Posted at 2:12 PM on April 18, 2007
by Andrew Haeg
What I find fascinating and enlightening, if morbidly so, about seismic, epic tragedies like Seung-Hui Cho's killing spree at Virginia Tech, is the role they play as moments of collective cultural reflection.
To that end, I've found it noteworthy in the days since the shootings how knee-jerk so much of the reaction has been. It's like what the grieving woman said at the vigil the day after Columbine (as heard in a recent NPR commentary by Judy Muller) "We knew what to bring." She was referring to the teddy bears and other objects of grief and remembrance people placed at the memorial to the students who were killed. The point of the commentary was that events like Columbine and Virginia Tech are sadly familiar, so much so that our cultural responses are foreordained.
In other words, our grieving after once-unimaginable events has become almost rote.
So too, it seems, have the questions we in the media ask:
All relevant questions. But not sharp enough. Which troubles me, because the lessons learned from the shootings will be only as good as the questions we ask.
To that end, here are two questions I think we should be considering:
- In a world as thoroughly connected as ours, how can a kid manage to go about life seething with quiet anger, hiding behind sunglasses, writing disturbing plays, without anyone seemingly bothering to help pull him out of his angry, depressed, and ultimately violent death spiral?
- Could it be that at the same time we can all connect in innumerable ways, that the unfortunate and mentally troubled among us are more isolated than ever?
Those are questions I'd like to see us consider.
People did bring his behavior to others attention. Every hour it seems there's another news report pointing that out. However, unless you are going to forcibly institutionalize people for being disturbing and weird, there's not a lot you can do besides alerting authorities and/or recommending directly to the person that they get help (in which case you put your own safety in danger).
Everyone has known at least 1 or more persons who you wouldn't be surprised to see on the evening news for a violent act. There's probably not a school or business around that doesn't have that person, the one others say, only half joking, is going to "go postal" one day.
It's difficult though to call up the police and say you think Joe in accounting (or Calculus) is dangerous and have them be able to do anything about it until Joe actually does something illegal. Even if he does something illegal, Joe probably isn't going to get the mental therapy he needs, just criminal punishment.
There are no easy answers. It's a sad situation.