Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine and Elephant is a quasi-satirical revolving around gun crime culture in America and aggression. The documentary is entirely on the infamous killings that took place at Columbine High School. These killings revealed extreme forms of aggression prevalent in an industrialized society. The killings were among several gun sprees occurring in the United States between 1997 and 1999.
Although Moore’s documentary is didactic and full of anger, it is a powerful and profound meditation on violence and aggression among young people. The media was the main source of motivation for the perpetrators of violence in the documentary. The role of the media in entrenching aggression is apparent in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant.
Moreover, it provides a reality on the causes of such tragedies. The tendency to use extreme forms of aggression is explained in various journals. In Bowling for Columbine and Elephant, aggression by teen characters reveals that aggression is rife at adolescence. This paper provides a video reflection on aggression.
Behaviour of Characters
Aggression that culminates in violence is reflected in the characters of Bowling for Columbine and Elephant. In the elephant, two students camouflage in an attempt to conceal their identity while walking around campus. This camouflaging reveals that most of aggressors are not comfortable with the lives they lead. Such characteristics are indicated by Daffern, Howells, & Ogloff (2007, 104).
Most of perpetrators of extreme forms of aggression are targets of ridicule or loners who use violence as the last resort. Similar to the elephant, the 1999 Columbine massacre was plotted and perpetrated out by two students with characteristics of aggressors revealed by Richardson & Green, (2003, 15).
Alex Frost and Eric Deulen are labelled as misfits. According to Anderson & Bushman (2002, 28-30), potential aggressors are motivated by looking at the perception of the society about them. Alex and Eric are oftentimes teased and bullied popular kids. This does not go down well with them. They find solace in guns and video games with extreme violence. Moreover, their ill motives borrow a script from Hitler movies.
In the Columbine incident, the character of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris compels them to become extremely aggressive. They possess characteristics inclining a person to commit serious offences. As revealed by Daffern, Howells, & Ogloff (2007, 107) and Rappaport & Thomas (2004, 268), there are numerous ways to classify aggressors.
These ways include the mode of aggression, the target of aggression, and the causes of aggression. The aforementioned categories determine the character of the aggressor and the target of aggression. In the Columbine massacre, the perpetrators are motivated by a desire for revenge as victims of bullying.
A psychological analysis similar to the one conducted by Richardson & Green, (2003, 15) helps reveal the motivations behind the Columbine massacre. Reports from the media claimed that Harris was a psychopath with a superiority complex. Unlike Harris, Klebod was a victim of bullying. Both students were unpopular and outcasts. Harris espouses hatred for other people via a website.
Prior to the Columbine happenstance, the pair had experimented with bombs and posted their results on the Internet. Federal authorities shut down their site. Furthermore, the pair had a blush with the law several times but left good impressions and their criminal records were expunged.
Harris attended a successful anger management class. In addition, the two were to receive psychiatric treatment and take part in community service.
Impulsive aggression is well articulated by Anderson & Bushman, (2002, 28). The authors reveal that physical or emotional aggression can lead to extreme forms of violence, such as the one witnessed in Moore’s documentary.
School interactions in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant are environmental conditions conducive for antisocial behaviour and aggression. Impulsive and episodic aggression, whether physical or mental, causes psychiatric disorders, such as the ones possessed by the perpetrators of the massacres in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant.
As mentioned earlier, the perpetrators of the columbine massacre had several blushes with federal agents. Their queer behaviours emanated from personality disorders. The empirical study by Rappaport & Thomas (2004, 261) is important in explaining the motivations behind the forms of aggression depicted in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant.
The age group is a major factor in the incidents that occurred in Moore’s documentary. The perpetrators were in their teens, an age of emotional changes that can incline an individual towards aggressive and violent tendencies. Moreover, the study by Ostrov, Woods, Jansen, Casas, & Crick (2004, 355) is instrumental in revealing the gender role in occurrences of extreme aggression and violence.
Concisely, the aforementioned study indicates that male offenders use physical form of aggression, unlike the female offenders who use verbal forms of aggression. Daffern, Howells, & Ogloff, (2007, 103) provide an elaborate insight that helps to decipher the causes of the unfortunate events in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant.
This is because in their study, the authors have classified aggressive and antisocial tendencies that could lead to self-injury witnessed in the Columbine case. In this particular case, the pair was motivated by the need to express anger after long periods of mistreatment from their peers.
Studies by Daffern, Howells, & Ogloff (2007, 107) and Rappaport & Thomas (2004, 268) are instrumental in revealing the characters in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant and revealing the form of aggression that led to the occurrences in Columbine. The cases in Michael Moore’s documentary are instances of impulsive aggression.
Daffern, Howells, & Ogloff (2007, 107) reveal that impulsive aggression is prompted by autonomic arousal via provocation. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold exhibit emotions of anger. Similarly, Rappaport & Thomas (2004, 268) help reveal the motivations of the two pair in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant as they state that the perpetrators used exaggerated aggression because of perceived hatred towards them.
The personalities of the perpetrators of the incidences in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant can be approached through intervention of psychiatrists. According to Rappaport & Thomas (2004, 261), psychosocial treatment and therapy for cognitive behaviour can help cure the personality disorders similar to those exhibited in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant.
The optimal treatment for aggressive behaviour lies in the aforementioned interventions. The perpetrators of the crimes in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant had twisted personality traits characteristic of a personality disorder referred to as negativism. These criminals suffered from bullying for long periods. They repressed their feelings until they decided to relieve their emotions through a murderous rampage.
The ensuing personality trait is negativism or passive aggressive behavioural traits. Individuals with this type of personality are irresponsible and blame others for their problems. Moreover, these individuals complain of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others.
In addressing the personality disorders exhibited by the perpetrators of the massacre in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant, there exists the need to build confidence with these people. Low self-confidence can lead to aggressive behaviour and culminate in homicide.
The perpetrators suppressed their negative behaviour and only revealed their personalities in indirect ways. For example, Harris was using a website to express his hatred for his neighbours and the entire world.
Aggressive Behaviour in Group Situations
Bowling for Columbine and Elephant shows that aggression of a huge magnitude, such as the one that occurred in Columbine, is often done in groups. Aggressive people tend to identify with individuals facing similar situations.
This insight is illuminated in the study by Ostrava, Woods, Jansen, Casas, & Crick (2004, 357) that adduced the nature with which extreme forms of aggressive behaviour took place in groups. According to this study, there are various types of aggression and pro-social behaviour, which happen in groups of two or more people. The members of such groups possess similar behavioural traits and may sometimes have same personality traits.
In the Columbine massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were friends who underwent similar circumstances while at high school. The pair had severe psychological problems according to a psychological analysis conducted on them. Harris conceived the plan to attack fellow students. Together with his friend, they demonstrated psychopathy tendencies.
Reports from psychologists contacted by the federal agents revealed that the pair had hatred and sought revenge for the humiliation they underwent in school. Similar to the aforementioned studies, the study by Anderson & Bushman (2002, 32) indicates that psychopaths were aware and rational about their activities.
Prior to the massacre, the pair had dodged prosecution after they broke into a van. This was a source of pleasure for the two with Harris writing a journal on the incident.
Although Elephant was a revelation of a separate incident that had occurred before the Columbine massacre, it analysis focuses on the Columbine massacre with similarities being drawn between the two incidents. Similar to the Columbine pair, Alex Frost and Eric Deulen are great friends with love for automatic weapons and Hitler documentaries. They play graphic video games and make out after showering together.
This reveals a homosexual relationship, which is a form of rebellion. The two are harbouring a Nazi fetish in a society opposed to the incidents that occurred during the Nazi regime. Their aggressive tendencies are fuelled by the negative perception their peers hold against them. As mentioned by Ostrov, Woods, Jansen, Casas, & Crick (2004, 357), the two have formed a bond and identified with one another through similar experiences.
There are victims of bullying and teasing by the popular kids in the school. Apparently, there are not pleased with this form of discrimination and that is why they harbour resentment and plot to annihilate their offenders.
The study by Ostrov, Woods, Jansen, Casas, & Crick (2004, 357) is replicated by Meier & Hinsz (2004 552), which reveals that aggression is increased when people act in groups. Bowling for Columbine and Elephant provides reveals that two or more individuals perpetrate extreme forms of aggression culminating in the death of many individuals and suicide.
The decision to act as a group emanates from the perception that individuals in a group are less responsible after committing crimes than when they are alone. Diffusion of responsibility exacerbates aggression because of group manipulation. In the Columbine incident, Harris devised the plot to kill fellow schoolmates.
Although Dylan had personality problems, it is apparent that he was manipulated by Harris to commit the heinous crime. According to Meier & Hinsz (2004 552), groups possess more aggressive tendencies than an individual does. This can explain why an individual cannot perpetrate most of the massacres of the Columbine scale. Generally, identification with a group leads to the increased perception that the crime may be justified.
To conclude, Moore’s documentary depicts an inexplicable form of aggression and violence. The tag elephant is metaphorical for aggression perpetrated without an apparent cause. Similar to Bowling for Columbine, Elephant focuses on the school life of several teenagers.
Moore’s documentary lays down the root causes of the murderous sprees in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant, by focusing on the victims of tragedy and their inclination to violence and aggression
. As revealed in the aforementioned articles, the role of the media in entrenching aggression is apparent in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant. The media era during the unfortunate happenstances encouraged crime by making heroes out of murderers.
The authors reveal that accessibility to weapons in the industrialized culture of the United States is a major reason why aggression of the magnitude witnessed in Bowling for Columbine and Elephant occurs. Ironically, movies filmed to reveal the trend of aggression and violence in high schools became surprise winners of various awards, revealing that the culture of violence is entrenched in the American society.
Anderson, CA & Bushman, BJ 2002, ‘Human aggression’ Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 27-51.
Daffern, M, Howells, K, & Ogloff, J 2007, ‘What’s the point? Towards a methodology for assessing the function of psychiatric inpatient aggression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, Vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 101–111.
Meier, BP, & Hinsz, VB 2004 ‘A comparison of human aggression committed by groups and individuals: An interindividual–intergroup discontinuity,’ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology , vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 551–559.
Ostrov, JM, Woods, KE, Jansen, EA, Casas, JF, & Crick, NR 2004, ‘An observational study of delivered and received aggression,gender, and social-psychological adjustment in preschool:“This White Crayon Doesn’t Work… ”, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 355–371.
Rappaport, N & Thomas, C 2004, ‘Recent Research Findings on Aggressive and Violent Behaviour in Youth: Implications for Clinical,’ Journal Of Adolescent Health, Vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 260–277.