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Voices From The Hellmouth Revisited: Part Five 17

This is the fifth in our Hellmouth Revisited series; reprinted below is both Jon Katz's column "More Stories From The Hellmouth" and some of the flood of email and comments which Jon's original Hellmouth columns inspired. To read and consider.

More Stories From The Hellmouth

More stories from the Hellmouth that is high school for many bright, individualistic merican kids continued to pour in yesterday. They are jarring testimonials from teens, adults, men and women. In the past four days, I've gotten well over 2,000. These stories, many of them painful and enraged, tell us more about what happened in Littleton, Colorado -- a lot more -- than the dumb, exaggerated, frightening alarms about video games, Goths and geek monsters pouring out of much of the mainstream media.

The messages started coming in a trickle Friday afternoon, then a torrent by Monday. They were wrenching, sometimes astonishing, an electronic outpouring of anger and compassion.

For a writer, there's nothing more humbling than to be at a loss for words. I can't do more justice to these stories than to let them speak for themselves.

By last night, I had received thousands of e-mails about life in junior high school and high school. Few remembered it fondly -- none, in fact. Some had unbearable memories. Some are still recovering. Many more are still there, suffering every day.

Many of you wrote asking if you could help these kids. Others wondered if there was any way to get the message about their lives out beyond Slashdot, if these stories might reach the mainstream media in some form.

Don't worry about that. The column and the responses to it ricocheted all over the world, via e-mail, mailing lists, links, even faxes. There were scores of requests to reprint. For any others, and on behalf of Slashdot, be my guest.

On the Net, ideas don't need to be pushed. They find their own audience and stand or fall of their own weight. Eventually, I will answer each e-mail, and am grateful for them.

In the wake of the killings in Littleton, Colorado, here are more stories from the Hellmouth, from its current and former children.

"What this really means to all my fellow young geeks out there? Endure! It may take a year, or two, or five, but we will win. All those preps, jocks, etc., etc., will have their Ms. Degrees, 2.5 kids, a job at Circuit City as an assistant manager, will be wondering where their life went, when we are coming into full bloom and taking over the world."---John (Original Comment #1)

"I am married, have two wonderful little kids, and am, by conventional measures, considered "successful." I'm also a computer geek, a nerd, and still have painful memories of the emotional and physical trauma I sustained in high school. I still attend counseling regularly. I still take anti-depressants every day and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Did I feel hate and rage for my attackers? Oh, yes. But I could never do anything about it and couldn't get anyone to help me. The only advice I got from my parents was to just ignore the bullies and eventually they'd leave me alone. Fortunately, I don't seem to be pre-disposed to violence or was too much of a coward to consider it. I can, however, see how the wrong kid in the wrong situation could go over the edge."---Kevin (Original Comment #2)

"I am a geek, and very proud of it. I have been beaten, spit on, pushed, jeered at. Food is sometimes thrown at and on me while teachers pretend not to see, people trip me. Jocks knock me down in the hallway. They steal my notes, call me a geek and a fag and a freak, tear up my books, have pissed in my locker twice. They cut my shirt and ripped it. They wait for me in the boy's room and beat me up. I have to wait an hour to leave school to make sure they're gone. Mostly, I honestly think, this is because I'm smarter than they are, and they hate that."

"The really amazing thing is, they are the most popular people in school, while everybody thinks I'm a freak. The teachers slobber all over them. Mostly, the other kids laugh, or walk away and pretend not to see it. The whole school cheers when they play sports. Sometimes, I want very much to kill them. Sometimes, I picture how I'd do it. Wouldn't you? But unlike those guys in Littleton, I never will. I value my own life much more. When I read these messages, I would ask other geeks to try and remember that, no matter what. And get online and make contact."---Peter. (Original Comment #3)

"I am 24 years old, and a successful professional now, but, fifteen years ago, I was in the Hellmouth. Just wanted to shout some small form of encouragement out to the kids fighting today. Take your fight for the right to be different to the people with power, enlist your parents help. Remember that if you can get your parents to understand your need to be creative, and non-conformist, because your brain is just plain bigger than the small world of middle and high school, your parents can make a fuss to school boards. But if they won't listen, go to the school boards yourself. Peacefully, but forcefully, assert your right to be different by speaking out against fear and oppression. Because that's what it is. It's all about the fear. People fear what they don't understand, and let's face it , the world of geek isn't something most people can understand, if only because it's a complicated world filled with smart folks. And most people aren't complicated smart folks. You have GOT to break them of the fear. You gotta explain that it's not violent, it's colorful. You want violent? Look at football, look at sports. That's REAL ACTUAL violence, not the simulated, stylized, far from even looking-real violence of video ames or D&D (Dungeons & Dragons). And for a real kicker, ask them how many geeks are arrested for violent crimes and misdemeanors when compared to popular athletes."---Evan (Original Comment #4)

"The mainstream is missing the point. All over the world, "geeks" are standing up and saying, "This is horrible and I know what caused it" and all over the world people are saying "Oh, my God! Another killer!" I'll spell it out: "The killers are a symptom of the alienation of an unrecognized minority - the geeks." No, that doesn't make it right. No, that doesn't mean a thousand more killers are lurking in the computer rooms of your schools. Failure to understand this severely limits your ability to correct it. I read with dismay that geeks are being cut off from the Internet and violent online games so that they "won't become killers." Follow my logic here:

Given: The killers were motivated in no small part by alienation. Reducing a person's contact with like-minded people increases their sense of alienation. Reducing a person's sense of identity increases their sense of alienation. Geeks tend to communicate with each other via the Internet and online games. Conclusion: Cutting geeks off from each other (Internet access) and their identity (choice of clothing) will increase rather than decrease the likelihood of violence. "I have been racking my brain to figure out what stopped me (from hurting someone). I've been asking myself "what can I hand to people to fix this?" The answer is very simple. The faces are very clear in my memory of the few "popular people" who took the time to talk to me and find out about me. There are maybe a half dozen. They showed me that they are people too. I heard a report, it may not be true (it is) that one of the killers went and told one of his classmates before the killing, "I like you. Go home." If that happened, if you are that person, you know that your attitude saved your life. If there were a few more like you, maybe it would have saved everyone."---Simon (Original Comment #5)

"I thought I had put this behind me but I obviously haven't. This whole past week has really torn me up inside because 15 years ago, I was one of those kids. Because HS for me was sheer and utter Hell. I have no single memory that I can recall as being good. I have no single person who I can recall as a friend. Hell, even the OTHER rejects kicked me around. I feel like I'm seeing this all through the eyes of a refugee from a war, who by some circumstance is rescued, taken off to a land far from the conflict, far from the danger and death and constant fear and destruction. Years later, after having made some personal peace with the past, if not the people, they hear or see a report that their former home town or village has been bombed and the people they knew killed and it all comes flooding back. Why is it that we as geeks, freaks, nerds, dorks, dweebs, have to suffer while the clueless, bow-headed, testosterone poisoned normal people are allowed to get away with murder? I wonder just how many outcasts have been driven to suicide because of just one too many tauntings or practical jokes on a particular afternoon? Why do we murder the spirits of our most gifted and talented young people? THEY are the ones that are our future. THEY are the ones that are best equipped to build the world to their hopes and dreams. The prom queens and cheerleaders will have their 15 minutes and then take their places among the teeming masses of consumers. They have already shown they want to be lead around and are more than happy to let society tell them where to go and what to do."---A. (Original Comment #6)

"These series of articles, and the replies on Slashdot are like a breath of fresh air!!! Yes, there's some diversity in opinion (which is wonderful), but there's none of the spite, hate and violence I've seen on other boards discussing the same thing. Places as different as Salon magazine and MSNBC's boards are predominantly inhabited by people seriously advocating fixing the violence by being increasingly violent, abusive and discriminating against their own kids and other people's. Kids learn what they're taught. If a kid is taught that might make right, that if someone disagrees with you that you SHOULD inflict suffering, that anger is best served explosively, then that is the behavior they are going to show. If you throw in verbal and physical abuse, isolation, neglect and blaming the victim, you end up with someone with a lot of pent-up, built-up anger and hate. Add easy access to weapons and explosives, toss in a pinch of Hollywood shoot-out glamour, throw in some questionably-prescribed drugs that those responsible are all but panic-stricken in their need to deny any possible connection, and there isn't enough money in the world that could pay me to walk within a million miles of the place."---J.D. (Original Comment #7)

"I'm sitting at work right now, and I've been reading all these articles about Littleton, and I really wish I had my own little cubicle because I'm a bit teary-eyed right now. I guess I developed my own little persecution complex during my time in school and so I identify with what many of the kids are going through right now. For a long time, I was a major part of the KJHS and KHS "nerd herd", and it took a few years to learn how to deal with that. Sure, in the end we turned out fine but how many kids never get to that point? I had a distinct advantage: my high school had a well-developed fine arts program, so those of us in drama, music, and the like had a large peer group that was mostly left to its own devices by the more traditional cliques (jocks, preps, etc.) It still took some work ... who doesn't want to be popular? But you eventually learn that the only opinions that matter are those of people who matter to you, and people whom you matter to. Don't worry about the rest. I know, easier said than done, but it's something to keep in mind."

"Why am I telling anyone this? To be honest, I don't really know. I guess I just wanted to offer one more testimonial to the fact that most of us turn out okay, I grew up playing D&D, listening to heavy metal sometimes (even stuff like Slayer and beyond, for awhile), playing violent computer games (it's not like they're new...even my old Atari had shoot-em-up's just back then, people didn't blame crazy shit on them.) In school, I got fairly good grades, was a member of many of the school bands (clarinet, sax, drums), a member of some of the competing teams (JETS, Engineering Design Team, etc.), and didn't have a girlfriend until 10th grade. I was picked on, teased, all the regular stuff that we all have come to expect. But you come through on the other end a better person. You learn who you can rely on. You learn to rely on yourself, and those few rare souls that you connect with during those dark years. Eventually you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. It might be high school, it might be college, it might be when you enter the work force, but the day will come. Just keep trying to make yourself a better person, make yourself someone that YOU can be proud of don't worry about the others. Yeah, well, that felt mostly pointless. Well at least I got my two cents in. Hopefully someone can take something from what I've written. Cheers." ---C. (Original Comment #8)

I'll kill you in my dreams.

I turn the other cheek during the day.
I'll kill you all.
(I'm so sorry.)

The subculture of my dreams is waiting for me to fall asleep.
I know you're scared; you should be.
I know you're scared.


This attic of my mind,
These feelings I can't hide, I can't share
I feel alone.

The subconscious keeps me here.
I fell in love with a balladeer.
I saw your tongue; it licked my heart.
They called you queer. Hero.
(Leave me alone.)

They called you queer...
They called you queer...
They called you queer...
They called you queer!

--- E.K. (Original Comment #9)

"So, the students have returned to school (but to Chatfield High), and this is how they handle things (from Washington Post, May 4): "Two students dressed in black were led out of an assembly, but not before they snatched their backpacks from teachers who had confiscated them." The powers that be in the schools still don't get it."---S.P. (Original Comment #10)

"The irony in the current coverage, at least to me, is that I remembered my leather-jacketed, spiky-haired, combat-boot wearing friends as being for the most part peaceful, gentle, sensitive types - lots of vegetarians and anti-nuke people. Sure, there were a few who probably could have benefited from some therapy, but most of them were - and are - the nicest, kindest people I knew, despite their rather alarming appearance. After all, we had to be like that - we all knew what it felt like to be shoved in a locker, spit on, have stuff thrown at us, etc. I seem to remember the football players and other jocks as being a lot more violent and given to fits of rage and other displays of aggression. I certainly agree that the two shooters in Littleton were deranged boys filled with hate. But it's a fine line between a supposedly "well-adjusted" teenager (who bashes freaks) and a disturbed one."---Sally (Original Comment #11)

"I, like many of the Slashdot audience, was one of those kids in high school, junior high and elementary school. I have suffered what those kids suffered, and continue to suffer. I made it through, but apparently not everyone does. The response to your article seems to suggest that there are many of us out there who want to help do something to curb the backlash to focus on the correct issue. I was wondering, in you surely large catalogue of responses to this column, have you found any hints of where we might send letters? Or we might contact, to start telling people what the real problems are? I want to help. I want to write, to talk, to help ensure that geeks of today and tomorrow aren't further persecuted for pursuing differences from the norm. We have to spread the word far and wide; teachers, parents, and people who should know better than to ban trench coats, take away computers, and further drive their kids into depression and isolation. How can we organize something meaningful?"---Matthew (Original Comment #12)

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Voices From The Hellmouth Revisited: Part 5 of 10

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  • I thought i'd come see how many comments were posted, so i could get an idea of how many people read Jon Katz stories...

    [cricket noises]




  • Weird considering the original Hellmouth stories were some of the ones with the most posts on Slashdot.
  • So, what is a HellMouth, anyway?


  • by XO ( 250276 )
    I don't know that Jon ever got the 32K email that I typed the night the first Hellmouth appeared on Slashdot. If he did, I don't know that any part of it will ever be seen, or what not. But it's all real.. and no matter how a person tolerates it, it seems there's only one way to make it stop: fight back. And fighting back is so against some of our ideals, that it's virtually impossible. It took me 11 years to finally stand up and fight back, because I am SO against violence as a way to solve your problems!

    Now why the fuck does it seem that everyone has a problem with JonKatz? Answer me this, someone.
  • Dear God, where do these people live?

    People have looked at me differently because I'm a geek, but most of the times it's been out of respect!

    I can just say it's scary to see what these kids must go through every day and even scarier to imagine what the world around them must be like to even _tolerate_ such behavior.

  • This confuses me utterly. I had awful experiences in Junior High and even previous to that because I was different/smart... But they haven't continued. (for informational purposes, I'm in the first semester of my senior year)

    I ignore those who are/were indignant to me, and have accumulated enough of a vocabulary to respond in kind if need be. So be it; those who choose not to respect me do not deserve my respect or attention. And, I've found not all the jocks are the evil people we make them out to be. I've found friends who are both extremely intelligent and play 3 sports. I've also found idiots who play one, but they can present valid opinions too when they set their minds to it.

    The same way another commenter has said that the most geeky-looking of the geeks were some of the nicest, kindest people he/she had ever met, it goes the same for the jocks. Someone I probably never would've talked to on my own is now someone I am proud to consider a friend. And I don't have an "in" - I don't play any sports myself, nor am I "popular." I'm just nice to people who are nice to me, and treat about everyone else in kind. I don't assume that anyone won't talk to me because they're a jock and I'm a nerd; but then again, I'm not big on class distinctions in general.

    Is it any better for nerds to assume that all jocks are assholes than it is for the media to assume that all nerds are killers?
    Is it good to assume you have to live your life in a shell because you're not "popular"?

    To qualify my statements, I will admit I have some advantages. I am physically imposing, so no one has ever physically messed with me. I also do not suffer fools well - if you seem to be looking for a piece of my mind, you'll get it. Also, one of the most important people in my life (my girlfriend of 10 months) plays three sports. But I have friends who are "nerds," so to speak, and acquaintances who are jocks. I don't really draw class distinctions like that, though. I tend to rate people on who they are, not what category they fall into.

    Isn't that what everyone is complaining about? The media generalizing about a "class" of people. And haven't most of our replies been just a wee bit hypocritical in that we draw upon the same class distinctions to make our complaints? I know some people who have had awful experiences (see: []), but I, for one, have not.
    Mainly, if not purely, because I have chosen not to.

  • I agree with both of the parent posts to some degree. The original parent made some very good points about looking outside conventions, but I feel that your analysis of the situation is more to the point - people get treated like shit and unless we all take the time to deal with social problems like this it isn't going to stop.

    I guess I could see pretty close to the parent poster - I was never physically intimidated that often, probably because I enjoyed physical activity (not typical high school sports - things like skateboarding and snowboarding) and because a good number of my friends were known as ass-kickers. If I would have had to endure physical abuse during high-school I don't know what I would have done.

    The fact that I had to take shit for being part of fringe sub-cultures as well as being a geek is another thing alltogether, but I don't think I should digress on that now (I would have to say though that if you're being opressed, you'll definately find common experience with the other types of 'freaks')

    The mental abuse is probably the more common thread though, and unless you have the ability to deal with it, it will drive you insane. I still have many friends who linger a great deal on how they were treated badly during their education years (and it's totally justified, there were some real assholes at our school). I appreciate that they find some relief in our friendship and how we always looked out for one another though. I think the thing is that we have to stop ignoring this kind of social disease - if you're not one of the people getting abused all the time, then stand up when you see people getting treated poorly. I think I was far enough outside of the 'typical' geek stereotype that most people didn't think to try to use me as their kicking post, and if I ever saw anyone getting treated unfairly I was always one to step in and stop it. Even if it is just something as simple as letting someone know that their comments aren't appreciated by everyone, cause lets face it, the concept of stepping on someone elses head to make yourself that much higher isn't anything new, it's pretty much ingrained in western society and unless people actively try to reverse it then nothing will change.

  • It is quiet here... Stares up at the stars. Passes the joint... I normally do not read any of Katz's stories, but i feel that the Hellmouth ones are the only ones worth reading.
  • by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2000 @05:03PM (#579490)
    I'll kill you in my dreams.
    I turn the other cheek during the day.
    I'll kill you all.
    (I'm so sorry.)


    This is a direct quote from a song by the band Live. The song is "Heropsychodreamer" from the "Secret Samadhi" album.

    Is this an email Katz actually got? Was the guy claiming to have written it? :)

    Not that anybody reading really cares, but I doubt posting the complete lyrics to a song can be cited as fair use. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well it's funny but somebodies just registered... and .net

    Let's just hope they use their powers for good.

  • Realize that there are a wide range of experiences. Some a greatly positive, some a greatly negative, some are in the middle. So your's is in the middle, good for you.
    Yes, I will agree that a person's place is chosen by them. But that choice may not be easy. In some communities, physically beating up nerds is held as a wholesome sport. All a victim can do is fight back, run, or take it. They may not be able to run. They may choose not to fight (I, for one, am so non-violent that I can't beat up my best friend when he deserves it). So their chosen option is to take it. Some people don't have the benefit of an imposing appearance (and, indeed, appearance is a huge deciding factor). The only reason my abuse stopped was because my class grew so large (800 people) that very few people bothered to remember who was popular and who wasn't. We were able to avoid each other. If your school only has a few hundred people in it, that's not an option. Those people that hate you will always be there.
    Sometimes people just hate you, and you can't controll that. You may not have even done anything to make them hate you. They just choose to. And if their use of hate is to abuse people, then guess what? They're going to abuse you.

    These stories are not saying "Everyone else sucks! Jocks suck! Media sucks! Stay away from them!" It's saying "This shit is real. Stop saying that it's jusy "Boys are boys". Stop saying that it's good for them. Wake the fuck up and fix it."
    /In my experience/, most jocks are lacking in the mental abilities department. Doesn't mean I won't talk to them. I've also seen plenty of people in the computer science department who are complete nail heads. But, IN GENERAL, it's the jock that's going to beat you up, instead of the library nerd. Have some compassion for what other people are going through, instead of just saying "Your own damn choice. Fix it yourself." Most people won't have the strength for that for years.
  • by XO ( 250276 )
    fact of the matter is, for a lot of us, particularly those of us in the heavy metal stereotypes, the other people around in my high school were so fucking scared of even looking at me, unless they knew they had the muscle to back themselves up, that social ineptness didn't even play a part. No one wanted to be involved.
  • I agree heavily on the variance of experiences. I just don't think enough of the positive/middle ones come out.
    I'm quite lucky; I live in whats a generally healthy community. I have grown up in relatively afluent, suburban community. In comparisons to the stories my father tells about highschool (he went to school in inner city New Haven, CT, USA). Things like shop teachers being attacked with 2x4s have not and most likely will not ever happen at my school.

    So yes, people can't always change their situation by pure force of will, but I remember thinking my freshman year that the only way I'd be happy was to conform. My sophomore year, a little bit wiser, I decided that the only way to be happy was to be happy with oneself, and I immediately set upon that task. Be it through Boy Scouting (see url), theatre, computers, friendship, or any other of my hobbies/interests, I respect who I am and what I do.
    So do most people I think.
    I don't know, its quite late, and I have to get up tomorrow - but I think my point was that too many of these stories give the impression of hopelessness. When you are without hope, you are truly without recourse, and thats a scary thing.

  • I, too, have had my share of high school horror. One egregious example that comes to mind: I was nearly thrown off a second story balcony by a couple thugs. I also experienced the usual barrage of verbal and physical abuse. No wonder I was a misanthrope seething under a cold, calm exterior.

    And yet I see many similar testimonies; and we all know that for every story there are dozens of similar tales that we don't know about. Such abuse is rampant and a "normal" teen-age experience for anyone that was a nerd, geek, goth, gay, or anyone else on "the fringe." I've been thinking of Stephen Pinker's take on evolutionary psychology [] and thought that, since this type of miscreant behavior happens so often, that maybe this is a kind of "culling the herd" behavior that's evolved over time.

    The word "schadenfreude" means "happiness from someone else's misfortune." I wonder if, collectively, we go after people that are "too successful" as their progeny may out-compete ours; we are "happy" if these successful people experience "misfortune."

    So the "herd" wants to get rid of "the weak," and also wants to insure that some individuals aren't "too successful". I.e., these are folks sitting on the fringe.

    Nerds, geeks, or whatever, are unlucky enough to be physically weak are are also generally brilliant. This double wammy may really push that "cull the herd" instinct in those who more comfortably sit on top of the bell curve.

    Of course I'm just pulling this out of my ass, but I thought to share it anyway for possible discussion.

  • This story is a VERY important social commentary for what is probably the majority of Slashdotters. Just because it doesnt announce the release of a new kernel or the discovery of asteroid b125k39fb*! doesnt mean it isnt newsworthy and applicable to readers. Katz would get alot more respect if the bashers actually posted instead of just scanning headlines for stuff they can impress/scare their non-techie friends with. READ the stories posted here - dont just follow link headlines!
  • The Hellmouth is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Basically, it's a gate to Hell, and demons constantly appear in the area to torment and control the citizens; destroy order and well-being; and variously wreak other physical, emotional, and social havoc.
  • Fightback? I was a geek in highschool, I got picked on and all that goes with the territory of being a freak/geek. Of course that was until I learned why this was happening to me: I had no social skills. I wasn't just a freak/geek, i was a completely socially inept freak/geek. Once I learned how to actually communicate with people, I was no longer viewed as just a computer nerd and such, I was weird, but i was a weird person people could hold a conversation with.

    Now most of you are going to say that you should still be able to be whomever you want, but come on, these are life skills that you need, and if you don't learn em sooner or later, your going to be a social pariah in your adult life too.
    I never posted on the Hellmouth stuff because Katz (although I don't hold a scathing elitist hatred for the man like most here) seems to try to oversimplify things into this comic book image of the world being divided between the smart people and jocks and preps and adults that are just jealous and want to hold you back. That's retarded, the world's a little more complicated that that. Get it together.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982