Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Evil of Banality: An alternative approach to the Virginia Tech Tragedy

I've been following the saga of the Virginia Tech shooter with some fascination. Yes, it's a tragedy and no, the students' deaths are no less senseless and outrageous than -- just to name one example-- the 198 people who perished last Wednesday in Baghdad. Americans have come to expect that kind of violence in the less "civilized" parts of the world, so they are not shocked nor do they comprehend the grief of losing your child to liberation bombing or the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. Most Americans don't shop at market places so the Baghdad market bombing seems remote, outlandish. They do however aspire to send their kids to college, which is why the killing spree of Seung-Hui Cho (misidentified as Cho Seung-Hui for the past week) qualifies as "senseless" while other more political tragedies are met with indifference (unless they claim the lives of "our boys").

For days now, every television station has broadcast the video clips Seung-Hui Cho mailed to NBC in between his morning and afternoon shooting rampages (with a disclaimer, of course; these "disturbing images" are being screened to satisfy your inner amateur psychoanalyst.) The emphasis is always on the pre-meditated factor of his killings; not a word on the presentation or content. "It shows he meticulously planned and carried out his murderous spree." No shit, sherlock.
The plays he wrote as an English major in college are available online. Not to encourage the starving and neglected playwrights out there to follow Cho's example and have their work widely read and critiqued, but always apologetically presented as further evidence of a disturbed and violent mind. People seek to comprehend why Cho committed these crimes. To prevent a similar tragedy from transpiring, creative writing instructors must henceforth learn to distinguish between assignments that reveal actual violent intent or just plain old shock value.

That violent intent is rather harmless without the liberal means to commit such an act (purchasing guns requires a five-minute transaction; ammunition is readily available 24/7 at your local superstore), is not up for discussion. Not over Bush's dead body.

Well here's my two cents on the disturbed and violent mind of Seung-Hui Cho:

Reading the plays and watching his video manifesto, it strikes me that the killer must have suffered an immense inner void. The dialogue in his plays is as lame as the plot, the violent episodes unoriginal ("You want me to stick this remote control up your ass, buddy?") and childish (stuffing a half-eaten candybar down somebody's throat.) Cho's play "Richard McBeef" is an astounding testament to a confused assimilation into American culture; his use of violent phrases and insults are muddled in their grammatical use and context, a bland and banal expression of unfocused rage. He might as well just have scrawled Shitfuckshitfuckshitfuckshit over 12 pages. Home Alone is fifty times as originally violent and macabre.

The video-taped manifesto is eery not only because of the violent intent it expresses but because his presentation seems so apathetic and insincere. For the most part he is seen reading off of a paper, stumbling over his own awkward cliche-riddled phrases: "You made me do this... I did this for my children." "Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have your throat slit from ear to ear?... Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ, who inspired generations of the weak and the defenseless people." If Cho had auditioned for his own role as mass murderer in a play, he would not have gotten the part.

Seen from this angle, Cho's killing spree at Virginia Tech perhaps exemplifies the "evil of banality" and nothing more; that someone as empty and stupid as Cho can be driven to madness by his creative shortcomings. Cho's suicidal rampage could embody a case of mediocrity of the mind turned murderous. Hitler too was a bad artist and apparently frustrated and driven to megalomania by his lack of talent.

My father complained after two days of non-stop TV coverage that he was "profoundly bored" by the whole affair. I myself was slightly disgusted by the crowd roaring, "Go Hogies!" at the funeral service for the deceased, or whatever their silly varsity team is called. What did make me very very sad, is the public letter written by his sister and the interviews conducted with his ancient toothless great aunt in Seoul. "I loved my brother. Now I don't feel like I know that person anymore", his sister wrote. TV psychologist Dr. Phil generously recommended that one must have "sympathy" for the family for "they too require our support." May his victims rest in peace.

39 comments:

nemesis said...

EDB,
I will admit that I was as interested in the Cho saga as the Americans in the daily bombings in Iraq. So thank you for your great summary and for including the link to Cho's masterpiece play (McBeef). Anyone who has any grain of sense could have seen that the guy is seriously sick. But what grain of sense?
One of the wanna-be 9/11 hijackers went to a flight school asking to learn "only how to fly a plane level" without takeoff or landing... even 12 pages of fuckshitfuckshit would go unnoticed in that case.
Cho could have done a better job in his video. Being the uncreative scriptwriter he is, he could have downloaded a ready-made text from some AlQaida website (or affiliates).
Imagine if he had said: "You made me do this... I did this for my brothers in Iraq and Palestine." "Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be piled in a pyramid of naked prisoners?"... "Thanks to you I die as a martyr, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people to become Jihadists"...
I am guessing that somewhere in a five star cave, Osama Bin Laden is disappointed at Cho's mediocrity. I am guessing too that somewhere in the pentagon some rightist hawks are even more disappointed. damn! they could have invaded Iran...

GPC said...

Below, is a crime alert my son sent us last night, from his College in Pennsylvania. My quick coment would be that unless the amendment to bear arms and kick butt is ratified, we'll be seeing more and more of this shit. CONCERNED PARENTS UNITE!!!
---------------------------
CRIME ALERT ******************CRIME ALERT*********************

INCIDENT OCCURRED AT THE DEPOT ********

Just before 9:00 p.m. tonight at an event at the Depot there was an altercation between students and a non-student. The non-student suspect who was standing in front of the Depot fired approximately 4 shots from a handgun in the air in an apparent attempt to scare others at the event. No one was injured and the suspect immediately fled the scene in a vehicle.

Compulsive Reader said...

You said: "Americans have come to expect that kind of violence in the less "civilized" parts of the world, so they are not shocked nor do they comprehend the grief of losing your child to liberation bombing or the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. Most Americans don't shop at market places so the Baghdad market bombing seems remote, outlandish."
I really wish you wouldn't use such broad sweeping generalizations. There is quite a large anti-war movement and we are quite capable of being horrified by what is happening in Iraq and equally horrified that America is responsible for the destruction of said country.
I, for one, was absolutely outraged by the fact that our country's greatest mass-murderer, the man responsible for 600k + deaths, can run around VTech and grab headlines for his "sympathy" for their loss!

Your generalization applies to G.W. Bush and his sympathizers, not to the rest of us who oppose him and his ideology. Otherwise, I love your blog.

EDB said...

Compulsive reader... I'm a dual citizen so I guess I also count as an American. Of course this was a generalization but I think it's fair to say it applies to the majority of Americans. Much of the opposition in the US to the war is about "our troops" dying in a lose-lose situation. Do you really disagree?

Andrea said...

Dear EDB,

I find your comments on the VA tech shootings not very sensitive to those who lost dead ones in the horrible happenings at VA Tech.

What does it matter what this guys plays were like? You are completely missing the point with your arguments. What do gun laws have to do with anything in this case? This is about morning, not passing out blame. I can't stand it when people like you use the pain felt by others to make political capital. The mental disturbance of this young korean man, caused these deaths, not gun laws. First of all, whos to say that this guy couldn't have done even bigger damage with homemade bombs, or used one of those big asian swords? The truth is, if you ban guns now it will only make it harder to protect ourselves against all the firearms on the street already. But you fringe liberals don't think that far.

You know nothing

EDB said...

Andrea, i object to being called a "liberal", fringe or not. I despise liberals.
The rest of your argument doesn't warrant a response. It speaks for itself.

yaman said...

I agree with you--I'm amazed that people are trying to "study" this case as if it will give a pattern for preventing these things in the future. I was more than distressed when university officials called him a "loner"--as if "loners" are all murderers in waiting. I wonder, for every "loner" who decides to shoot his fellow students, how many other people are there for which violence is just normal social behavior, whether it be for a gang, a militia, an army?

There's not something so special about this case. It is quite banal. Some dude just managed to get a gun.

Anonymous said...

Andrea,
you made my day with the "big Asian swords". i hate to be so petty and point out only a stylistic flaw in your argument: "lost dead ones"?

ldb said...

The anti war movement in the United States is shambles. You are a fearful bunch, constanly trying to simplify, simplify, simplify in order to appeal to the general public. You tapdance sloppily along the tightrope that is your country's political spectrum, and lie dormant when you're candidate is in office. I know that I am painting you all with an awfully broad brush, but since you do feel compelled to overemphasize both the scale and effectiveness of this "movement" I might not be so far off the mark in your case.

LDB said...

I am of course not referring to you sweet edb.

Jamal said...

those pointed african spears thingies could've done some damage too.

oh oh, how about wiley e coyote's bag of acme gadgets?

nadia n said...

i said this elsewhere but i really think there won't ever be in the history of the world a time or place where you won't have people that are mentally disturbed, socially isolated really angry and can justify to themselves the killing of tens(hurdreds, thousands) of people. the justifications are irrelevant.

this was the first thing that came to mind when i heard about the attacks in morroco. most americans don't even know those happened. hell half the americans that know about the bombing in baghdad thought those people died in battle. when people are so ignorant of course it's easy for the media to make the event into whatever they want.

oh and LOL@ big asian swords.

Anonymous said...

Andrea, please shut your piehole, and stop giving these crazy koreans ideas.

Compulsive Reader said...

Depends. I'm from Chicago. Most of us who opposed the war from the beginning, we genuinely were opposed to the idea of mass slaughter. I think the people that have changed their minds about the war after supporting it are all about the "poor dead soldiers", and, of course, they get the most media attention. But there are those of us who donated to Voices in the Wilderness. I used to love seeing their van driving up Western Ave...I don't know. We aren't a majority, but you can at least give us 20% Please?

Compulsive Reader said...

Holy Shit! Big Asian Swords!!!

Compulsive Reader said...

ldb, I claim not to speak for the movement that is in shambles due to their constant equivocation and compromise. Some of us still have principles.

Roscoe said...

Hey Andrea;
skidaddle a bit towards me, sugar.
I luv me a gangho, wild-eye pistollera lik' yuu. oooooowee..
a mean, with all of that in-breeding we're doin' you're right, who can protekt uss, soupiriyor race from dem' mad niggers, mexicans, and mexican't and Turks?
amen to you frontier woman, ma sweet sweet Calamity-andrea...

Charlton Heston rules!

Rayhan said...

Roscoe, in times like these I think it's extremely wrong to focus on what you call, "niggers, mexicans, and Turks?" That is an outdated way of thinking. Our prime focus should be on A-rabs and KO-reans now. Yee-hah!

Anonymous said...

EDB,
it would be nice to know your opinion about the following topic:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/04/24/tillman.hearing/index.html

sorry to make this a wishlist place but your blogs are really enjoyable.

Achille said...

E-

Being an American and living in the Middle East, I too noticed the irony of the day's events in Iraq and Virginia in regards to the imbalanced media attention paid between the two. However, I would like to point out that you yourself devoted an entire blog to the VT Massacre, of which only a few sentences mentioned those killed in the marketplace bombing in Baghdad.

I also think this particular blog sheds some light on the shortcomings of your commentary for those who are less intimately familiar with Lebanon. Like Dr Phil (to follow your lead), I think your opinions are often smug and based on hyperboles rather than careful consideration. With particular regards to your critique of the VT killer's 'unoriginal' video tapes, your conclusions seem naive, if not downright condescending. Contrary to popular belief, the ramblings of the clinically insane rarely express brilliance, logic, or originality. (FYI, blind people can't smell better either.) I imagine in Cho's mind his cliché ridden manifesto waxed poetic brilliance from start to finish rather than indicated the inadequacies that frustrated him and inevitably lead to his killing spree. Cho really being beside the topic of my response, his unoriginality does offer a segue to the point that I am trying to make. I beg you to consider that your writing eschews rigorous thought for the sake of an 'original' viewpoint. This common tendency is the same that gives us Fox News, annoying left wing liberals, and, yes...99.9 percent of Anecdotes from a Banana Republic. My humble advice is to remind yourself that you are not as smart as you think you are and that sacrificing critical thought for originality is as unoriginal as commentary gets.

Rayhan said...

Achille,
Your little tirade is in itself quite unoriginal and doesn't come accross as very thoughtful.

Your fox news comparison falls flat. I don't think that the problem with fox news is their lack of rigorous thinking, moreover their misrepresentations take rigourous thought and often seem carefully planned and constructed. Thoughtless commentary also isn't the problem with fox, the problem is that their commentary is presented as hard news. EDB's blog is commentary and doesn't pretend to be anything else.

I think its interesting that you fault EDB for dedicating much of her latest post to the VA shootings, after she mentions the inbalance in the media in regards to market bombings in iraq, and then waste most of your space on this comment page rambling about the same event. Of course, you notice this when you write, "Cho really being beside the topic of my response" after a long tiring paragraph. I guess you were to lazy to rewrite your little torrent of petty outrage.

Also, most of your comment is uttlery beside the point. The idea of a blog is that you can write on any subject you feel compelled to write about. As a blogger, EDB has no obligation to report on world events, proportionally to their importance.

I am sure it is hard being an American in the Middle east. Sexually frustrated, tired of telling people you're canadian, fearful of the local population, you look for ways to prove yourself, to speak your mind and flex your rusty intellectual muscles. Personally, I think somebody's piehole needs a filling.

Best,

Anonymous said...

Emptiness and Narcissism.

Anon7

Anonymous said...

Rayhan, the moment Fox News is considered rigorous thought I will stop thinking altogether. And I think your response to Achille's response was longer than his response and far more boring...whose piehole needs filling? I would say yours.

Anonymous said...

Rayan you should have just said 'I'm rubber and you're glue..." If Achille's comments were so unoriginal, why did you try to appropriate half of his points and turn them against him?

I would have just asked Achille why he comments on such a crap blog?

Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayhan said...

First of all Achille, as an American in the Middle East, you should know better than to fault somebody's spelling whose third language is English. I also like your use of the anonymous comments to defend yourself. Note the similar style and short intervals between quotes. As for fox news, it isn't easy disseminating misinformation at such an astounding rate, these people do think. "High functioning retard" was a sad attempt at a creative insult."Sexually frustrated, tired of telling people you're canadian, fearful of the local population" must have struck a chord in you. Somebody's homesick....

Ghassan said...

Pie hole!!! lol

Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayhan said...

Thank you, Mr. America, you have allowed me to evolve from a "high-functioning retard" to an "educated arab" within days. Do you equate the two? Is an "educated arab" the highest form of arab? I wonder about these things all the time. I am glad you are so familar with us "educated arabs", you know how we tick, finally someone who understands us better than we understand ourselves. Are you married to a "self-loathing" arab by any chance, is she the "educated" kind?

PS: When you do plant anonymous comments ... change your style of writing ... and be patient between posting anonymous quotes in your praise.

EDB said...

Achille, I will not permit you to make reference to personal information about me here. I don't know how you are privy to this information in the first place, but it is neither relevant nor appropriate, since I choose not to reveal this here myself. Don't you have anything better to do?

Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayhan said...

Achille,

In the end, you turned out to be such a tragic soul.

Sorry, friend.

Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rayhan said...

You are a tragic soul, because despite finding this blog "crap" and calling it a "tragic comedy"" you are obviously infatuated with it. The fact that you revealed fragments of the bloggers identity doesn't make you tragic; the fact that you weaved through the links on the blog and feverishly read it to procure this information, despite having "better things to do", makes you tragic. The fact that you want all your comments to be deleted makes you tragic. The fact that you are humourless and petty makes you tragic. This pettiness (obsession with spelling) is characteristic of someone who is completely uncreative, this is precisely why all you can do is criticise other people's work. You are a tragic soul, my dear friend.

Now, move on to bigger and better things.

Anonymous said...

Rayhan and Achille
instead of this highly sophisticated exchange of complex insults cut it short and call each other names. son of a bitch, asshole etc... are just as intelligent and effective as your comments.
Also EDB, come on, who doesn't know your background....

Rayhan said...

Anonymous,

Do you want a piece of me? Huh? I can lure you into a useless exchange of mildly threatening comments that will rob you of a private life. By the way, me and my friend achille have been arguing for so long, that this particular comment section can now be considered a private conversation between him and I. So, stop snooping in our business!

Achille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayhan said...

Again,

You are a tragic soul, because despite finding this blog "crap" and calling it a "tragic comedy"" you are obviously infatuated with it. The fact that you revealed fragments of the bloggers identity doesn't make you tragic; the fact that you weaved through the links on the blog and feverishly read it to procure this information, despite having "better things to do", makes you tragic. The fact that you want all your comments to be deleted makes you tragic. The fact that you are humourless and petty makes you tragic. This pettiness (obsession with spelling) is characteristic of someone who is completely uncreative, this is precisely why all you can do is criticise other people's work. You are a tragic soul, my dear friend.

Now, move on to bigger and better things.