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Sociologist Takes “Supporting Role” in Columbine Documentary

by Johanna Ebner
Public Information Office

One of sociology’s own is a “movie star” in the making. Barry Glassner, University of Southern California, appeared in Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which was released in local theaters this fall. In the film, Glassner takes Moore on a tour of South Central Los Angeles and talks to him about the neighborhood’s and America’s “culture of fear.”

Bowling for Columbine takes a humorous and eye-opening look at the issue of fear and violence in America. The film compares statistics of gun violence in the United States to other countries and explores what makes America different. Moore also searches for reasons why Americans perpetuate so much violence.

“The movie is an important artistic accomplishment because there has never been a documentary like this,” said Glassner. “It is able to debunk societal fictions in an entertaining and informative manner.”

In the documentary, Glassner, an expert on culture and deviant behavior, discusses America’s fears and why many of them are unfounded. In the movie, he makes the ironic point that “a country out of control with fear should not have guns and ammo” so easily accessible.

Moore learned about Glassner after reading his book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Fear the Wrong Things. Glassner received a phone call from the producers of the movie who told him that Moore was interested in interviewing him for Bowling for Columbine. “He read my book and liked it a lot,” said Glassner. “We spoke and we set a time and place for [Moore] to bring his film crew for an interview…. He used the suggestions that I gave him and followed through on the book’s points too.”

Controlled by Fear

Glassner took Moore and the film crew through a tour of Los Angles, particularly South Central, which lasted most of the day and into the night. “If you watch TV news or movies featuring South Central LA, it is portrayed as a dangerous place where little is occurring but violent crime and drugs,” said Glassner. “Most of what you see in that area does not fit that image. [Moore] was struck by the number of children playing in the street compared to the wealthier, whiter neighborhoods where parents were more afraid to let their kids go out and play.”

One of the main themes in the Moore’s documentary is that America is a culture ruled by fear, a fear fueled by the news and politicians and exploited for profit and power, a fear disproportionate to any real danger. Glassner explains this saying, “There is no question that fear-mongering by the media, politicians, and marketers is more likely to make it so that substantial numbers of people arm themselves.” He believes there are many factors contributing to the escalation of America’s “gun culture.”

Movie Reviews

Various reviews of the film have mentioned Glassner and his role within the documentary as supporting the theory that fear perpetuates the gun obsession in America. These reviews include the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angles Times. From the Times, “One of the more absorbing sections involves a search for a reason why Americans perpetrate so much violence, why our gun-related homicides are so astronomical compared with the rest of the world. USC professor Barry Glassner talks persuasively about our culture of fear and the way money is made from it ….”

While perhaps not yet a movie star, Glassner has been recognized by at least one person he had never met before, although he modestly confesses that the person had just seen the movie an hour earlier. In the film’s credits, Moore gives a special thanks to Glassner.

Bowling for Columbine was the first documentary film accepted into competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 46 years. After its world premiere on May 17, 2002, it received a 13-minute standing ovation. It has received various awards including the Atlantic Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award.