Posted by Cody Hoesly
School shootings. Why do they happen? Who’s to blame?
Anyone who has thought about these questions surely has an answer, or several answers. The media often highlights the violent music that many school shooters listen to. Others point to lax parenting — children spoiled when their parents spared the rod. But there are other, perhaps deeper, answers. More importantly, there are other, perhaps deeper, questions.
The Suicide Kings, one of the greatest spoken word acts in the nation, thus present “In Spite of Everything” — a form of slam theater featuring poetry, drama, and cello. (You can figure out the plot of the show from the TBA catalog.) The group, comprised of a former gang member, a former skinhead, and a former mental patient, tackles the real issues underlying school shootings: the violent nature of modern bullying, racial strife in the classroom, abuse at home, and the lack of any hope or means to reach for a better future.
The Suicide Kings should know. They were, and were friends with, the ones who got beat up at school. Gang initiations. Child sexual abuse. Acne so bad they had no respect for themselves. They dated girls who were suicidal because of abuse and worked low-paying jobs where they had to cater to racists. From that perspective, they ask different questions. Not: What was the killer thinking? But rather: What were his friends thinking, the ones who did not join in the killing? Is it wrong to cheer the killer on when he’s killing your enemies, doing what you’ve sometimes dreamed of doing yourself?
Some scenes are so powerul the room is silent afterward. Others lead to rapturous applause. (A long standing ovation ended the show.) The Suicide Kings deal with difficult and mature themes without sugarcoating or whitewashing them. This is the kind of show that can transform the thinking of those who blindly blame heavy metal music for Columbine. Yet the message is as geared to youth as it is to adults — the Suicide Kings pride themselves on their outreach to students who have to deal with the same issues that confront school shooters.
I hope their message is catching on. Oregon, no stranger to school shootings, passed an anti-bullying law in the wake of Columbine. That is one step in the right direction.
On a final note, I must admit ignorance about the name “Suicide Kings.” The Urban Dictionary notes that, in cards, the king of hearts is known as the Suicide King. Watching their show last night, I wondered whether the group had that meaning in mind when they chose their name: if anything, “In Spite of Everything” shows that these kings have heart.