Passing the Buck: A Rhetorical analysis of Marilyn Manson’s “Columbine who’s fault is it”

After the 1999 school shootings in Littleton Colorado, Marilyn Manson wrote “Columbine: whose fault is it” when his music was blamed for the massacre on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School leaving 12 students and 1 teacher dead, Manson a hard rock singer wrote “Columbine: Whose fault is it” in answer to these accusations. His claim is that people are responsible for their own actions, that pop-culture, music, and film should not be used to hang blame. He uses personal experience, tone, storytelling, analogy, comparison/contrast, history, and rhetorical questions to support his argument. The “Columbine” article came out nearly two months after the shootings in the June 24, 1999 issue of “Rolling Stone Magazine.” It was aimed at an audience of a mostly 25-50 year old liberal demographic that reads the magazine. Manson’s argument can be effective to some liberal readers, but has dark offensive tones that could turn many away.      

Marilyn Manson

Emotional connection with your audience is important in a persuasive argument. It can be the difference between the reader finishing the story, or the writer losing his audience. “I was dumbfounded as I watched the media snake right in, not missing a teardrop, interviewing the parents of dead children, televising the funerals,” writes Manson, about the behavior of the media in the months after the incident. This storytelling technique fills the reader with disdain for the media. This strategy automatically puts the reader in Manson’s camp by proxy. Another appeal to pathos is Manson’s use of history again in paragraph three referencing the Princess Diana tragedy “Disgusting vultures looking for corpses, exploiting, fucking, filming and serving it up for our hungry appetites in a gluttonous display of endless human stupidity.” writes Manson. Although this is a good emotional argument, when is it too much? Like sarcasm, if you pour on too much it becomes offensive. His tone can alienate the more sensitive reader due to its abrasive language and dark imagery.  As a writer you try to persuade the audience. You want to try to win the reader over, you want them to cross the street and come to you. Playing on emotions is key for art in any medium, but Manson may want to play it a little safer with his arguments when it concerns the death of children.

Teenage Gun Play

Manson’s public persona is so extreme unless you actually know what he stands for, his credibility is shaky at best. It is something he tries to build throughout the piece. He uses  history and comparison in paragraph two about how America has always glorified killers and outlaws, “they have made them into folk heroes,” even romanticizing their lifestyles. Like Jesse James, Charles Manson, and now Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (Columbine shooters). Manson appeals toward ethics by showing the reader he knows glorifying violent acts is wrong. All of paragraph eight shows appeal towards ethos; talking about the responsibility of freedom, and pointing out “you cannot escape death and you cannot escape prison.” His attempt at establishing ethics may be enough for the open minded, but he has already turned off a good percentage of his audience due to tone and language. In paragraph four Manson brings in the most identifying phrase in the piece, “Throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who is guilty.” This is such a powerful statement because it opens your ears, because it has a feeling of sage wisdom to it. This is him once again pulling analogy and tone from his toolkit.  The fact is he wasn’t in any way responsible for the Columbine tragedy in any way, he could have could have operated on a more factual basis for the sake of his argument.

 

“Throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who is guilty.”

 

I have a great respect for Manson’s word craft. The Columbine piece really gets the reader thinking objectively. Like the abortion doctor in Florida killed by radical pro-lifers….. Where does one even put that? “Doctor killed by pro-life activists”, yeah that makes sense, again using tone and storytelling.  And let’s not forget the , the rhetorical question. In paragraph five of “Rolling Stone”, Archives Issue 815: June 24, 1999, Manson launches an assault on the reader’s logic with a paragraph full of rhetorical questions, and more commas than you can shake a stick at. There is no better way to get the logistical side of anyone’s a mind working than to ask that many deep questions back to back. It is an impressive way to argue, and if not convinced at very least it will make them entertain a different point of view. I do agree with Manson about junk food media. I recently read “After a few perfunctory tears for the victims, the media is looking for someone to blame. The parents, judging from the remarks of state officials, are being singled out as the most likely target for public vengeance. “Rolling Stone”, Archives Issue 815: June 24, 1999, all’s said and done, Manson’s argument would probably lose more of an audience than it would gain.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were already both disturbed young men. On January 30, 1998 they were arrested and subsequently attended a joint court hearing, where they pleaded guilty to the felony theft. The judge sentenced the duo to attend a juvenile diversion program. There both boys attended mandated classes and talked with diversion officers. One of their classes taught anger management. Harris also began attending therapy classes with a psychologist. And both boys had a history of substance abuse problems. Logically this tells me that there is a good chance these boys were headed for trouble. I am not one to judge this solely on that fact though. Harris and Klebold both began keeping journals soon after their arrests. The pair documented their arsenal with video tapes they kept secret. Their journals documented their plan for a major bombing to rival that of the Oklahoma City bombing. These journals contained blurbs about ways to escape to, hijacking an aircraft at Denver International Airport and crashing it into a building in New York City, as well as details about the planned attack. They bought guns from various sources and using instructions found on the Internet, they constructed a total of 99 improvised explosive devices of various designs and sizes. They sawed the barrels and butts off their shotguns to make them easier to conceal.

These boys had a clear plan that goes far beyond some kids acting out because they watched “Natural Born Killers,” or played Grand Theft Auto on Sega Genesis, or even listened to “Antichrist Superstar.” These boys were five members away from being a paramilitary squad ala’ Central America, 1980s. These were deeply confused and disturbed young men with an agenda that goes beyond the realm of influence pop culture has on anyone. I found Manson’s article very engaging it is a real tricky one to analyze. Manson is right in saying there is a burden of responsibility that comes along with being free. I tend to agree with the majority of Manson’s points.

The media is predatory when it comes to a story, and that just compounds the human instinct to find something to blame when unspeakable things happen. Although Manson’s argument did have some cracks in the slab, and wouldn’t hold water if he was actually guilty of something, all 1,532 words are well written. I imagine it will be a college analysis paper for many decades to come.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mulford Jeremy

Musician/writer Editor at Chariot News.com

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