Alone Together

censored http://ericanddylandoingthings.tumblr.com/

April 20, 1999: Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walk into their school wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the phrases “Natural Selection” and “Wrath,” respectively; by 11:35 AM, they’ve killed thirteen people, and at 12:08 PM, they commit suicide in the school library.

Countless replicas of their shirts can be found online, either in photos of Tumblr users or on Zazzle, a site that allows one to customize products and put the designs up for sale.

July 20, 2012: James Holmes is arrested behind the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, minutes after a mass shooting during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. According to reports, he is wearing a plaid shirt at the time of his arrest.

Tumblr erupts with an outpouring of support from plaid shirt-clad Holmes fans.

March 19, 2013: Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane enters his sentencing hearing, removing his pale blue dress shirt to reveal a white t-shirt with the word “Killer” handwritten across the front. The statement he gives after hearing that he will serve three life sentences without parole is “This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you.”

Immediately after the hearing, T.J.’s popularity skyrockets among the gaggle of mass murderer fangirls on Tumblr. It doesn’t take long for bloggers to post images of themselves in their own homemade “Killer” shirts.
 
 
 

T.J.’s fans call themselves laneatics; Eric and Dylan’s are columbiners. Batman shooter James Holmes’s fans are called holmies.

Certain distinctions must be made among the three fandoms. The T.J. Lane fandom, at least in its newborn state, consists mostly of teenage girls who find Lane attractive. There is little to no pretense that they are interested in him for any other reason, which makes sense; the fandom seemingly appeared out of nowhere after Lane’s sentencing hearing. They are attracted to his looks and what they perceive to be a bad boy panache. They want to write him, date him, fuck him.

Many holmies, however, focus on his mental state. They view his case as a tragic example of what comes from a flawed mental health system, and empathize with him. Despite the plaid shirts and the Slurpees and the gifs and the edits and the inside jokes, holmies are good at maintaining a dialogue about Holmes’s case, the person he used to be, who he became, and what might become of him.

Columbiners are the most confusing group. They can perhaps be defined by conflict. Multiple users complain about how the tag has changed; it started as a small community of Columbine researchers. Now, the columbine tag does not see much research at all, and gifs and photo edits are the extent of the original content posted there. Often, the tag is inundated with lengthy treatises on why people should be left to do what they want to do and how no one can change them. Someone inevitably posts about how the tag should be about Columbine, and there is an illusion of everything getting back on topic. It rarely does.

Thoughtlessclown, 15, is a columbiner and laneatic who also keeps up on the James Holmes case. She claims to be the person who decided on the name ‘laneatics.’ “I thought the group needed a name, and someone suggested ‘laneatics.’ So I actually was the one that decided that name.” It is a portmanteau of ‘Lane’ and ‘lunatics.’

“I don’t have any Columbine or James Holmes related clothing,” she says. “The closest I have to that is a Nine Inch Nails shirt Dylan wore, and I have a KMFDM shirt. I do actually like those bands; I’m not just copying them. I would like to get a Wrath and Natural Selection shirt someday. I think some of the columbiners wear them because it shows our support of Eric and Dylan, and because the boys mean a lot to us.”

Seventeen year old rattinthehat doesn’t currently own any Columbine related clothing either, but understands why other columbiners do. “It’s not because we condone the murders, because I have yet to meet one of us who does, but it’s because Eric and Dylan are dead and we don’t have very many ways left to connect with them.”

“We can read their journals and watch their videos over and over again, but after awhile it becomes not enough. Wearing their clothing isn’t meant to belittle the victims or glorify the murders, but it’s because it makes us feel closer to Eric and Dylan. This is a big deal to a lot of us. It’s for this same reason that we want to visit Columbine and Rampart Range and Blackjack Pizza and everywhere else at which Eric and Dylan spent any time. I think that the thought of Eric and Dylan helps a lot of columbiners get through tough times in their lives, and wearing their clothing is similar to someone who wears clothing representing a favorite band or TV show character—it creates more of a connection with the person you’re trying to emulate.”

Holmie-obscure, 27, has “a few plaid items that I had obtained once it was collectively established as a mark of solidarity of sorts. I also have a James Holmes pin of his first mugshot. I used an online shop to have it custom made.”

There’s nothing new about teens and young adults using outward appearance as a way to categorize themselves, but the act of literally labeling oneself sends a potent message. In the same way that wearing all black and hanging out with kids dressed exactly like them asserts individuality, wearing the t-shirt that Eric Harris wore when he blew his brains out in the library may set them apart as bullied, hurt and angry.
 
 
 
The accepting nature of these communities is one of the main things that keeps people posting. For columbiner TooLoud13, 13, it seems to be the main draw.

“I had started researching Columbine a little bit before I found Tumblr, and it basically consumed me. I felt wrong for being interested in it and horribly wrong for feeling attracted to Eric. After I joined Tumblr, I soon found the Columbine tag and found I wasn’t alone. Finding people like me really seemed to take a weight off my shoulders. I had finally found a place where I could actually talk about it openly. I loved the openness of the tag. We’re pretty much all accepted there.”

Thoughtlessclown feels the same way: “I think everyone relates to each other through Eric and Dylan because we are a lot like them in a way, and we also relate to each other because we all like something and someone that society doesn’t see as morally right, and so we really only have each other to talk to about it with.”

Holmie-obscure describes the aspect of taboo that leads so many to join these communities. “I think many of us would agree that the first time we typed ‘holmies’ into the search bar was like an initiation. You had these feelings that you knew weren’t like everyone else’s, and you discovered all of these beautiful people who felt the same way as you.”

“I think part of it is a subconscious recognition of a primal instinct being unleashed that I connect with. It’s something every human being is capable of, but is substained.”
 
 
 
In these fandoms, sexual attraction is often the silent factor looming over every interaction whether it is mentioned or not. Many posters claim to be hybristophiliacs, but it’s easy to tell who is throwing the term around.

Sixteen year old columbiner and “partial laneatic” murdahoess feels a “romantic attraction” to Eric Harris.

“He was adorable! If you showed his picture to a lot of teen girls without telling them what he was infamous for, I bet at least 75% would agree that he is cute,” she says.

“I think that it would have been nice for Eric to have had a girlfriend. He was so lonely and insecure, and believe it or not relationships can help those things, which in turn I believe would have at least lowered his depression. I mean, I’m not saying having a girlfriend and sex would make his life perfect, but it would take away some of the loneliness, insecurities, sexual frustration and depression. I think the right girl could have made an impact on him.”

She feels that she relates to Eric’s loneliness, humor and “how he doesn’t just take things at face value and he tries to look a little deeper into things.”

Dylan also has his admirers, thanks mostly to his journal, filled with writings about love and his distinctive hand-drawn hearts, which some columbiners have had tattooed on their bodies.

“I do feel romantically attracted to Dylan,” says thoughtlessclown. “I just feel like we would have been right for each other, and he was a lot like me. I feel like he would have been the perfect boyfriend.”

“I relate to Dylan a lot,” she continues. “He was shy and he said he was nervous to go to school and he always felt like everyone hated him. That’s exactly how I am.”
 
 
 
A vocal group of columbiners hates to see Eric and Dylan’s suicide photos. They ask people not to post them in the tag because they find them painful to look at. Is it painful because the photos of the boys’ limp bodies spread out on the floor of the library—Eric’s face blown off and his brain splashed onto the spines of books, a puddle of Dylan’s blood spreading and seeping through the carpet—rob the killers of their vengeful power? What does Eric Harris’s natural selection mean if, in the end, he turned the gun on himself? If some columbiners see the boys as symbolic of themselves, as their compatriots or as their fantasy boyfriends, how much weaker must they feel when they see the true result of Reb and VoDKa’s final stand?

“I really don’t like seeing those photos,” says thoughtlessclown. “I don’t even like how they were released and none of the victims’ photos were. It makes me sad when I see them because I feel like I know Dylan and Eric, and I wish people would stop posting them in the tag.”

Justanothercolumbiner, 18, ‘doesn’t really mind’ seeing the photos, but understands their implications. “I don’t know, maybe people have more of a connection to them than I do, and get more emotional about it. What the suicide picture really screams is: ‘real.’ That’s the real thing. The real consequence of their actions. That’s them. Really gone. It’s just… real. It puts things into perspective. You begin to realize, ‘these aren’t just two teenage boys who shot up Columbine High School. These are two people who took their own lives. And they are never coming back.’”

Each of these murderers is inaccessible, whether in jail like Lane and Holmes, or dead like Harris and Klebold. They all present the perfect combination of mystery and relatability. There is enough pure source material—journals, photos, videos—to feel that one really knows them, and enough gaps in the right places for one to create them with one’s own rib. The bonus with Harris and Klebold is the fact that they’re dead, and “never coming back.” There will be little new information about them. They won’t speak ever again. They won’t grow or change. Those facts hurt many columbiners, but may also keep them sated. Maybe it is that makeshift grasp on a fictional eternity—on a perfect fantasy of someone who will never change and therefore never hurt or disappoint—that keeps some in love.
 
 
 
Unsurprisingly, shocked and outraged Tumblr users post in murderers’ tags to berate fans.

“I mostly just try to brush them off,” murdahoess says, “because I know that I am not crazy. I do feel a little guilt for liking people who have done such horrible things. Yet for example, we are no different than the people who supported president Truman. He killed thousands of innocent civilians with the atom bomb. Thousands of innocent people died because of our country and president. This is nothing new—people killing and having supporters. Some of the people we should trust—such as a president—kill innocents every day. So I don’t feel very guilty about it.”

Thoughtlessclown thinks that people are just doing it for attention. “They can’t change us. Columbiners and holmies are the some of the least disgusting and evil people I know. I see it as we have a lot more compassion than most people to be able to still love someone after they did something like that, and look past it to see that they are human beings too.”

The most common misconceptions that interviewees address are that they worship killers, want to recreate their crimes, and do not care about the victims. “We aren’t some crazy psychos that want to shoot up our schools,” she continues. “We are very compassionate and understanding people. We see killers as human beings, rather than monsters like the media wants us to see. We love them for who they were before.”

“My morbid interests don’t harm anyone. They do not define me,” says slowdownlittlelady, an 18 year old who does not consider herself a columbiner, holmie or laneatic but is “interested and invested” in all three cases.

What most detractors do not realize is that the opposition reinforces fans’ feelings and beliefs. They continue the behavior with a strengthened confidence, because the fact that they are ostracized is the point. In other words, they’re used to it.

  • Autumn_Nights

    Very fantastic piece, and very very well written. It covers the overall point extremely well and doesn’t lean towards either side of the issue. The work of a true writer!

  • http://twitter.com/lanyarddd Lani Leong

    Solid commentary on a sensitive topic!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dalmgoshipeunhotstyle Ben Gottschalk

    I really enjoyed reading this. I find your commentary extremely thoughtful and insightful. Your word choice and syntax reveal you to be a gifted writer, while your subject matter is almost avant garde. You managed to find solid research to back up your claims–PRIMARY SOURCES at that. Some might confuse this for lack of initiative to research, but you are essentially the first person to write on this topic, so ~*obviously*~ you had no secondary sources at your disposal. I think you portrayed all those you quoted in a fair and honest fashion, while thoughtfully analyzing their perspectives in the most accurate way you could. As I was reading I almost could feel the angst and anger radiating from these troubled teenagers. You did a fantastic job, and I cannot wait to read your prose on this website and elsewhere in the future.

    • Shannon

      Not all of us are teenagers Sir.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dalmgoshipeunhotstyle Ben Gottschalk

        Most of you are ;) I think this article portrayed certain facets of your community quite accurately, m’am.

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.norman.902 William Norman

    good

  • Shannon

    I object.The death pictures of Eric and Dylan don’t “rob them of their power.” If anything it shows how far they were willing to go and what they were willing to sacrifice to do what they thought they must do.We don’t like seeing them because we want to remember them as they were when they were alive because we love them.Nobody enjoys seeing death pictures of someone they care for, no matter what the circumstances.It’s no different here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dalmgoshipeunhotstyle Ben Gottschalk

      So they are powerful when they are dead? They died because they were delusional maniacs. They SHOT THEMSELVES. They had the power to take their own lives, but the death photos reveal what they really are: teenagers with violent tendencies who went too far. Idolizing them gives them power, but in death they are no more than limp corpses.

      • Shannon

        You are typical of most of most of the outsiders who come into our tag lambasting us.They still are powerful even though they are deceased yes for they live on powerfully in the hearts, minds, souls and lives of people just like myself. The echoes of their lives and final act still are felt today 14 years after the event and show no signs of fading away.I’ve been a proud Columbiner for over 10 years and I’m over 21. This is not some passing phase with me.Society can judge them homicidal maniacs as you just did but I call them a transcendent voice for the bullied, the outcasted, the socially oppressed.They have real meaning to us.All the condemnation from people like you isn’t going to chance that.And I hate to tell you this but in death, the victims were “limp corpses ” too as if every other person that has died in the world.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dalmgoshipeunhotstyle Ben Gottschalk

          I never said the victims were powerful, they were just victims of a horrible crime executed by deluded and hurt teenagers. First of all, you obviously identify with them in some way. You’ve felt hurt or wronged in your life obviously, like many. “Society can judge them [sic] homicidal maniacs as you just did but I call them a transcendent voice for the bullied, the outcasted, the socially oppressed.” Like Victoria, I too can use primary sources to back up my claims :) You obviously identify as one or more of those groups. I’d like to reference a quote to explain your fascination with them. “The bonus with Harris and Klebold is the fact that they’re dead, and “never coming back.” There will be little new information about them. They won’t speak ever again. They won’t grow or change. Those facts hurt many columbiners, but may also keep them sated. Maybe it is that makeshift grasp on a fictional eternity—on a perfect fantasy of someone who will never change and therefore never hurt or disappoint—that keeps some in love.”
          There you have it.

          • Shannon

            I wasn’t trashing the victims by saying that as you obviously meant to insult E &D with the same statement. As I pointed out such a thing can truthfully be said of every person that has ever died if you wish to be crude about it. The victims are actually quite powerful.They are worshiped together as a group by society because they lost their lives in a tragedy.This worship is largely conducted by people who may not know much about the victims as people.Rachel Scott has become an incredibly powerful symbol to many because of her strong religious faith and the extensive school program her family started in her name.The same could be said of Cassie Bernall ,although that has diminished somewhat since it emerged she likely did not say “yes” .Certainly, I identify with them strongly and am a member of the above three groups however I’m also an individual whom you do not know and whose life experiences you’d not be likely to understand so I thank you not to quote the article with such a smug flourish as if you have the mystery of both myself and my group all figured out with certainty.You don’t. Even the author Victoria says that her suppositions are largely based on how she interprets and sees the world based on what information she was given.She didn’t make any definite claims of understanding the motivations and emotional investment of every person involved in this community so perhaps you shouldn’t either.

          • http://www.facebook.com/dalmgoshipeunhotstyle Ben Gottschalk

            Okay then, what reason is there to like two psychopathic school shooters if you don’t identify with them on some level? Do you just find them adorable? And yes I totally am insulting Dylan and Eric THEY ARE SCHOOL SHOOTERS WHO DO NOT DESERVE FAME OR LOVE. When one commits such a heinous crime, there are not enough fangirls in the world to make what they did right. They are beyond redemption and will forever be a blight on the decade. And I know all about Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, thanks :) Maybe you should start a D&E gun range in memoriam, that could really give them more power ;) Or you could try some bomb making classes so sick fanatics will have more successful criminals than D&E to idolize. Columbiners need to realize what they’re actually doing. Are you a Hitler fan? Crimes against humanity aren’t cewt ;)

          • Shannon

            Blah, blah, blah. Come up with some new arguments.You are boring and only illustrate that like most of your kind, you are a close minded, ignorant sheep who will always be a close minded ignorant sheep. At least I can think truly independently and outside the mainstream which is far more than you’ll ever be capable of doing.You see, I set my own moral standards and belief system and don’t live for a pat on the head from society and all its institutions.One of my mantras is that if society doesn’t like or approve of my feelings and beliefs than society be damned.I think there has never been a more appropriate time to share that mantra than now. “THEY ARE SCHOOL SHOOTERS WHO DO NOT DESERVE FAME OR LOVE.” I disagree.I think they deserve all the love & recognition in the world and the howling of the mindless masses will NEVER change that for me.As far as a blight goes, perhaps you should look in the mirror as its people like you who make this planet the rotten hellhole it is.And I’m aware of exactly what I’m doing, thanks.I simply don’t care what people like you think of my beliefs, devotion or passion for them think of my involvement in the community.I don’t do this to shock in any way. I’m a true believer.However, the horror and disgust of the herd is a pleasant side effect.And now since I’ve already given you far more of my precious time than you are worthy of, I hope that know that you’ve accomplished nothing here.I’ll never let the bastards grind me down. Bye now!

          • Shannon

            Yawn.You are boring.And very, very stupid. At least I can think independently and outside the box which is more than I can ever say for you. I make my own moral standards and develop my own sets of beliefs and I don’t live for a pat on the head from society and its institutions like most do. If society doesn’t like my beliefs, then society be damned. I think they deserve all the love and recognition in the world .Nobody will convince me otherwise. Speaking of blights, perhaps you should look in the mirror seeing as how the fact that the world is populated by people like you make it the festering hellhole it is.It always comes back to the masses.I am a true believer so I certainly don’t do this for shock value but the outraged howling of the many is certainly a pleasant side effect. No, I’m not a Hitler fan but am not surprised that you mentioned him since thats about the depth of your expressions. I’ve already give you far more of my valuable time than you should have had so I must bid you adieu .

          • Shannon

            Yawn.You are boring.And very, very stupid. At least I can think independently and outside the box which is more than I can ever say for you. I make my own moral standards and develop my own sets of beliefs and I don’t live for a pat on the head from society and its institutions like most do. If society doesn’t like my beliefs, then society be damned. I think they deserve all the love and recognition in the world .Nobody will convince me otherwise. Speaking of blights, perhaps you should look in the mirror seeing as how the fact that the world is populated by people like you make it the festering hellhole it is.It always comes back to the masses.I am a true believer so I certainly don’t do this for shock value but the outraged howling of the many is certainly a pleasant side effect. No, I’m not a Hitler fan but am not surprised that you mentioned him since that’s about the depth of your expression. I’ve already give you far more of my valuable time than you should have had so I must bid you adieu .

    • http://dismaydisco.com/ Victoria

      I appreciate your comment, Shannon. Because I’m an outsider (even though I frequent the columbine tag and am a Columbine researcher), I am just trying to give my interpretation of things, but I wouldn’t want people to think of any of those things as absolute fact or representing everyone.

      • Stephanie

        I disagree with some of your conclusions and assertions but I do appreciate you being open to feedback and being willing to take notes. The community has been burned a few times by people writing such articles before and the authors of those articles were the exact opposite.It seems their intentions were to trash us from the beginning.

        • http://dismaydisco.com/ Victoria

          Yeah. I really hated that every article I had seen on the topic was nothing but sensationalism with very little or no input from the people actually involved. I am friends with some columbiners, so I was nervous putting this article out. I just hope people know that it’s all my opinion based on how I see the world and how I interpret the things that people tell me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BreenChris Christopher Breen

    Very good article. In society there is is always people who want to marry the criminals in jail. I guess some of these people are them. I think of Kurt Cobain’s death. He is forever will be remembered at that age he committed suicide. I kinda see him as great and then dead. He should be idolized. But the columbine guys no. If some one wants to then sure. But I think might the next school shooter will search the columbine tag for tips of what to do and not to do. I also assume the police and fbi watch every single messages that go through. So what about the Boston Bombers? they have a group now?

  • Maria

    At the very beginning toward the very end of your article, I felt like your article was very focused and supported with “real-life” evidence from tumblr, etc… (a good thing!). I especially like how you broke down the article into definitions for columbiners, laneatics, and holmies while showing opinions of them in an analytic manner. Un-biased writing is fundamental in articles and I feel like you really tried to channel your voice without being on either side.
    But this piece also got to me emotionally. I got goosebumps and found myself in a strange place where I tied various links (media, young adults, popularity of murderers) and realized that you can do so (as you did very well) without necessarily coming to the “A must cause B” conclusion. Just please keep writing and researching. You are definitely a writer with talent.
    As a side note, this article was particularly interesting as I am studying antisocial personality disorder and I feel like your article touches it indirectly.

  • Alex

    Good article to a sensetive topic.

    But I have to say that I can not agree with the kid who says that it’s normal to support people who kill other people, like Harry S. Truman in his example. Sure, he’s right in fact but in my opinion it is not a right thing to do. You can’t justify something wrong by saying: “others do it as well”.

    That said, I hav eto say that I was a teenager in highschool myself when Columbine happend and I had to go trough a tough time back then in highschool. At this time, I really could identify with Dylan/Klebold, so I can understand why others in that age can identify with them as well. But from the perspective of an grown up you start to recognize that what they did is not a soloution. It would be our resposibility as society to make sure that things like that don’t happen again.

  • Kelsey

    I think you did a very good job with this piece. It seems like you spent a lot of time and hard work researching this and finding all your sources. You also stayed focused on one topic and wernt all over the place, which is hard for most people. I liked your use of words also. It wasn’t boring. You’re very talented, Victoria.

  • Timbcarlson

    Wow, very good and imfomative article. I did not even know that this sub-culture existed and reading this makes me wonder what other ones out there exsist.