The following is an excerpt from "Wifey Redux" by Kevin Barry:

"He wasn’t her usual type, so immediately I was worried. The usual type – so far as it had been established – was black-clad, pale-skinned, basically depressed-looking, given to eyeliner and guitar cases, Columbine types, sniper material, little runts in duster coats, addicted to their antihistamine inhalers, self-harmers, yadda-yadda, but basically innocent."

What type can be regarded as "Columbine type"? Does "sniper material" really mean someone meant to become a sniper (shooter)?

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    "black-clad, pale-skinned, basically depressed-looking, given to eyeliner" = goth stereotype. IIRC there was some misconceptions about the goth subculture and the Columbine shootings.
    – muru
    Nov 23, 2019 at 5:47
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    @muru Why not post that as an answer? :-) Maybe with a couple of links to support the goth-Columbine misconception claim.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 23, 2019 at 8:19
  • @Rand still not sure what "sniper" means though. I guess it could refer to how real snipers can give no indication for a long time and then suddenly effect devastating actions (somewhat like the various school shooters, but then people say they could see it coming often enough)
    – muru
    Nov 23, 2019 at 12:52
  • @muru Ah, I thought "sniper" was referring to the school shooters again, but I guess they generally go in directly rather than hiding like snipers. All the same, a partial answer (explaining Columbine but not sniper) is still interesting. Especially for those of us who'd never heard of the Columbine shootings let alone the supposed goth connection.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 23, 2019 at 18:52

3 Answers 3


The "black-clad, pale-skinned, basically depressed-looking, given to eyeliner" definitely describes the goth stereotype. For example, take this character from the British TV show The IT Crowd, where most characters are caricatures of stereotypes:

Richmond Avenal

Checks all the boxes (though maybe not depressed-looking in this picture).

Thanks to the links from Rand al'Thor, we can also explore the connection between (or lack thereof) the Columbine shootings and the goth subculture. Soon after the massacre, there were a number of misconceptions floating around about the motivations of the shooters, such as subversion by the goth subculture, reaction to bullying, and so on. The Wikipedia article mentions this:

Debates were sparked over gun control laws and gun culture, high school cliques, subcultures, and bullying. Also discussed were the moral panic over goths, social outcasts, the use of pharmaceutical antidepressants by teenagers, teenage Internet use and violence in video games and movies.

The apparent goth connection came largely from a group in the school named the Trenchcoat Mafia. From an April 1999 article in The Guardian (be cautious of the article, it's from right around the time when these misconceptions were strong and I'm using it show how things were then):

And, right at the bottom of the food chain, there were the students who could not fit into any of the other groups, the quiet, brooding, intelligent ones.

According to pupils who spoke to the Guardian last night, these pupils were invariably shunned by the other tribes, and frequently bullied, verbally and physically. As a reaction, they formed a clique two years ago and called themselves the Anachronists. But it was the derogatory label given to them by the jocks because of their habit of wearing long black trench coats whatever the weather, indoors and out, which stuck: the Trenchcoat Mafia.

... Central to the Trenchcoat Mafia's identity was their association with 'dark metal' Goth music.

The Washington Post article suggested by Rand al'Thor shows what they reported then and corrects it:

The Washington Post put it this way: “The shooters who turned Columbine High School into an unspeakable landscape of carnage yesterday were members of a small clique of outcasts who always wore black trench coats and spent their entire adolescence deep inside the morose subculture of Gothic fantasy, their fellow students said.”


Harris and Klebold knew a few of these students, but they were not considered core to the friend group, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office later determined, and did not appear in a photo of Trench Coat Mafia members in the 1998 yearbook. Most of those students had graduated the year before the shooting.

Police also later determined that some students confused Klebold with another student who was in the group and resembled Klebold.

This Salon article goes into a lot of detail about this and some other misconceptions.

Investigators also criticized the media for propagating the myth that the pair were Goths. Apparently it took nothing more than reports of black clothing and eyeliner among the unrelated Trench Coat Mafia for much of the national media to label them Goths. "That became a whole issue for a week," one investigator said. "Marilyn Manson canceled his concert."

ABC's "20/20" aired a particularly ignorant "report" the night after the tragedy, linking the killers to the scene with alarmist messages about Satanism and cults. Aside from the fact that the report completely misrepresented and maligned the movement, neither Marilyn Manson nor the Goths had anything whatsoever to do with the killers, who had nothing but contempt for the music.

I am at a loss as to what "sniper material" means.


"sniper material" means somebody who is naturally cut out to be a sniper. You hear it fairly commonly in a complimentary form as in "he's university material". Here it's being used as an insult, it's saying he's a natural born psycho killer.

Collins online dictionary gives:

a person who has qualities suitable for a given occupation...
That boy is not university material


Following along to muru's and Kevin Ryan's excellent answers, "sniper material" may be an allusion to the Cold Sniper (warning, TV Tropes entry) stereotype as a loner with a lack of emotion or compassion. To quote the U.S. Army Training Manual on Sniper Training:

"(1) Emotional balance. The sniper must be able to calmly and deliberately kill targets that may not pose an immediate threat to him. It is much easier to kill in self-defense or in the defense of others than it is to kill without apparent provocation. The sniper must not be susceptible to emotions such as anxiety or remorse. Candidates whose motivation toward sniper training rests mainly in the desire for prestige may not be capable of the cold rationality that the sniper's job requires."

Also, in conjunction with the mention of the Columbine shootings, mention of them as "snipers" also might be seen as a reference to earlier school shootings which involved firing from a greater range such as the University of Texas Tower shooting, Olean High School shooting, or the Cleveland Elementary School shooting, all involving individuals who seemingly planned their assault out in advance for maximum effect.

  • Why don't you mention the Beltway snipers?
    – user14111
    Sep 23, 2021 at 23:56
  • 1
    @user14111: Same reason I didn't mention the Las Vegas shooter, because I was trying to keep the parallel of school shootings. Sep 24, 2021 at 1:15

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