campus, a movie theater – these are all places where I easily could have been. Knowing the “where” allows me to better empathize and put myself in the victims’ shoes. It also allows me to do some serious reflection, and think deeply about life.

    A couple of weeks back, I saw the Dark Knight in theaters and I thought about the Colorado shooting. I pictured each move the gunman made. I pictured sitting in the theater and seeing the him enter. I pictured him shooting and walking up the steps in the theater. And I pictured the actions of the victims. I even imagined my own actions, and I realized that I had no clue what I would have done in that situation.

  2. I never used to be one of those people who said certain behaviors were symptomatic of society but I have a different take on what is happening with the mass shootings and that is we live in a predatory age.

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