Now that we know that the massacre at Virginia Tech (33 dead and 22 injured) was perpetrated -- apparently -- by a South Korean male, Cho-Seung Hui, rather than a black one, people might at last let up on the hip-hop industry as the chief and only architect of the pervasive violence of American culture.
Oh, sorry, someone already has. Maybe in deference to the upcoming April 20 anniversary of the Columbine high school shootings -- which the popular press inaccurately pinned on the video game “Doom,” Marilyn Manson and the Goth culture -- Florida attorney Jack Thompson has already concluded that it’s the electronic game industry that’s to be blamed.
Now, a good argument can be made that video games, and indeed every piece of electronic entertainment, has an impact on the human psyche qualitatively different from that of the print media, but there is no evidence yet that, whatever role they played at Columbine, they had any part to play here. But God forbid that the words “we don’t know” should ever come out of the mouths of the popular press.
At Virginia, the killer or one of the killers, seems to have been a young undergraduate. And the rumored motivation seems to have been a thwarted romance. But since there is no political constituency -- at least, not yet -- for outlawing youthful hormones, we can confidently expect that censors and gun-control advocates will be crawling out of the woodwork soon.
Of course, one wouldn’t object to a nuanced position on either issue. One could, for example, be in favor of gun ownership at large, while deploring the ease with which a student was apparently able to get two handguns and massive quantities of ammunition into a dorm room on a campus, especially, when bomb threats (April 3 and 13) had already been directed against some of the engineering buildings there. In hindsight, the threats might have been the gunman testing the campus security system.
But don’t hold your breath for nuance. Expect, instead, the usual thunderous denunciations on all sides and much righteous posturing from the pols and pundits.
Meanwhile, only half tongue in cheek, may I suggest that there is -- so far -- as little evidence that video culture caused this tragedy as there is that, say, academic culture did. Less, actually.
After all, with depressing regularity, university campuses do seem to throw up deranged, alienated specimens with mayhem on their minds.
There was Theodore Strelesky, who expressed his disgust with his advisor at Yale’s math department by taking a hammer to the man’s skull and then became an urban legend for his bald refusal to plead insanity in his defense or mouth the usual therapeutic platitudes to get paroled. He argued, instead, that his advisor had it coming to him, a sentiment not unknown among some PhD candidates. It’s been suggested -- again, not entirely facetiously -- that a jury of his peers would never have convicted him.
Then there was the physics graduate student passed up for research funding at the University of Iowa who shot and killed three professors, his academic rival, and an administrator, before killing himself. And, most famously, there was the Unabomber, Ted Kasczyinski, a Harvard math PhD by the age of 25, who over 18 years mutilated and killed numbers of innocent people in a doomed protest against society. No hip-hop . . . or video games . . . there -- Ted once played the trombone and modeled his wilderness lifestyle on Thoreau. Maybe, we should ban Walden.
Still, although the perp at Blacksburg seems to have been an English major, not an introverted science student, there truly are problems with the American university campus -- and I don’t mean the alleged strangle-hold of the left, as cultural conservatives are prone to thinking (rather too facilely), only now is not the time for that discussion. Especially, since we really don’t have enough information about this tragedy.
A more useful line of inquiry is the one probably uppermost in the minds of the families of the victims. Could this have been prevented?
I’ve already mentioned the bomb threats. Additionally, earlier this year, the Blacksburg campus was shut down when an eccentric survivalist, William Morva, wanted for alleged assault and murder, was rumored to have been sighted on the grounds. The rumor was false, but ought to have made university officials sensitive to the potential hazards contained on the 2,600 acre rural campus with more than 25,000 students.
One doesn’t want to rush to judgment about the university’s culpability, but the manner in which campus security responded does provoke thought. For some reason, I think gun control hardliners are not going to want to pay attention to the surprisingly lackadaisical approach the university took to security.
Here are the e-mails as they were sent out:
‘A gunman is loose’: E-mails from Virginia
The first 911 call on the Virginia Tech shooting came in at 7:15 a.m. The following are emails that Virginia Tech officials sent to students during the shooting rampage, which left 32 people plus the gunman dead. The misspellings are as they occurred in the messages:
Email sent at 9:26 a.m.:
Subject: Shooting on campus.
A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating.
The university community is urged to be cautious and are asked to contact Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case. Contact Virginia Tech Police at 231-6411
Stay attuned to the www.vt.edu. We will post as soon as we have more information.
9:15 a.m.: Approximate time of second shooting at Norris Hall, in which 30 people were killed. Second email sent at 9:50 a.m.:
Subject: Please stay put
A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows
Third email sent at 10:17 a.m.:
Subject: All Classes Canceled; Stay where you are
Virginia Tech has canceled all classes. Those on campus are asked to remain where there are, lock their doors and stay away from windows. Persons off campus are asked not to come to campus.
Fourth email sent at 10:53 a.m.:
Subject: Second Shooting Reported; Police have one gunman in custody
In addition to an earlier shooting today in West Ambler Johnston, there has been a multiple shooting with multiple victims in Norris Hall.
Police and EMS are on the scene.
Police have one shooter in custody and as part of routine police procedure, they continue to search for a second shooter.
All people in university buildings are required to stay inside until further notice.
All entrances to campus are closed.
* * * * * *
More than two hours to send out an e-mail after two people are killed in a dorm? And no immediate cancellation of classes? This, on a state university campus, where the campus police are closely tied to the state police?
Before we get new laws restricting the liberties of ordinary citizens in what is already an incipient police state, maybe we should first make sure that our security forces know how to do their jobs with the laws already on the books.
Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and the forthcoming, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September, 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World -- Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Visit her blog at: http://lilarajiva.wordpress.com/.
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