Phone Message Transcript: April 24, 1999
[appearing on Anne's fan phone line]
Some of you have called to ask me to comment on the terrible tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
I'm honored that you should want my comments, and I welcome this opportunity to express my profound sorrow at the news of the thirteen deaths and the suffering of so many who were wounded.
Before anything else can be said, we must send out total and heartfelt sympathy to the survivors of this unspeakable horror. I pray to God not only for the safe passage of the souls who lost their lives, for the peace of mind of those left behind, but also for the souls of the perpetrators of the appalling violence, calling on a merciful God to understand and forgive what we might not be able to comprehend.
I think it is important at a moment like this, when the nation is reeling from the shock, to remind ourselves that indeed we are a great country of some two hundred and forty million people. The acts committed in Littleton involved only two perhaps three of those people. The world is not going mad. The world has simply been justifiably shaken by the incomprehensible behavior of a truly isolated few.
I pray that during this time of mourning, and as we seek to understand how we can prevent such violence in the future that we do not unwisely turn our wrath on motion pictures such as THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, or on rock music, or any form of art or literature which we think may have influenced the perpetrators of the crimes.
Once again, we are a great nation, and thousands upon thousands of people read books, listen to rock music, and see films like THE BASKETBALL DIARIES. Those thousands upon thousands do not misuse the art, the music, the fantasy.
Misuse here is the key word if such popular art did in fact influence the young killers in Littleton. And it must be remembered that when people commit crimes such as these, they misuse many things offered to them. They misuse their own physical strength; they misuse the guns with which they shoot; the misuse the knowledge of how to build bombs; they misuse their intellect as they plot; they misuse their computers if communication through the Internet assisted them in their crimes. They misuse their freedom of speech and freedom of expression as they plan their crimes.
Ted Bundy, the mass murderer who pleaded in his final hours that pornography had caused his killings, misused even the automobiles in which he trolled for his female victims. He misused his looks and his charm with which he gained their trust as he kidnapped them. The pornography which he blamed for his crimes had probably been read or seen by countless thousands who never brought violence to anyone.
What I am trying to say is: it is not THE BASKETBALL DIARIES which is guilty here; it is those who misused it. And we can not sacrifice freedom of speech and freedom of expression for the abominable few who do misuse them. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are simply too valuable.
Art in all its forms: books, cartoons, comics, television, drama, film, novels--is of vital importance to us as a culture. And it is in these various forms of art that we can struggle with our fantasies of violence and revenge. That is where the shooting and the killing belongs: in the pages of a book, within the frame of a motion picture, on the Broadway stage, in the verses of epic poetry.
And the use of art to talk about our dark side, about our fears, even about our desires for vengeance--is as old as culture itself, as old as the Greek tragedy of Clytemnestra's revenge against Agamemnon for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia; as old as Ulysses come home from Troy to slay the suitors preying upon his wife Penelope. Our bible, our myths, our popular ballads both old and new, our art both high and low--all sing of the battle between good and evil.
We must protect these art forms; we must protect them even when someone misuses them. After all, what do free speech and freedom of expression really mean to us if we can not defend them when people use them in ways we despise? It's easy to defend an art when everybody is behaving correctly. We must defend that art even if an isolated pair or group of killers horrifies us with their literal response to it.
But as I said before, this is a time for mourning for Littleton, Colorado. It is a time for sending our love to the people there, our heartfelt love, and our reminder: the world is not mad; this horror too shall pass. And until that time comes--when the pain is less--our hearts go out to you. Would that we could be there to weep with you. Would that we could place flowers on the memorials and on the graves with you. Would that we could be there with you to pray. God love you and keep you.