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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Richard McBeef

The Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui wrote a rather bizarre play. See The Smoking Gun:
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/0417071vtech1.html

APRIL 17--The college student responsible for yesterday's Virginia Tech slaughter was referred last year to counseling after professors became concerned about the violent nature of his writings, as evidenced in a one-act play obtained by The Smoking Gun. The play by Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major, was submitted last year as part of a short story writing class. Entitled "Richard McBeef," Cho's bizarre play features a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of pedophilia and murdering his father. A copy of the killer's play can be found below. The teenager talks of killing the older man and, at one point, the child's mother brandishes a chain saw at the stepfather. The play ends with the man striking the child with "a deadly blow."

22 comments:

ktismatics said...

Bad writing, with no redeeming social value that I can see. I'd say this guy did not have a future as a playwright. Would I have pegged him as a potential killer? I don't know: people try to pack their writing with violence just to hold the readers'/viewers' attention.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes. That's what I noticed more than anything: very bad writing. Ad hoc plot line with no intelligent direction, and many events that simply don't make sense, i.e. why does the mother assume the guilt of the step father without explanation and fly completely off the handle? You would think that marrying a person might warrant something in the line of a benefit of the doubt, or at least the opportunity to explain the situation. But this play doesn't seem to be about reflecting on a story that makes sense. The artistic medium (the play) simply exists for the sake of expressing the violent urges of its author.

It would seems as though the author's world is a chaotic one - no sense of beauty or reason - a world in which meaning is found in the irrational violence. The violent temperaments are simply presumed as normative, and there is no attempt to transcend or resolve. In fact, I don't know that I even see the so-called "cry for help."

Cho Seung's creative writing professor describes him as arrogant and obnoxious and his roommates and suitemates have similar sentiments.

I'm really not a person to make a big deal of violent or "offensive" literature. Even in cases where it doesn't seem to have so-called "redeeming" value. The literature of Scripture at times describes violent killings and very brutal plot lines. Literature can exist as a medium that helps us understand and analyze violence and its various consequences and ramifications. So, even in this sense there is a value to Cho's literature. Does even bad literature have a place? I suppose that it can in the context of our culture where these kinds of mass shootings is becoming somewhat normative....

ktismatics said...

I think there was a cry for help. The notorious serial killers seem able to fly under the radar, not calling attention to themselves. This guy did make himself visible: he looked menacing, he acted threatening, he wrote violent scripts. The play in context of the rest of the clues would suggest to me that he really was a dangerous fellow and not just a bad writer of crime fiction. I think he really did want somebody to do something about him and his place in the world. Even his last rant: you people forced me into this. He wasn't a stone cold killer. Quite the contrary: he seemed very much affected by his social isolation. Whether he could have been helped is another question, especially since I wouldn't expect him to be a particularly cooperative therapy client.

Melody said...

I'm not follwoing your rational. Mass murder equals acceptance of poor writing?

The main point of Cho's writing seems to be that the stepfather kills the child out of desperation because everyone is against him, irrationally so.

Cho felt that people were against him for no reason, possibly based on his nationality (the boy in the story is against Richard on account of his name)and were blaming things on him that he didn't do and they have no reason to connect him to (the boy says Richard killed his father to marry his mother).

Jonathan Erdman said...

Does drawing attention to one's self equal a cry for help? Or is it simply narcissism or some form of messianic complex?

ktismatics said...

Mass murder equals acceptance of poor writing? asks Melody. I hadn't thought of it like that, but maybe so. Nobody would have read his crappy play if he hadn't killed all those people. But no, my point was that if all he left behind was a bad script it would be hard to infer anything about him personally. But he gave plenty of other indications of being troubled, so in that context the bad play is also probably a personal statement.

Does drawing attention to one's self equal a cry for help? asks Jonathan. I'd say drawing attention to yourself in public is a cry for someone else to pay attention to you. I suspect he did want people to do something for him, don't you? What he wanted from them is hard to say. The school counseling center said they thought he was a danger to himself, so they must have seen something. And he got referred to the counselor as a result of antisocial behavior that he initiated.

Jonathan Erdman said...

My take is a bit different. I don't see him reaching out to anyone, and I don't see him wanting anyone from anybody. I think he had a vendetta against society and against particular segments of society. But I don't know that I pick up any sense of need from him, as though he felt he needed help from anyone. Rather, he mentions that he is doing this for those who suffer for generations to come - he is a suffering savior, a messianic symbol for the oppressed. As such, I detect a sense of superiority at work. He is a prophet who is preaching against the "debauchery" of his culture.

At root, however, I think he just wanted to shoot people. His messianic and prophetic calling were simply the justifications to act on violent impulses that had taken control.

Melody said...

Actually, my comment was in response to Erdman's statement that the bad writing has a place in violent society.

ktismatics said...

Oops. Yeah, now I see what you mean: Does even bad literature have a place? I suppose that it can in the context of our culture where these kinds of mass shootings is becoming somewhat normative.... What means this, Erdman?

Jonathan Erdman said...

It means that if this guy hadn't shot up a campus I would never had read his poorly written play. But the fact that he was psychologically and spiritually sick enough to kill students in the name of a messianic vision for the next generations all of a sudden makes his otherwise ridiculous literature an interest to me. To understand the mind of this deranged individual and contemplate who he was and what he was all about.

Truman Capote would never have been interested in Holcomb, Kansas if not for the murder of the Clutter family.

That which is otherwise uninteresting sometimes takes on an incredible significance in a greater context.

By the way, what do we think? Have we firmly decided against the "cry for help" present Cho's writings/video???

Jonathan Erdman said...

All right, and then add to this that these mass shootings are becoming more regular and all of a sudden studying what these shooters are saying becomes not just a curiosity, but it becomes crucial for understanding how who these killers are.

Melody said...

Ok, what you're really saying is that taking a deeper look into the psyche of deranged people has a place in society when you have so many of them causing so many problem.

That does not mean that poor litature becomes important in times of extreme violence, just that what the violent people wrote becomes important regaurdless of its quality.

In response to the cry for help thing, it seems more of a warning to people to change their ways and treat him nicer than.

But, I think that often people use the term "cry for help" to mean that the person had problems that were evident in their behavior, not that the person actually recognizes the need for help themselves.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I've always interepreted a "cry for help" as being some kind of un/conscious reaching out.....

Incidentally....there is now something of a backlash against last night's airing of the Cho video rantings.....students say that showing these videos provided Cho with a forum and accomplished his mission to get exposure for himself. Also, there is a concern that Cho's actions will inspire others. Along these lines it is interesting to note that Cho referenced Eric and Dylan from teh Columbine massacre.....

Melody said...

Here's the thing about that...yeah, it does give the person exposure...but as much as we'd like to thwart that...everyone wants to know why.

And as far as inspiration goes...it's only going to inspire people who were sick to start with, and there's no way to say that those people wouldn't do something like that anyway.

ktismatics said...

Suppose you're persuaded by this guy's behavior, writings, etc. that he's a threat. You also decide he's not asking for help. What do you do? You're not in the world of Minority Report where you can predict who's going to commit murder at some point in the future. Do you institutionalize him for his own good and the protection of society?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I don't think you can institutionalize anyone until they actually do something that is threatening. Either act out violence or else make specific threats against specific individuals in such a way that demonstrate their intentions and capability of acting out these threats.

ktismatics said...

So what would you do? Try to become his pal? Keep him under surveillance? Bait him into a petty crime so you can lock him up? Declare him incompetent and commit him against his will? I don't think there's anything you could make him do, but you have to wonder whether anybody would make the effort to do something with a guy so evidently remote and hostile.

Jonathan Erdman said...

What would I do???

Honestly, I'm not sure.

What do you think could have been done? I think the easy answer is to put him in a straight jacket, but hindsight is always clearer....

ktismatics said...

No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a think possible, than that one should be turned loose in a society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met "cut us dead," and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily torture would be a relief.
- William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890

Jonathan Erdman said...

I'm watching Glen Beck and a panel of three conservatives, including a guy from Focus on the Family. They specifically mentioned the Richard McBeef piece and what to do about it. (I'm watching a re-run.) Some mentioned the parental responsibility, they also mentioned that he should have failed the project (I believe the teacher gave Cho a "B" as a grade). The Focus on the Family guy mentioned moral relativism and the responsibility of Hollywood.

Glen Beck asked the panel if they felt callus and hardened....most agreed that they and culture had been desensitized...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Your quote by William James has been interesting to me b/c I'm wondering how it fits into Cho's situation. At first it might be obvious that Cho is the "unnoticed," and this is surely the case. But then we have to ask if Cho is, to some degree, the responsibility of society. We are rather divided on this one. I suspect most in the States would say that Cho is responsible and society/culture is not. Others would suggest that we all bear responsibility: either for not noticing enough, or not getting involved, or not caring, or not committing the guy to a psych ward somewhere.

I guess the starter question is to what degree was Cho's isolation and "unnoticed" condition self-inflicted? If someone is anti-social and aloof what is societies/culture's responsibility? And as Christians, to what degree is it more of a matter of Good Samaritan and less a matter of "social responsibility"?

ktismatics said...

Right, you can always say it's not my job, that it's the killer's fault, but 30 people did get killed. This kind of college shooting remains the anomaly. Most of the shootings are poor-on-poor, personal dispute types of things. These might not be our responsibility either, but the murder rate in the US is 3 times what it is in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and something like 10 times the rate in Saudi Arabia.