For a magazine called Time, the national newsweekly displays some pretty unfortunate timing. Or that's what some feel about the magazine's decision to publish--two weeks before Christmas--a cover story on the five home videos made by Columbine High School killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
After the magazine hit newsstands, the Jefferson County, Colo., sheriff's department screened three of the tapes for the families of Klebold's and Harris's victims, who had begged for months to see them.
Watching them had to be hellish. Families of the April massacre's victims endured scene after scene of the killers slurping liquor, hurling profanities, caressing their firearms and joyfully modeling their terrorist attire. They heard their children's murderers trot out for posterity an all-inclusive list of hated, potential targets: blacks; Latinos; Jews; gays; "[expletive] whites"; Christians; working women; and their own relatives.
Or, as Harris put it, "This is just a two-man war against everyone."
And there was this: The killers mused about which director, Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino, would best immortalize their exploits on film. "Directors will be fighting over this story," Klebold boasted.
Anyone with a heart could understand why the victims' families might resent Time for using the videotape revelations to replay their children's murders during this most joyful season.
"Why don't you wait until after Christmas?" asked Randy Brown, whose son, Brooks, was spared. Brown is the father who reported to police that Harris was violently threatening his son months before the massacre--and was ignored.
"What," he asked, "does this serve?"
For victims' families, perhaps nothing. For the rest of us, maybe more than we can imagine.
Some things, we can't afford to get comfy with--especially at Christmas. Some truths we shouldn't let our gift-buying and party-hopping distract us from. The season in which our ever-wandering attention is focused on our loved ones is a great time to re-ask the question on everyone's mind in April:
If this happened to Littleton, whose loved ones are safe?
In fact, we are getting used to tragedies like Columbine's, to the madness that has struck a growing number of towns and cities where mass shootings have recently occurred in schools and, increasingly, work places. Can you even recall where the most recent school shooting took place? Try Fort Gibson, Okla., where a 13-year-old wounded four middle-school classmates on Dec. 6.
I mean, who can keep up?
Revelations in the multi-part Time package are wrenching and confounding. So much, it seems, was ignored: Klebold's violent English essays; Harris's virulent Web site; the guns, ammo and bomb components scattered like so many Legos throughout Harris's room. The boys' plan was so thorough, it's amazing they killed "only" 13.
For those wondering "why," the boys' scattershot outrage and ceaseless speculation over the world's ultimate reaction provide a crystalline answer:
"They wanted to be famous," said an FBI agent on the case. "And they are."
Problem is, so many kids want to be famous. Many lack even a smattering of Harris's and Klebold's blessings--good schooling, ample finances, loving parents, a certain intellect--and those weren't enough to deter them.
How many more children and adults in our violence-steeped, celebrity-addled culture will see mass destruction as a quick, easy route to fame? Yes, Harris and Klebold were unstable, perhaps plain crazy. But they're hardly the only emotionally fragile kids and adults who wallow in the depraved "games" and movies and Web sites and TV shows the culture so gleefully provides.
And for which no one takes any responsibility.
It's the end of a millennium, and I'm sick of waiting--for the next shooting, the next footage of anguished kids sobbing outside a school, the next tortured cries of "What can we do?" from men and women who refuse to look within when the answer appears to be, "Nothing."
I'm tired of waiting for an already-wealthy video game producer or Hollywood studio--or better yet, a major star like Arnold or Tom or Sly or Wesley--to say, "I refuse to participate in another pointlessly brutal project whose only benefit is another big, fat paycheck for me."
I'm waiting for more thinking adults to vow, as a pal of mine did after Columbine, "I won't pay another dime to support violent entertainment."
I'm waiting for pickets and boycotts and angry letters and something more than lip service to deal with what we all know: Ours is a sick society and it's up to us to heal it. This is our world. These are our children.
Surely the man whose birth Christmas is supposed to celebrate would agree:
This is as good a time of year as any to start.