Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Postmodern Shooting Spree

Wow. All I can say is wow.

I'm not awe-struck by what happened in Blacksburg yesterday. Saddened, yes, but not awestruck. What strikes me is how this incident, more than any I have seen to date, has truly become the tabloid murder of the post-modern age. The instant access not only to information but to the ability to publish information has made this a case study in the citizen journalism culture. Yes, it's been happening for a couple years now with regards to blogs like this one and You Tube, but with the VA-Tech murders the new journalism game is officially on. Likely it's because this happened on a college campus, and college students are first-adapters. For whatever reason this is an internet murder.

Almost immediately after the shootings happened videos of the shootings started showing up on You-Tube. Some of them were clips taken from broadcast TV but others were taken by students using cell-phone video cameras. After the shooter was identified as VA-Tech senior Cho Seung Hui, a Creative Writing major at the university, interviews started appearing with teachers who said they had found his writing disturbing and referred him to the university counseling service. But it gets better. Suddenly the things this he wrote were being parsed for "red flags." This is going to turn into a great public experiment in forensic psychology, wherein everybody with a keyboard and the will is going to quote Freud and Jung and tell us how troubled this guy was. And it's already started. The university refused to release his writings but in the digital age nothing stays hidden for long. The English department uses Blackboard, the classroom software. Students get to upload their papers so that everybody in the class can read and comment on them. Sure enough, an AOL employee who was a classmate of Cho's last year in playwriting (and who claimed instantly to have suspected Cho when he heard about the shootings) posted two of the shooter's plays on his blog and wrote about what Cho had been like in class (apparently, he had acted just like a guy about to go postal). They're right here:

Naturally, they've already spawned 2,094 comments (mine was number 2,093). Most are exclamations of exasperation, things like "How could anybody not see that this guy was a psycho. Our system totally broke down here," as though we have a system to decide from a person's writings that they're going to kill someone. Maybe the FBI does, I don't know, but I'm sure VA-Tech doesn't. Others wrote inane things like "I want to kill people too." Even more pathetic were the people who wrote in "This stuff was written by a college student? It looks like it was written by a 9th grader." As though grammar were the point. By Friday there will be 10,000 comments--everyone is instantly a forensic psychologist, an English teacher and a Drama Critic all rolled into one.

Murder in the internet age. It's amazing.

It would be worthwhile pointing out that if you used these theories we would definitely have to lock up Matt Stone and Trey Parker and probably Shakespeare.

Of course I'm going to play the game too. I find the fact that we have this maniac's plays too much to resist. It's my job to criticize drama, after all. I got the letters after my name to prove it.

Me, I found the plays to be full of anger but not actually very violent. Although there is a murder at the end of the first play, they are both more scatological than violent. In the first one a teenager verbally abuses his step-father until the step father finally kills him. In the second play a group of teenagers is harassed and then cheated out of a million dollars by their hated math teacher. The language is indeed juvenile at first glance, but it is not so simple when you read it in the context of theatre history or pop culture. At second reading it sounds a lot like the dialogue from South Park. Read it again and it reads like Theatre of the Absurd. I'm serious. There are definitely echoes of Albee's American Dream in the first play, and even of Jarry's Ubu Roi, with its profanity, its imbecilic endearments, and its obsession with the word "shit." If this had been written by one of my students I would have been concerned about the student, but I also would have thought there might be some real talent underneath all that anger.

And now we get to hear everybody else's opinion. And likely a dissertation on the writings of mass murderers. The scripts will get made into videos and *they* will show up on You Tube. People will decry the crass insensitivity of the filmmakers and how we are all a society of vampires. Then well move on to the next big story. Mark my words.

One more thing: when I was in 7th Grade Robert Schrader and I produced a radio play in which *our* math teacher Mr. Butler was the villain and the personification of all evil. So far I haven't killed anybody. Of course, I could still snap. My kindergarten teachers at Waldorf told my mother that I was psychotic because I kept ringing the ships bell that was in the middle of the school yard (I mean come on! What's a five year old who wants to be a pirate when he grows up supposed to do?)



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