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April 17, 2007

Cho's Plays

A classmate reveals another one, "Mr. Brownstone," half of which is just a recapitulation of the Guns N' Roses song. The rest of it is just retarded, mixed in with angry loserdom.

It's worth reading just how obvious it was to people this cat was weird and a loaded gun.

What happened yesterday:

When I first heard about the multiple shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday, my first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was "I bet it was Seung Cho."

Cho was in my playwriting class last fall, and nobody seemed to think much of him at first. He would sit by himself whenever possible, and didn't like talking to anyone. I don't think I've ever actually heard his voice before. He was just so quiet and kept to himself. Looking back, he fit the exact stereotype of what one would typically think of as a "school shooter" – a loner, obsessed with violence, and serious personal problems. Some of us in class tried to talk to him to be nice and get him out of his shell, but he refused talking to anyone. It was like he didn't want to be friends with anybody. One friend of mine tried to offer him some Halloween candy that she still had, but he slowly shook his head, refusing it. He just came to class every day and submitted his work on time, as I understand it.

A major part of the playwriting class was peer reviews. We would write one-act plays and submit them to an online repository called Blackboard for everyone in the class to read and comment about in class the next day. Typically, the students give their opinions about the plays and suggest ways to make it better, the professor gives his insights, then asks the author to comment about the play in class.

When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him. When the students gave reviews of his play in class, we were very careful with our words in case he decided to snap. Even the professor didn't pressure him to give closing comments.

After hearing about the mass shootings, I sent one of my friends a Facebook message asking him if he knew anything about Seung Cho and if he could have been involved. He replied: "dude that's EXACTLY what I was thinking! No, I haven't heard anything, but seriously, that was the first thing I thought when I heard he was Asian."

While I "knew" Cho, I always wished there was something I could do for him, but I couldn't think of anything. As far as notifying authorities, there isn't (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say "Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!" If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday's tragedy more than anything.

There's a a downside to nonjudgmentalism, of course. Our brains are wired to make snap decisions about people in all regards, but particularly as regards (naturally) sex and death. We know instantly if someone is a likely romantic prospect. We also know instantly if someone is a likely threat.

The fact of the matter lunatics -- florid lunatics, "quiet loners," etc. -- aren't usually able to hide the fact that they're touched. But our country has a culture -- positive in many ways -- of making no judgments about people based on looks or the vibe they give off, or, rather, at least not sharing such forbidden judging-a-book-by-its-cover thoughts with others. Especially not someone in a position of authority. We've been conditioned since infancy with thousands of morality plays that just because someone seems weird doesn't mean they are weird. Or bad. Or dangerous.

The trouble is that weirdness has a pretty high correlation with badness and dangerousness. If someone has a dysfunction that prevents the normal sort of interaction and empathy with one's fellow human beings, well, that's not likely to be a person that's otherwise well-adjusted. The very fact of his socio-psychological defect probably isolates him, and makes him angry and resentful in his isolation.

That weird kid you knew in third grade who everyone thought was psycho? Well, there's a pretty fair chance he was a psycho.

This is all an off the cuff bit of bullshit by someone trying to suggest something, anything constructive about these situations. I have no idea if it's a good idea, on balance, to start reporting the chronically strange to the authorities. I'm not sure what the cops could do, precisely, if they do in fact determine someone is deeply weird -- which is itself not an accepted diagnosis in the DSM IV. And cops can't "keep an eye" on certified weirdos forever.

But maybe it is about time people stopped being so damn nice and nonjudgmental and acted a little bit nosier and a little bit more the tattletale. Previously we've seen assassins and mass-murderers described so, so many times as "quiet" but "no one I'd ever imagine was capable of doing something like this." It's been speculated that that last bit was bullshit all along -- that people did suspect they were capable of doing something precisely like that -- and, perhaps because that cliche has been so well parodied, people are now much more willing to admit, "Yeah, I figured he was nuts, and maybe a pedophile, and maybe likely to shoot up the joint one day."

Perhaps the new cliche -- "he was quiet and exactly the sort of person I'd figure would commit this heinous act" -- is as bullshit as the old cliche.

But maybe it's not, and maybe people are just as good at playing Spot the Lunatic as they all secretly believe themselves to be, but are dissuaded from mentioning because of the demands of Niceness and Not Pickin' On The Strange Person. And maybe it's about time people started calling the police on such folks, if only the police, accompanied by a psychiatrist, could have a voluntary chat with the weirdo.

Over at Goldstein's, this advice from "experts:" Heed hints from strange people who give you the creeping willies. They're trying to tell you something.

"In our society, we've accepted a lot of very bizarre and bad behavior. That violent (tendency) doesn't seem to catch people's attention as much as it should, where people go, 'Whoah – what is he saying?' Kind of like, if you're in an airport and you say, 'I have a bomb in my suitcase,' that will get you nailed right to the floor, right then. But, if you're someplace else and you say that, a lot of times, people just shrug their shoulders and say, 'Oh, yeah, he's talking about guns, he's talking about this, he's talking about that.' Parents ignore it. Their friends just say, 'Oh, well, he's just being weird.' Even teachers sometimes will say, 'He should just talk to a counselor.'

"This is serious. When they start talking about it, we ought to be paying attention."


PS: I think I'm getting this old cliche/new cliche about "quiet loners" from Kaus. I know I'm not making it up myself; I know I read it somewhere, and it sounds like a Kaus thing.

Just noting I'm not trying to steal this. I think I read about this when that guy was found with the two abducted boys.


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posted by Ace at 06:54 PM

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