Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Virginia Tech Massacre: Six Contradictions


I don’t know what it is about school shootings. Usually I’m pretty good at maintaining a snarky demeanor in the face of tragedy — not because I’m callous but because it’s a coping mechanism for me — but something about school shootings really brings out this streak of sobriety. Maybe it’s because I was a social leper in high school who wore a trench coat at the time of the Columbine shootings, and I ended up getting a lot of the fallout from that. Or maybe it’s because I work with teenagers, and I have plenty of opportunities to recall what an eternal prison our education system appears to be from the inside. I never went to college, but I think these events have a certain resonance for all of us, because our time in school was so emotionally intense — it’s really not hard to imagine this kind of thing happening. What I don’t get is the shock — the real shock is that this isn’t happening all the goddamn time.


Finally, a large-scale act of senseless brutality from an Asian male! Perhaps this’ll finally dispel all that emasculated, “model-minority” bullshit that we have to put up with. We’re capable of being every bit as fucked up as any other race of people, thank you very much.


I’m growing truly tired of the e-mails flooding my inbox from liberals and conservatives alike — I’m hardly sure who to be more disgusted with right now. On the one hand, I’m annoyed with all of those on the left who are trying to take advantage of this tragedy to push through more anti-gun legislation — and all of those gleefully telling me that I’m directly responsible for this because of my support of gun ownership are welcome to go perform an anatomically impossible act upon yourselves.

On the other hand, folks on the right are welcome to go join them, especially if you’re posting shit like this:

“We can lay the blame on the ‘Red Star’ on their door step for all the deaths. They refuse to all individuals to protect themselves. They created the situation that lead to this. The paper needs to be picketed. May be a TV station or another paper like the Pioneer Press could cover an event like this. We would need a flyer to hand out explaining our position and creative signs to hold. This is I think a good oppurnity.”

Not that I disagree with the basic point. But if you’re prepared to characterize the deaths of thirty-two people as a “good opportunity”, then I don’t want to fucking know you.

It’s not the debate I object to, but the vitriol inherent in it. Emotions are running high right now. Isn’t some kind of mourning period in order before we go back to name-calling and mud-slinging?


I can’t help wondering how many of the students would be alive now if they’d been armed. Obviously, the campus’ ban on firearms didn’t prevent Cho from getting his hands on some. I look at events like the Appalachian School of Law shooting, a massacre averted by armed students, and a part of me worries that we’re doomed to repeat events like the Virginia Tech Massacre as long as we hold onto this illusion that weaponry is a substance we can effectively control. If I’m determined to kill a lot of people, I’ll find a way to do it.


Above all, though, the aspect of this that troubles me most of all are the usual attempts to characterize the perpetrator as a “sicko” or a “wacko”, or often both at the same time, despite the inherent contradiction. We don’t know anything about him, and obviously the people around him didn’t, either.

Whenever someone does something truly heinous, from Adolf Hitler to Ted Kaczynski, we need to turn them either into a calculating villain or a raving lunatic — we have to turn them into something totally alien, something totally “other”, because the truth is so much more terrifying, that they’re human beings, that they have all the same parts that we do, that anyone’s capable of anything, and nobody has a fucking moral code outside of a Sergio Leone western.


After the Columbine shootings, we weren’t allowed to talk about what happened — I recall getting in trouble with teachers numerous times for trying to strike up conversations about it in the hallways — but we suddenly and without explanation began praying before every class.

When seemingly senseless events occur, there’s really nothing for us left to do but try to construct some kind of meaning out of it and go on with our lives, whether that meaning is religious, political, or artistic. But whatever that meaning is, it’s one that we choose to construct. We have to assume responsibility for our many contradictory responses, whatever they may be.

Because that’s the meaning I’ve chosen.

1 comment:

Steph said...

Ah, yes, the Columbine shootings. I recall being in American History class later that day or week, I don't quite remember, when the teacher nonchalantly said something to the effect of, "I can't believe they're still having the pep rally on Friday. It's a perfect opportunity for someone to shoot up the crowd."

That was the only thing I heard spoken from an instructor's mouth about the issue. We, too, were not allowed to speak of it. That was also how my undergrad responded to 9/11. Classes went on as usual, no breaks or talk on the subject.