The Ghost of Cho Seung-hui

Photograph of Cho Seung-huiWatch out. That weird foreign student in trenchcoat and shades. Does he ever talk to anyone? That’s suspicious. What’s he writing? A play about murder and rape? Arrest him. Now! Quick! Check everyone else! Get their psychology profiled! Watch them. Watch them closely!

Cho Seung-hui took a beautiful photo of his bullets and posed with his guns before he blew away 32 fellow humans — roughly a quarter of the number killed in Iraq by suicide bombs yesterday — and was presumably one seriously sick individual. But in that obese, self-centred tangle of hypocrisy that is America the reaction is, as usual, wrong…

At this point it’s compulsory to say that one is genuinely saddened by the deaths of 32 young people at the hands of a madman. You have to say that, otherwise people won’t allow you to analyse it any further. And yes, I am genuinely saddened. I’ve only ever dealt with one corpse in my life, unless you count cows and koi, and it wasn’t shredded by hollow-point ammunition. So I can’t imagine what it was like to experience that carnage.

But let’s look at what happens next… and here Guy Rundle’s piece in Crikey says it so well:

The ”question-mark kid” who spoke to virtually no one and walked around in wrap-around shades is… scarcely unknown in arts faculties, especially in creative writing courses. Yet, one presumes that from now on every underground weirdo in trenchcoat and dark glasses is going to feel the eye of suspicion upon them.

Which is a pity because I can think of at least two academics, one editor of a national newspaper opinion page, and a bloke who now owns three pizza shops who would fit that bill from my own gun-spree-free student days…

Is every teacher now going to be perpetually on the look-out for the next mass murderer in classes where students are encouraged to explore their imagination in whatever direction it goes?

Seung-hui’s violent play led to his tutor wondering whether she should call the police — yet as Rundle points out, the plot is essentially Hamlet:

The violent plot concerns a sexually overcharged family in which the family friend has killed the father in order to possess the mother, and the son is fuming with the thwarted desire to murder him…

The violent discourse echoes an earlier, funnier Shakespeare work Titus Andronicus in which the heroine has to write her murderer’s name in the sand with a stick held between her arms because the hero has cut out her tongue, eyes and hands.

Rundle makes obvious comparisons to the works of Quentin Tarantino and Woody Harrelson and a zillion chainsaw movies.

In Virginia, you don’t need a license to own or buy a gun, you don’t need safety training, and you’re limited to buying “just” one gun per month. This won’t change, because George W says we can’t restrict freedom.

As Rundle wraps up:

The means of the crime — over-the-counter pistols — will remain free while the fantasy — the free-play of the imagination — will become increasingly criminalised. This, as the second amendment notes, is to preserve freedom.

Ah, what a strange society! The freedom to build an arsenal capable of massacring an entire neighbourhood is enshrined in the Constitution. It’s fine to show a hundred gruesome deaths by gunfire on TV nightly — with slow-motion effects to turn the speeding bullet into a fetish. But the brief sight of a single healthy woman’s breast provokes national outrage.

God Bless America.

This morning the Sydney Morning Herald showed the faces of every casualty on the front page — and they weren’t even Australians, let alone from Sydney. Where are the faces of the 140 killed in Iraq yesterday? The 16,000 children who died of hunger-related causes today and every day this week, and every other week?

6 Replies to “The Ghost of Cho Seung-hui”

  1. Three points:

    1. The ‘Constitutional right to bear arms’ is, I understand, a clause allowing for militia to be raised in case the Brits come back in force. Surely it should be viewed in the same way as archaic laws forbidding, say, the playing of secular music on a Sunday?

    2. Legend has it that after Kebold & Harris’ murderous spree at Columbine High, many US schools amended their ‘dress codes’ to ban trenchcoats. ‘Nuff said.

    3. In the blogosphere, both pro- and anti-gun pundits quickly seized upon this incident to bolster their respective positions. In many cases, the depth & volume of analysis exceeded any I found in mainstream media. I don’t know how I ever got by without the web.

  2. Completely frazzled by the concept of releasing a media kit, and the media lapping it up so willingly. So puerile on both counts.

  3. And what’s with putting this kind of act on a Pedestal of Evil?

    Somehow evil is something that demands our awe and respect. The bigger the act the better.

    I’m kind of over that.

    Much rather see the words ‘loser’, ‘cowardly’ or ‘selfish’ in the headline wording. Or maybe highlight his unhappy mental illness.

    Anything other than ‘look how evil he is’ along with all those posing images. It’s just empowering his image and inspiring others.

  4. @Richard: Yes, Americans’ right to bear arms is a weird anachronism. But a sufficient number of Americans have a mistrust of their own government which goes beyond a healthy scepticism, and taking away their assault rifles would be proof that the black helicopters are sending them coded mind-control messages through their tooth fillings.

    Banning trenchcoats is of course the way to go, no mass murderer would do his work unless properly dressed!

    @jason: Nice point about the media kit. I haven’t gone through it yet — do I want to? — but this is obviously going to be the first high-visibility mass murderer of the Internet age. Cho Seung-hui’s place in history is assured. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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