Dave Cullen

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Themes and Colors
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
Religion: Escapism, Evangelism, Opportunism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Columbine, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Violence and Spectacle

The horrifically violent shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 was the most high-profile school shooting of the nineties. In a spree that claimed the lives of twelve students and one teacher, seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought several firearms and homemade bombs into the school and began picking off their classmates, culminating in a cold-blooded massacre within the school’s library. The spectacle of the act was unlike anything America had witnessed, and the…

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Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony

In a school of over two thousand students, fifteen members of the Columbine community died from injuries sustained in the attack. The incident left behind many more survivors—and potential witnesses—than it did fatalities. Though being a witness, Dave Cullen argues, is a difficult and complicated role to play in any situation of gravity, in the Columbine attack—the traumatic nature of which actually made reliable eyewitness testimony nearly impossible to obtain—the role of witness was an…

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A wide array of sad, sinister, and spectacular failures defined the Columbine shooting. From the killers’ failures in empathy to the self-perceived failures in their own lives (romantic and academic) to the failures of their homemade bombs, their journey was marked by humiliation and failure. Other people related to the shooting also experienced failures of many kinds: the shooters’ parents failed to notice the signs of depression and psychopathy that plagued their sons; the police…

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Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism

Dave Cullen, a decorated journalist, wrote Columbine over a period of ten years with the intention of “setting [the facts] right.” He describes the “great media blunders” that plagued the initial coverage of the Columbine shooting: as “the narrative unfold[ed] on television, the media was not about to [wait]” for accurate facts. This reliance on speculation and conjecture created a new kind of media sensationalism. It fed on the accounts of frightened, disoriented victims…

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Religion: Escapism, Evangelism, Opportunism

Dave Cullen describes Colorado—and Jeffco in particular—as “the heart of Evangelical country.” As the attack on Columbine unfolded, the intense religious atmosphere in the community contributed to the spread of rumors of martyrdom and warrior-like defiance in the name of God occurring during the attack. The escapism provided by religious narratives was a comfort to many witnesses and victims alike, not to mention their friends and families. By recounting the ways in which the area…

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