March 24, 2005

The Zombie Rationale

This week, high school student Jeff Weise went on a shooting rampage in a Minnesota school. The incident is a tragedy, but sadder still are the conclusions that reporters and lawmakers are trying to make about this. In our post-Columbine world, every high schooler that plays video games, wears a trenchcoat, or doesn't look like Chaz the captain of the football team, is a suspect for a future killing spree.

It came out yesterday that the boy drew pictures of skeletons and wrote stories about zombies:
While the writing of his postings on the neo-Nazi Web site may have been sloppy and full of typos, Weise was also able to write more polished prose for stories published on the Internet about zombies.

Weise's Hotmail address links him to frequent postings on one Internet forum called "Rise of the Dead," a site where contributors collaborate on stories about "average people attempting to survive in a zombie-infested world," according to the site.
So writing zombie stories makes you grab a gun and kill people? By this rationale, Stephen King, Clive Barker, George Romero, even my friend Phil Nutman, would have already laid waste to dozens of innocent bystanders. I admit that I haven't been keeping up on the papers lately, but I think their collective body count is still at zero.

But let's humor them and follow that twisted logic a bit further. There's actually a video game that deals with surviving in a zombie-infested world. Since you actively shoot the zombies, it should be an even better predictor of future killers, by this rationale. It's called Resident Evil 4 which sold 319,000 in its first month alone. Quite a number of suspects to keep an eye on. But wait, the "4" in the title means it's part of a series! There's about ten Resident Evil games in all, and they've sold millions of copies worldwide. Wow, that's quite a lot of suspects to round up. Hold the phones! there's a whole GENRE of video games called "Survival Horror" in which you blast zombies with guns. Hundreds of games, with millions of people playing them. So how many of these people have gone on a high school shooting spree? I'd figure about three, with the highest possible number being under 10. That’s 10 out of a few million. I'm not good with math, but I'd say that's a farily insignificant number.

Logic has gone entirely out the window in the past decade and "Zero Tolerance" laws have set us back to the steam age in terms of legal standings. In Kentucky, a boy was arrested and thrown in Jail for simply WRITING a story about zombies in a high school.
Poole said that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.


The new rationale is that non-conformists who fit these stereotypes are under suspicion and kept under watch, or in Mr. Poole's case, arrested outright. Think back to high school, and think about all the people who wore black trenchcoats, played violent video games, drew pictures of skeletons or guns, or wrote horror stories. How many of them went on shooting sprees?

Apply this set of traits, and even I would be a suspect for my actions back then. When I was in middle school, I wrote a Halloween story for my English class about my classmates and me finding a secret passage in the library, and all of us meeting gruesome and untimely deaths. I played loads of video games, watched horror movies, and drew pictures with guns in them. I even checked out the Satanic Bible from the local library (yes, they carried it), just to satisfy my curiosity. All of these warning signs, but have I killed anyone? No. (Well, I did have a hit-and-run, whose body I left in the ditch, but that was a Possum.)

America should stop looking for the easy answers to tragedies like this. Real life is not CSI, where you find one odd thing that exposes the root of the issue, and wrap it all up with a bow at the end of an hour. While it's a good idea to look for ways to prevent future crimes, there are a certain number of tragedies that we have to accept as unpreventable, and this is one of them. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but a far greater evil would be done to this country if actions were taken against scores of innocent people, simply because they share single traits with killers.

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