“It’s All About Him”

Van Drehle, David

Time, April 19, 2007

pp. 76 - 77

“The pain, grievances and self-pity of mass killers are only symptoms of the real explanation. Those who do these things share one common trait. They are raging narcissists. Psychologists from South Africa to Chicago have begun to recognize that extreme self-centeredness is the forest and all the other things–guns, games, lyrics, pornography–are just trees.

Criminologists distinguish between serial killers like Ted Bundy, whose crimes occur one at a time and who try hard to avoid capture, and mass killers like Cho Seung-Hui [the Virginia Tech killer]. But the central role of narcissism plainly connects them. Only a narcissist could decide that his alienation should be underlined in the blood of strangers. The flamboyant nature of these crimes is like a neon sign pointing to the truth. Charles Whitman playing God in his Texas clock tower, James Huberty spraying lead in a California restaurant, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold [Columbine High School killers] in their theatrical trench coats–they’re all stars in the cinema of their self-absorbed minds. Freud explained narcissism as a failure to grow up. All infants are narcissists, he pointed out, but as we grow, we ought to learn that other people have lives independent of our own. It’s not their job to please us, applaud for us or even notice us–let alone die because we’re unhappy. Earnestly and honestly, detectives and journalists dig up apparent clues and weave them into a sort of explanation. In the days after Columbine, for example, Harris and Klebold emerged as alienated misfits in the jock culture of their suburban high school. We learned about their morbid taste in music and their violent video games. Largely missing, though, was the proper frame around the picture: the extreme narcissism that licensed these boys, in their minds, to murder their teachers and classmates. We must stop explaining killers on their terms. Minus the clear context of narcissism, the biographical details of these men can begin to look like a plausible chain of cause and effect, especially to other narcissists. And they don’t need any more encouragement.

There’s a telling moment in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, in which singer Marilyn Manson dismisses the idea that listening to his lyrics contributed to the disintegration of Harris and Klebold. What the Columbine killers needed, Manson suggests, was for someone to listen to them. This is the narcissist’s view of narcissism: everything would be fine if only he received more attention. The real problem can be found in the killer’s mirror.”