Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Witch Hunt Begins

I've cross-posted over at Jewcy -- feel free to leave comments there as well.

In the wake of every disaster, we always look for a scapegoat -- someone or something to blame, something at which to point our wagging fingers. Or, in struggling to understand why or how something catastrophic happened, we try to re-trace the steps leading up to the event. We assign new, enlightened meaning to old facts and moments. We grieve, we televise the mourning, and then the witch hunt begins.

After the Columbine tragedy people pointed fingers at violent video games and the music of artists such as Marilyn Manson, insisting that such things warp the minds of young adults and turn innocent children into homicidal maniacs. In response to such accusations, Manson wrote an incredible essay for Rolling Stone called "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It? In it, Manson implicates all of us in the death of the students at Columbine -- it's such a great essay that it's taught in composition classrooms all around the country (mine included). The main point: "America loves to find an icon to hang its guilt on.

So now I read on MSNBC that the gunman of yesterday's Virginia Tech shooting was a "depressed and deeply disturbed young man whose 'grotesque' creative writing projects led a professor to refer him for psychological counseling."

Fellow students in a playwriting class with Cho also noticed the dark and disturbing nature of his compositions.“His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, told the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times. “I remember one of them very well. It was about a son who hated his stepfather. In the play, the boy threw a chainsaw around and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a Rice Krispy treat,” Derry said. Otherwise, Cho was a young man who apparently left little impression in the Virginia Tech community. Few of his fellow residents of Harper Hall said they knew the gunman, who kept to himself.
Okay, sure, that's a little disturbing, but I think this is just where the scapegoating process begins. Dark, disturbing creative writing projects do not a murderer make. Think of iconic Southern gothic writer Flannery O'Connor, whose stories include everything from girls with wooden legs being taken advantage of to small children being crushed by tractors and farmer's wives being gored by bulls. And what about Edgar Allen Poe? Surely we can think of countless examples of literary greats who were consumed with the idea of death. But, like I said, this is where the witch hunt begins, as we point the first round of fingers at school counselors and teachers who read his dark writing and did little or nothing about it.


Michael Nehora said...

Well said, Monica. The highlighting of the "creative writing" angle in today's coverage raised my eyebrows too. Should past generations have institutionalized Shakespeare after he wrote Titus Andronicus? How about Synge, after he wrote The Playboy of the Western World?

The news media love to find easy, single explanations for tragedy. In the wake of Columbine, their explanation was "goth culture," despite the fact that goths haven't been known, before or since, for advocating mass murder, or any violence for that matter.

Sometimes violence erupts for no discernable reason or cause, and there's nothing we can do to prevent it. What we can do, after the fact, is offer help and consolation to those left behind. But looking for scapegoats helps no one.

Josh said...

How might you reconcile your belief that his writing “does not a murder make”, yet your post “Dangerous Rhetoric: Christian Fundamentalist Blames Jews” suggests that Hagee's suggestive writing could lead to another holocaust?

It seems as you are precariously close to a contradiction.


DSW said...

Josh I don't want to speak for Monica, but I think the obvious answer to your question is that the murderer's writing was fiction while Haggee's writings are not. Hagge is espousing a position, a belief, things he believes to be factual or true, while Seung-Hui's writings - disturbing though they are - were "just" stories.

The one issue that is constantly under-addressed in these tragedies is the ease with which people can acquire guns - in my opinion this issue should disturb people the most.

Anonymous said...

It's nauseating in a bad way... We have an impulse to lay blame on someone (even ourselves), and, if Nietzsche's diagnosis is "correct," then it is - as your sentiment indicates - a sick feature of being human.

I wonder what I would do as a coping mechanism if I were intimately involved in the situation. Is any response inappropriate? Or what may be more, can any response be appropriate?

Monica said...


I think there may be a bit of misreading here. I didn't actually say that Hagee's writing could lead to another Holocaust. This is what I said:

"But what concerns me most is the danger in suggesting that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust -- this kind of faulty logic silences the 'never again' and opens up the possibility for something like the Holocaust to happen again, when in reality we know that the atrocities and tragedies of the Shoah are ineffable and without meaning or purpose."

And what I meant by this is that blaming the Jews' disobedience for the Holocaust suggests that they did something wrong, something to deserve the atrocity -- if you follow this line of thinking far enough, it will provide an excuse/reason/justification/ rationale for another "Holocaust" in the future. My point was that we have to understand that it should not have happened, that there is no "reason" for it, and that it is without purpose -- otherwise we pave the way for another one.

My point about the VTU killer is simply that there have been many people who have written disturbing stories and not gone out and killed people. However, since I originally wrote this post, more information on just how disturbed this guy was has come out, which makes me want to re-think some things. For example, I do think that if numerous professors/counselors were disturbed by him, then there was probably cause for alarm.

Monica said...

Nedric, I too wonder what my "coping mechanism" would be in such a case. I fear that it would not be above reproach, especially if I had lost a family member in such a tragedy. Yes, a "sick feature of being human" . . .