Re-Imaging Violence

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We’ve decided to scrap tonight’s planned show (about language post-Imus) in favor of a show about the visual reverberations of the Virginia Tech shooting. Our central prod came from the trusty barthjg, who wrote:

I’ll pitch a show about Instant Symbols and Icons, based on the Virgina Tech killings.

The image of Cho Seung-Hui brazenly holding two handguns, arms outstretched will soon reach iconic status, to be mashed up and shared in all sorts of ways–just like the Abu gharib photos and Che’ and everything else that has appeared on t-shirts and ads. How many You Tube videos created in the wake of the shootings? music tributes. every incident enters the mosh pit of creative repurposing.

Who is going to write the music, the movie…track every 6 months how pieces of this tragedy filter thru global culture.

Watch someone stage the two crazy plays this guy wrote for the drama class he is in. (you can find them on aol.com…i read them last night)

barthjg, in a show suggestion to Open Source, April 19, 2007

We’re following his lead, and asking: Is there anything to learn about the way we use new technologies in this first mass-murder made, as it were, for YouTube? Are mashups and tributes a form of digital catharsis, a sort of artistic safety valve? Is there a cross-over point where they become pure exploitation, or worse?

And what, exactly, is new here? Besides the zeros and the ones, and the ease of dissemination and reconfiguration, is there a difference between a 19th-century suicide note and a 21st-century QuickTime movie?

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication, NYU

Blogger, SABEROCRACY.NET

Keith Jenkins

Picture Editor, The Washington Post

Flickr blogger, Burnt Pixel

Blogger, Good Reputation Sleeping

Founder of the Post’s Blog City feature

James Der Derian

Director of the

Global Security and Global Media Project at The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University

Author of Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network

Extra Credit Reading

Excerpts from the original footage sent by Cho Seung-Hui to NBC on the day of the shootings (via YouTube):

anditgoeslike, 2007-4-19, anditgoeslike’s LiveJournal: “These pictures of Cho failed to evoke the kind of emotional reaction that a real villain should. I’m sure it would be different if he were actually holding that gun to my head and not to a digital camera with the self-timer innocuously ticking away. I don’t know, though. I just imagined him going in front of the mirror and experimenting with various outfits and poses.”

ntcoolfool, Update, Bryce’s Journal, April 16, 2007: “I cannot decide if I should join and get the most up to date information or not. I think when I do, it will then hit me. I must avoid it at all costs. The list still awaits– and several friends have remained silent on facebook updates. Could it be them?”

Scottish Right, Old Media Tries To Tarnish New Media With Virginia Tech Massacre, Scottish Right, April 19, 2007: “A madman campus killer making a video and shipping it to a media outlet has absolutely nothing to do with “citizen journalism” or “new media.” A sicko video made with a camcorder and sent to NBC is hardly any different than an elaborate suicide note being written and mailed to a media outlet.”

Momus, The problem lays a floral wreath at the grave of the problem, Click Opera, April 17, 2007: “There, visually represented, is the same horror we heard on the cell phone video footage students recorded. The grim exterior of the building, and that seemingly endless banging. Horror beyond all the platitudes. Horror intimately tied to the braying donkey of the Absurd, the pragmatic, the routine, the logistical — what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil.”

nikolrb, in a comment on Open Source, April 19, 2007: “It seems part of this discussion is not about if the images are more prevalent, I don’t think they are especially, but how quickly we are digesting and regurgitating and socially processing them. Think of all the movies, plays, songs, etc. made referring to Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, Son of Sam killings, Jack the Ripper, etc. The entertainment/news cycle seems to be converging (in more arenas than just this.)”

Dan Gilmor, Virginia Tech: How Media Are Evolving, Center for Citizen Media Blog, April 17, 2007: “Once again, horror has given us a glimpse of our media future: simultaneously conversational and distributed, mass and personal.”

Sky News, Copycat: Killer Re-Enacted Violent Film, Sky News, April 19, 2007: “Officers believe he repeatedly watched Oldboy as part of his preparation for the killing spree.”

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  • nother

    If during a nationally televised sporting event, someone runs out into the field during play, it is the policy of every network to blackout the camera.

    The logic is clear. These people want recognition and filming them would only encourage more disillusioned souls to run out there. Sure, there is a part of all us at home that would like to see these idiots run onto the field, but the networks do the smart thing.

    Why can’t our national media use the same restraint as our sporting media? Why do we have to see every damm movie poster this clinically disturbed man made? Just print an innocuous picture of him and describe the rest in words.

    Where is the restraint from the sensationalism?

  • nikolrb

    It seems part of this discussion is not about if the images are more prevalent, I don’t think they are especially, but how quickly we are digesting and regurgitating and socially processing them. Think of all the movies, plays, songs, etc. made referring to Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, Son of Sam killings, Jack the Ripper, etc. The entertainment/news cycle seems to be converging (in more arenas than just this.) News is entertainment and entertainment is news.

    On this premise I guess it isn’t surprising how quickly we start developing and culturalising these images as violent cultural icons. Perhaps this means they will also disspate faster?

    If this information superhighway speed psychological processing is better or worse, I have no idea.

  • Potter

    I was going to say that this is how we process and normalize and I noticed that nikolrb above is saying the same thing. What relevant for me now is how we don’t deal with the mentally ill, how we can’t hear their cries. Cho said that this could have been prevented many times.. He was right. As well an important issue is the easy availability of concealable guns. I am sorry that everyone else is talking about this and you have to be different… but this is what I am thinking about.

  • W.M. Palmer

    I recommend the reading of W.J.T. Mitchell’s “What Do Pictures Want?” and consideration as a guest of the author (http://humanities.uchicago.edu/faculty/mitchell/home.htm)

  • valkyrie607

    Today’s NYTimes has a model of the classrooms and a breakdown of who was taking what class and where they were killed. Only 3 students’ schedules were not available. Instant information, an instant reenactment of the killings–as I read it, I found myself wondering when the first movie about the event would come out, and whether it would be any good.

  • hurley

    Shine a light on a dark place. What more can you do?

  • nother

    hurley, shining a light doesn’t have to mean using flashing Christmas lights and colored neon bulbs. The light they’re shining makes Times Square look like dim.

    Was that just a light the media was shining on the darkness of Anna Nicole’s Death?

    The Disney parade of media exploitation has moved on to a new float…and we stand on the side…wide eyed.

  • mynocturama

    This resonates for me with the Convergences show from a little while ago, with Lawrence Weschler. I haven’t watched the video footage. (I hesitate to put a “yet” after that last sentence – I feel I ought to resist viewing it, but it’s so easy, isn’t it, to either link to it yourself or end up watching over someone else’s shoulder – which, of course, then leads to the question of the ethics of watching it, of giving this unfortunately disturbed young man the posthumous notoriety he so desired.)

    But I digress. From the still photos I’ve seen so far, the iconic image of Robert De Niro in front of the mirror in Taxi Driver immediately comes to mind. So the question is: did Cho Seung-Hui deliberately intend to evoke the character of Travis Bickle, or is the iconography and its resonance an example of a convergence?

    I found out last night that the son of a family friend attends Virginia Tech, and had class in that building that morning, but for some reason didn’t go. Not sure what can be said about that, I just was dumbstruck when I heard.

  • Greta

    Hi W.M. Palmer : W.J.T.Mitchell seems to be out of the country, but he looks very interesting. We’ll definitely try for him again in the future — please remind us.

    mynocturama: we thought of Lawrence Weschler, too. He was wonderful on the phone, but unfortunately he’s traveling tonight.

    Thanks all.

  • plnelson

    Why do we have to see every damm movie poster this clinically disturbed man made? Just print an innocuous picture of him and describe the rest in words.

    I heard on NPR about NBC’s release of this material on their TV broadcast. I’m sure I’ll read about it in the Economist and the Wall Street Journal in the next few days and weeks, but they don’t usually run many pictures.

    But I didn’t see it on TV because . . . well . . . I don’t watch TV. Mainly because I find it excessively lurid, melodramatic, and relying too much on shocking imagery, breathless reporting, and a mindlessly simplistic “if it bleeds it leads” style of “journalism” that cannot distinguish between reporting and theater. But that’s just my opinion.

    Where is the restraint from the sensationalism?

    Where is your wall-plug? Where is the on/off switch on your TV? Where is your restraint about WATCHING such material?

  • mynocturama

    This doesn’t have to do with the imagery of it all, but I thought I’d throw it out there. A couple weeks ago, flipping through the pages of the New York Review of Books in a cafe, trying my best to look smart, an ad for a book caught my eye:

    http://www.shameresponse.org/

    Here’s a snippet from the site:

    “The shame response is a primitive physiological response to a rejection of oneself by another. The discomfort of this response may vary from intense physical pain to one that is barely noticeable, if at all. When this pain is sufficient, it causes anger that may be directed outward against another or inward against oneself.”

    And a bit more:

    “In reviewing what preceded an act of violence, it is necessary to determine whether the assailant had experienced a shame response and how intense it was.

    Understanding that a shame response can lead to anger and violence allows for the prevention of violence. This requires that individuals do not experience rejections that are so painful as to lead to violence.”

    Herbert E. Thomas is the author. I know this is an issue of the psychology, not iconography, of what happened. But these excerpts do strike me as remarkably relevant and illuminating. There are news items just out now, about the taunting and teasing he experienced early on. Not that this serves as an excuse or an exhaustive explanation. Just find it interesting, coming across the book a few weeks before…

  • plnelson

    The Disney parade of media exploitation has moved on to a new float…and we stand on the side…wide eyed.

    Once again, nother, I’m forced to remind you to be careful with your use of the word “we”. Not everyone shares your “wide eyed” taste for the ghastly.

  • rahbuhbuh

    “Are mashups and tributes a form of digital catharsis(?)”

    Yes. They are also a post humous revenge from those outraged who would tarnish his message for posterity. If Cho was so concerned about being understood, what better way (in some people’s opinion) to steal his thunder then to misinform and fracture his source material as rebuttal?

    These reactionary images and depictions form the future’s lexicon. “Napoleonic” means a short angry delusional man abusing his power to compensate for stature. That is a far cry from the legacy he wished for, as shown in the commissioned Davids:

    http://www.southern.net/wm/paint/auth/david/st-bernard.jpg

    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/history/core/pics/0253/img0049.jpg

  • plnelson

    An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal today suggested that Americans may be getting over this tragedy and moving on faster than earlier similar tragedies. The author suggested that our constant daily exposure to violence in Iraq, especially suicide bombings was one factor desensitizing the public.

    It occurs to me that tragedies on the scale of Virgina Tech (and worse happen almost every day in Iraq! Given America’s culpability for the Iraqi tragedy why do most Americans spare so few tears for them now that we’ve been given this tiniest, fleeting taste of what it must be like for them?

  • rahbuhbuh

    gleaned from a Reason Blog quoting Jane Hamsher, Hollywood producer who worked on “Natural Born Killers,”:

    “I remember during Columbine there were measures taken to assure that the gunmen’s videos and writings didn’t get released to the public, and that they did not become cult heros as a result of their actions. It seemed like a bit of decency amidst the mayhem. I really don’t know what’s to be gained journalistically by broadcasting the killer’s videos other than a ratings bonanza, but it seems quite ghoulish.”

    It will be disturbing and interesting (meant as non-ghoulish a way as possible) to see how this killer’s literal press packet will alter our memory. Columbine was the work of two messed up teens plotting. Cho rendered his self portrait as a loner, but still messed up. The duo become nameless and less fearful because we knew so little about them besides music taste and bowling. The viewer adds the meaning. Cho has a personality and he will stick. We saw his eyes, heard his stunted oral report manifesto. The viewer is passive and horrified.

    But he’s already a figurehead:

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/city_region/breaking_news/2007/04/man_accused_of_1.html

  • plnelson

    mynocturama says There are news items just out now, about the taunting and teasing he experienced early on.

    rahbuhbuh adds These reactionary images and depictions form the future’s lexicon. “Napoleonic” means a short angry delusional man abusing his power to compensate for stature.

    I’m sure every amateur psychologist, and no small number of professional ones, will be chiming in over the next few weeks with their insights, theories and suggestions.

    But in the end we must objectively face the hard fact that there is no science of human behavior and personality development quite worthy of the term “science”. And this is nothing to be ashamed of: human neurophysiology and its relationship to behavor and the ways and extent is it modified by experience is, by orders of magnitude more complex than any other natural phenomenon that we study. We’re probably a good century or more from having as much understanding of human psychology as we have today of, say solid-state physics.

    So you can theorize all you want but there are millions of troubled young men who are fascinated by weapons, create art with violent imagery, have trouble with relationships, feel bullied, or whatever. And while many of them end up talking to shrinks, committing crimes, disrupting the lives of those around them, or self-destructing in other ways, very, very, VERY few become mass murderers and there is no science to tell you why.

  • http://StudentsForTheEarth.org joneden

    responding to plnelson: regarding the WSJ comment, if we get another serious such tragedy any time soon, the “recovery” will be even more rapid. With enough such events, they will become just as ho hum as the daily news from Iraq–we cannot mourn daily and go on with our lives.

  • http://StudentsForTheEarth.org joneden

    Thirty died in this tragic episode. Why does this overwhelmingly get more of our collective attention than the other 30,000 lost every year to gun violence in this country?

  • loki

    Great idea: Please be careful with the word symbol(pulling things together as in wholeness) and diabolic( searating or sending things apart.)

    Thanks for remembering the victims and doing justice to there lives. Remember that college age kids are being killed every day in Iraq on both sides.

  • plnelson

    Thirty died in this tragic episode. Why does this overwhelmingly get more of our collective attention than the other 30,000 lost every year to gun violence in this country?

    This is an outstanding question! In Boston where Radio Open Source is produced, (and Chris Lydon once ran for mayor) last year there were 75 murders, mostly young people, mostly by guns. Few have them have been solved.

    Almost everyone I know and everyone I work with goes to Boston regularly and few of them (if any) have been to Viginia Tech. But most people are far more worked up about this than I’ve ever seen them about Boston’s murder rate. It’s irrational. I blame TV but I blame TV for most things anyway.

  • Potter

    Notice the NBC logo on the Cho pictures/videos. Cho did not put them there.

  • Potter

    We do need to see and understand how disturbed he is. Not to be frightened by it, not to exploit it.

  • joshua hendrickson

    I sometimes think that Andy Warhol’s throwaway prediction that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes may be the only truly prescient statement in this media-driven age.

    There is a great moment in the Sandman graphic novels that Neil Gaiman wrote back in the early 90s. There is a serial killer convention at a backwoods hotel; without going into narrative detail, the convention concludes with Dream (the main character of the series, the Lord of Dreams, aka Morpheus) busting up the convention and declaring his judgment:

    “You that call yourselves collectors. Until now, you have all sustained fantasies in which you are the maltreated heroes of your own stories. Comforting daydreams in which, ultimately, you are shown to be in the right. No more. For all of you, the dream is over. I have taken it away. For this is my judgment on you: that you shall know, at all times, and forever, exactly what you are. And you shall know just how LITTLE that means.”

    I wish that this fiction could become fact.

    So you can fire a gun? So you can end life? So you are miserable, and know that misery loves company?

    So. What.

    Maybe, someday, if I work hard enough and luck backs up my efforts, I might be famous or influential through my own fictional writings. And maybe such dreams of personal glory are, to some degree, pathetic.

    But there are others far more pathetic.

    “How LITTLE that means.”

  • Sir Otto

    Very simple. NBC saw an opportunity to draw more of us to their network and thus sell more Explorers. All other considerations were peripheral. The bottom line is money.

  • Winooski

    Vaidhyanathan just said, somewhat rhetorically, “What are we going to do about the mentally ill?” Someone should tell him that there’s a vast continuum of mental illness, and to say that Cho’s sociopathy is the type of behavior one can expect of a person with any sort of mental illness (major depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.) is amazingly stigmatizing to people with mental illness, and it’s also ignorant.

  • Potter

    Cho must have known that NBC specializes in this sort of thing.

    (Siva V. was very good btw)

  • Sir Otto

    It seems an obscenity to me to give this low-life savage some sort of artistic credit for his pictures and video. Nothing there but clones of video games and Ninja movies.

  • Mytocondrium

    Something that seems lacking from the discussion is how we persecute mentally ill persons:

    Of course his actions were profoundly disturbed.

    But, if I had been someone who’d bullied him when he was young, would I feel terrible right now?

    Would my actions too have been profoundly disturbed (but socially acceptable, unlike his)?

  • joshua hendrickson

    A mini-essay, inspired by Cho’s avowal that he was doing this for his “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,” like Jesus.

  • joshua hendrickson

    A mini-essay, inspired by Cho’s avowal that he was doing this for his “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,” like Jesus.

    WHY I HATE CHO, SUICIDE BOMBERS, AND JESUS CHRIST:

    Martyrs suck.

    (That’s all.)

  • plnelson

    There is a great moment in the Sandman graphic novels that Neil Gaiman wrote back in the early 90s. There is a serial killer convention at a backwoods hotel;

    I think it’s fascinating that you seek meaning and understanding of this (or anything) in violent graphic “novels”.

    If that’s the language and means that males in our society use to interpert and explain things then perhaps maybe that’s one reason why we live in such a violent world.

  • mintroyale

    Chris, the two-gun picture is echoing Antonio Banderas role in “Assassins” as Miguel Bain where he is the prototypical “perfect” killer – like an intense, single-purpose shark among minnows – his foe is (relative) good guy Robert Rath (Stallone), trying to retire from being a killer, and coming across as good equals neurotic.

    Bain enters a room, covering both angles with arms akimbo sighting along one arm and the other, ready to flex a finger on either end to kill whatever moves. He treats anyone in his sights identically, as someone to be removed. He is untroubled by who it is – it is someone in his way. He is a killing machine and does not discriminate between something trying to kill him and something just there.

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    joneden wrote: “if we get another serious such tragedy any time soon, the “recovery” will be even more rapid.”

    There was a bombing in a Baghdad market the day after the Virginia shootings that killed at least 140, but there were no NBC, ABC or CNN reporters there to film it or to interview everyone who survived so it was almost a non-event. Anyway, there would always be another bombing in a distant land to report that can wait for a slower news day.

    On another note, I find the pictures and footage of attack airplanes and missiles bombing Baghdad and elsewhere more “shock”ing and “awe”some than this one sad character who could become infamous not because of what he did (kill) but because he had the weaponry to bolster the numbers and make it newsworthy. The power of the US military to destroy a society is what the media should be reporting more about.

  • rahbuhbuh

    plnelson: Neil Gaiman has more female readers than any mainstream comic author.

    and were you not listening to the “entertaining violence” show from the other night? sometimes violent entertainment is a release of sicko intent so people don’t engage in real violence.

  • Kerri_Hicks

    To question whether a 23-year-old may have used ‘new media’ (digital video, digital photographs, etc.) because he wanted immediacy in coverage is a strange point to try to make in this day and age. Blogs, online video, and self-important self-documentation is ‘new media’ to us old people, but to a 23-year-old college student, it is simply the way life is. My question then; why is there so *little* digital documentation from this disturbed young man? It seems as though he’s one of the few college students today who is *not* a MySpace Facebook LiveJournal junkie. If he had so much to say, where was he saying it? Or was he at all?

    How does Cho’s parcel sent to NBC differ from the Unibomber’s ‘manifesto’? (Well, aside from the actual content, of course.) Ted Kaczynski sent a letter to the New York Times, not a video. But there weren’t blogs and at-your-fingertips digital video back then. One can only speculate what Kaczynski would have used to get his point across twelve years in the future.

    As for filters and editorial oversight, the most important purpose that a filter serves is as a way to put important or meaningful information in front of the people who want it. Not everything can go on the front page — someone (or something) needs to cull and winnow.

    I don’t quite understand, though, what one accomplishes by redacting reality. A very disturbed human being sent information to a news outlet. What is the benefit in not publishing it? How is *not* having it on the public record a good thing? Do we really need to be so insulated from the discomfiture of reality? If so, we can turn off the television or put down the newspaper, or we can watch the Trinity Broadcast Network news rather than watching NBC. But the more the media ‘edits’, the more we have editorializing, and the less we really have true news.

    Does publishing a killer’s words and photographs glorify him? I can’t imagine how someone could think that it would. Does NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series ‘glorify’ pedophiles? There is a difference between ‘exposing’ and ‘glorifying’. One is news, the other is something different.

  • jazzman

    rahbuhbuh Says: and were you not listening to the “entertaining violence” show from the other night? sometimes violent entertainment is a release of sicko intent so people don’t engage in real violence.

    If “sickos” are mollified (metaphorically castrated in effect) by viewing violent entertainment (which is a highly controversial & unsupported hypothesis) does that justify its raison d’etre? There is evidence that viewing violent acts exacerbates the predilections of unbalanced psyches and has similar psychological properties to addictive substance and behaviors.

  • plnelson

    There was a bombing in a Baghdad market the day after the Virginia shootings that killed at least 140, but there were no NBC, ABC or CNN reporters there to film it or to interview everyone who survived so it was almost a non-event. Anyway, there would always be another bombing in a distant land to report that can wait for a slower news day.

    It may be a distant land, but in many ways America is more directly responsible for the carnage in Iraq than the carnage at Virginia Tech.

    Virginia Tech was the work of one crazy person, and despite personal misgivings that some individuals have had about whether they could have done more to get him help, the reality is that those misgivings are pure speculation.

    But there is nothing speculative about the proposition that had we not invaded Iraq the hellishness there would not be happening, and unlike Va Tech, where a few individuals felt that they saw signs of a future meltdown, MILLIONS of people predicted the disaster in Iraq very publically. So the situation in Iraq is not just any distant land.

  • plnelson

    Neil Gaiman has more female readers than any mainstream comic author.

    I’ll bet there are manga comics with more female readers. Josei-muke (josei-) manga have millions of female readers. Maybe you have some narrow American idea of “mainstream”.

    and were you not listening to the “entertaining violence” show from the other night? sometimes violent entertainment is a release of sicko intent so people don’t engage in real violence.

    Please cite some evidence of this.

  • tbrucia

    — Is there anything to learn about the way we use new technologies in this first mass-murder made, as it were, for YouTube? — WE? Don’t you mean HE?

    — Are mashups and tributes a form of digital catharsis, a sort of artistic safety valve? — Artistic? Are you kidding? Would your grandchild’s beating heart nailed on a cross be artistic? Some stranger crying over it a safety valve? Huh?

    — Is there a cross-over point where they become pure exploitation, or worse? — Yep, and we are way over that crossover point!

    — And what, exactly, is new here? — The level of bad taste…

    — Besides the zeros and the ones, and the ease of dissemination and reconfiguration, is there a difference between a 19th-century suicide note and a 21st-century QuickTime movie? — Basically, NO!

    I would add, if violence is entertainment, then Auschwitz must have been the best yet… And I imagine some would demand, in today’s world, that the annihilation of millions of Jews in gas ovens should be broadcast as ‘an artistic statement’, right? Sorry, but this entire concept of violence as entertainment for the masses is simply sickening… I’m not even sure that commenting here is appropriate, but I’ll simply stand up and protest: ENOUGH!

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    plnelson, the point I was making above (not well) was that this would be the thinking of media producers who are more interested in the sensationalized local event that sells better than the more distant, even if highly relevant, daily killings in Iraq.

    You make a good point about which could have been more easily prevented, though I think if weapon makers were not allowed to freely market their products, the number of dead in Virginia would have been much lower.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Thanks for doing this show. I just now listened to it and watched the above U-tube. The images did remind me (in a twisted Mel Gibson’s Christianity/Bowling for Columbine way) of an Islamic suicide bomber video. Cho seems to be a martyr to his own pain. It reminded me of a line from John Lennon’s first solo LP “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”

    I admit that I did want to see Cho’s visuals. I was glad I could come here instead of looking it up on U-tube myself. I don’t feel quite so morbid finding it here. After all, we are asking intelligent questions, right? I asked myself why I wanted to see this miserible suffering soul. I guess to better understand humanity by observing the far reaches of the human psyche.

    I also remembered the scene from Bowling For Columbine where Micheal Moore is interviewing a man from the town of Columbine in their missile/bomb factory and the man is standing right in front of a huge weapon saying he just can’t understand why these guys would do something so violent. Cho was insane but at least he wasn’t our president.

  • Jovichua

    Christopher sets up a false dichotomy:

    NOt a question of all or nothing, either show the video or leave the public in the dark – media edits ancensors all the time – they must present any information on their own terms. Use a still, use texst read by a newsperson. Do not be held hostage to the conditions of a crazed murderer, all or nothing.

    It is simple sensationalist journalism, pay your dues for airtime with murder, beheadings, terror, mass murder, that’s how to be heard.

  • rc21

    You are right Jovichua, NBC had many options. They chose the one option that would prolong the killers wish to comtinue inflicting pain on the victims. NBC enabled and assisted in prolonging the misery. All for the chance to earn more money.

    There was nothing in the video that could not have been repoted verbally by the news casters. We know news outlets make decisions all the time about what types of material they wish to broadcast. The reasons NBC gave for airing the video were nothing more than a smoke screen for their real motive.

    Peggysue I find your strange links between Bush, Christianity and this deranged killer somewhat sad although I’m not totally suprised. It would be nice if you could give it a rest.

    You watched the video and it reminded you of a ( twisted mel gibson chrisianity/bowling for columbine way) muslim suicide bomber video.

    What the hell does that mean. First off incase you have been living in a closet for the past 20 years. There is no such thing as christian suicide bombers. We do have muslim suicide bombers. They are actually in action on an almost daily basis. Your comments show a disturbing disregard for reality.

    Your link of Bush to this tragedy is nothing more than childish and somewhat pathetic.

  • http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

    Hey gang,

    I’m sorry to say that I stopped listening to the show months ago. Various reasons; perhaps I’m fickle. But when I heard the teaser the show last night,

    “the first mass murder made for YouTube” something snapped. What on earth did this tragedy have to do with YouTube, or the Internet, or emergent culture? The only videos posted to YouTube were those pilfered. It just seems like an enormous stretch. I turned on the show at 7:15pm and listened for a minute, and Chris was trying to make the killer seem like some sort of symbol straddling the line between new and old media… And then I turned it off.

    Skimming some of the comments, I think I’m in agreement with nother and others calling for restraint.

    I should have an essay on the Internet published later today addressing this.

    Jon

  • Potter

    Jon Garfunkel- that was my first reaction. Another show about how the internet and the new technology is changing us all. I did not like the YouTube video switch in my face. I would not have sought out but there it was in front of me. And so I watched them like I read the cover of the National Enquirer as I check out at the supermarket. I don’t know what they added to what I already knew- or could have known with much less coming at me. But the guests kept their heads screwed on correctly last night. Siva V. especially. Please post a link to your essay.

    Plnelson says : It may be a distant land, but in many ways America is more directly responsible for the carnage in Iraq than the carnage at Virginia Tech.

    And he says that it’s speculation about what could have been done to prevent the Virginia Tech massacre and not speculative that had we not invaded Iraq there would be no “hellishness” there. There was hellishness in Iraq, worse than our massacre here; and Bush made it worse.

    It’s not “pure speculation” or merely hindsight either that many who encountered Cho could have done more, that some with authority passed taking responsibility, deferring to his rights: his rights to run free even after ample exposure to his serious illness. Amazing that the school therapist before cameras was quick to say that there was little that they could do because of the law. Amazing that the school admitted him in the first place, and kept him to his senior year (because of his rights or some law or fear of a lawsuit) and did not suspend him. Amazing that he was not being watched by campus security after a history of complaints. Amazing that neither his family nor his roommate, nor others, made more and louder noises about his even stranger “strangeness” of late. Amazing that one psychological exam did not catch that he was suicidal and a danger to others and another did and never the twain did meet. Amazing that he was released from involuntary mental care and had no apparent or mandatory follow-up. Amazing that he was on some medication which could have exacerbated his condition or which he might not have taken it and it could have helped. Was he was monitored by the prescribing physician?

    Amazing that Cho could buy guns easily from shops on two occasions lying about his mental problems and then go buy lots of ammo from Walmart. Amazing that those guns could shoot so many rounds and be hidden on a person. Amazing that guns are not allowed on campus yet there appears that this is not monitored; there is apparently no metal detection through which students must pass. Amazing that a simple ( relatively cheap) siren system for emergencies was not in place.

    It’s amazing that there are some who are saying that this would not have happened if students were allowed to carry guns to protect themselves.

    The Virginia Tech massacre was more than the work of “one crazy person”.

    What enabled the Virginia Tech massacre and possibly others past and future is not speculation but congressional politics (and thus laws) regarding guns. What enabled Cho was complacency about serious mental illness. There is general lack of understanding, concern/care, responsibility for those with serious mental illness in our society. We turn away and ignore those ill who are deemed harmless, many of whom are homeless, and we incarcerate others. Families lack counseling resources ( health care, insurance coverage) to deal. Some families feel stigmatized and guilt by having someone who is mentally ill.

    Not speculation.

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    rc21, please address the argument directly and not the person or STOP posting on ROS.

    Have you ever READ what it says below the “Leave a Reply” area. It says,As you comment, please remember that you can disagree with respect.

  • plnelson

    It’s not “pure speculation” or merely hindsight either that many who encountered Cho could have done more, that some with authority passed taking responsibility, deferring to his rights: his rights to run free even after ample exposure to his serious illness.

    I used to make meals for a homeless shelter and I learned that about 1/3 of the homeless have mental problems. I’m also a poet and if you hang out with poets you meet a lot of people with mental problems – I know that sounds like a terrible stereotype but it’s well documented in the scientific literature (one landmark study – Nancy C. Andreasen Creativity and Mental Illness: Prevalence Rates in Writers and Their First-Degree Relatives. American Journal of Psychiatry 144 (10): 1288-1292 (October 1987). Here’s an anecdote about why I had looked that up: recently I was at a poetry workshop where someone read a poem about his stay at a mental hospital. When we broke for lunch he sat at my table and two other people at my table started comparing notes with him about their stays in mental hospitals! I felt grateful to be the odd man out in that conversation!

    Also in college I knew several young loners who might have met that description.

    My point is this – there are a lot more “crazies” out there than you might think. And they have the same rights as you and me and the science simply isn’t good enough to predict who’s a threat. Potter and I have clashed before on the question of how well versed he/she is in the science of the topics we discuss, but this is another area where a grasp of the facts and the data would help. If you started closely monitoring or restricting every young man with violent or suicidal thoughts and imagery, or who had been under psychiatric care you’d be amazed at how many young men would be in your system!

    I agree that a better background check might have made it harder for him to get a gun legally, but he was a smart young man and could probably have gotten around that. But the take-away is this : hindsight is 20/20; we’re surrounded by crazies; a few of them may turn violent; science has no way to predict which ones they are.

  • rahbuhbuh

    plnelson: “there are a lot more “crazies” out there than you might think. And they have the same rights as you and me and the science simply isn’t good enough to predict who’s a threat.”

    here here.

    plnelson and jazzman: I don’t have scientific evidence of violent entertainment acting as a sieve for violent intent. I was paraphrasing something Phillip Freeman, seated in the expert chair for that show, said. It was also based on purely anecdotal evidence from level headed people I’ve met who dig “Lethal Weapon” as well as “Sandman” yet have glowing records lacking mental illness and jail time.

  • plnelson

    I want to expand on the issue of rights here WRT to the previous poster saying some with authority passed taking responsibility, deferring to his rights: his rights to run free even after ample exposure to his serious illness.

    “Deferring to his rights” is guaranteed to him under the Constitution. You can’t take his rights to “run free” away from him without due process. And, as I said before, the science isn’t very reliable in this respect. So if a psychiatrist went to the police and they took it before a judge, Cho would have had a right to legal counsel. And his attorney would have pointed out how weak and unreliable the science is and the fact that his client had never actually hurt anyone.

    NPR had a whole report on this problem on Morning Edition today. You just can’t tell who’s really dangerous; who’s really a threat. And in a free society you have to set the bar quite high to preserve all of our rights.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    OK – what I was trying to say, is that Cho’s imagery (and I’m looking at it dispassionately, like an art historian, not a mother of someone he killed) shows elements from many sources. He uses Christianity like an Islamic suicide bomber uses Islam. There are plenty of martyrs in Christianity the art of the Renaissance is full of them but Mel Gibson’s imagery in The Passion of Christ was particularly gruesome and was on film not a static painting. Cho compared his own suffering to the martyred Christ. I’m just observing and commenting on that fact not comparing him to Christ myself. Simply the fact that Cho made a video gives him a similarity to Islamic Suicide bombers. I know he is not an Islamic suicide bomber but I do think it is fair to say he used the media in a similar way.

    He could have posted his video on the Internet himself but he sent it to a traditional news outlet. Some of Cho’s images could also be similar to a hip-hop music video. That does not mean I’m calling him a hip-hop artist, I’m only saying as imagery there are plenty of places where he can have been influenced.

    We live in an incredibly violent culture. I think it is important to try to understand it. Cho lashed out tragically at his school. We as a nation do not set a good example of resolving difficulty through non-violent means. George W. Bush likes to take imagery from shoot um’ up western movies. He is responsible for many more violent deaths than one lone shooter. I’m not saying they are exactly the same. I’m saying we have violence all around us. There are submarines down-sound from me that are capable of blowing up the planet many times over. Violence permeates our culture. Cho’s actions were horrible and tragic yet they do happen within a context.

  • herbert browne

    What isn’t here, yet (but I skimmed… so maybe it is) is the recollections of Cho’s treatment in grade school & high school by former classmates from those years… stories of bullying, and the panoply of racist & xenophobic behavior that will not come as a surprise to anyone on this list, I don’t think (who, I’m guessing, are about 95% among the white middle). So, given a “festering” period, while the 8 year old boy grows into the 18 yo, in a home with 2 parents who have little interest in trying to acculturate themselves (like the majority of older immigrants- beyond getting work and hunkering down), and taking the path that his parents have probably dictated to him (go to school, be a successful American), Cho “lost it”- in a blissful, cross-cultural display of rage- aided by the technological developments that have made us the world’s Supreme Power.

    Did something really “go wrong” here? Or was this simply Cause & Effect, working their ineluctable way through time & space? Would things have been different if Cho’s parents had stayed in Korea?.. or if he had been a girl?.. or had entered our society as a much younger person?.. or had benefited from a perceptive and compassionate resonse by an adult in his new cultural milieu (eg a school teacher, administrator, volunteer, etc)? Loneliness in the presence of a multitude can probably add some “voices” in the heads of those who must deal with that situation, although I’ve learned, from the Imus thread, that bullying should probably be considered a character-building opportunity [and a form of "acceptance" by some (or at least an acknowledgement of one's presence)]. Perhaps it was… and the result was enough character & Focus & training to take out 30 some odd “others”- and then Himself– proving, maybe (to him) that he WAS part of the milieu… and that this was one way to add that fact- as a challenge- to the greater cultural indifference he found. ^..^

  • rahbuhbuh

    Some more reading from the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, regarding coverage and handling of the VT killings. I’m smacking myself for not suggesting any of their staff to ROS for the show:

    Decision Examined: Poynter Discussion of NBC’s Use of the Killer’s Video

    http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=101&aid=121760

    Feedback Overload: Handling User Comments on the Shootings

    http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=101&aid=121631

    Newspaper Fronts: Serving History or Readers?

    http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=47&aid=121610

  • Sutter

    I just listened to the show, and I have to note how frustrated and disappointed I was: Taking nothing away from barthjg’s fine proposal, Siva Vaidhyanathan — a professor of communications, for heaven’s sake — was so clearly trying to direct the conversation _away_ from media and onto (do I need to say it?) the fundamental issue of how we deal with mental illness, which he seemed to view as the central question here. I can understand why Chris ignored his pleas (this wasn’t that show), but I’m really mystified by what seems almost like a petulant refusal on the show’s part to grapple with this problem head-on.

  • rc21

    Peggysue, I accept your clarification on what it was you were trying to say in the first part and can agree with most of what you had to say. It is certainly quite possible that Cho used religous imaging to try and make his point more dramatic.

    As to the Bush statement. I really must disagree. Our culture has been violent long before Bush was born and it will be violent long after he is gone. but at least you gave some sort of context to your opinion.

  • plnelson

    Siva Vaidhyanathan — a professor of communications, for heaven’s sake — was so clearly trying to direct the conversation _away_ from media and onto (do I need to say it?) the fundamental issue of how we deal with mental illness, which he seemed to view as the central question here.

    Well, it’s certainly AN important issue!

    A letter writer in the Boston Globe commented how much easier it is to get a gun than to get mental health care.

    While that’s true, it’s somewhat apples-and-oranges. Buying a gun is simple – you make your selection, hand someone some money, he gives you a gun, and the gun almost always works as advertised.

    Mental health is a different problem. Years ago I had the idea to pay for the treatment of a relative with a substance abuse problem. I have a strong science background and I have professional access to all major peer-reviewed medical and research journals and the skills to search and read them. And what I found shocked me. Not only are there a ZILLION different theories and treatment approaches to substance abuse, but the quality and quantity of the research comparing them is horribly bad!

    Anyone who has ever sought treatment for a child with an eating disorder or other adolescent behavioral or psychiatric problems knows how frustrating it is for the same reasons. Even if money and access are no problem, getting good treatment is a crap-shoot because so little is understood.

    The reality is that psychiatry, as a science, is about where chemistry was maybe in 1750. It only knows a little bit with certainty; there’s lots of conflicting models and theories, inconsistent diagnostic criteria, few objective tests for anything, and few reliable results.

  • rc21

    Maybe that Globe writer should have said ”good mental health care”

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    rc21 “As to the Bush statement. I really must disagree. Our culture has been violent long before Bush was born and it will be violent long after he is gone.”

    Then it seems like we do agree. I never said Bush alone is violent. I agree with you. Our nation has been incredibly violent for a long time. It was in the Johnson years that Martin Luther King pointed out ours is the most violent nation on Earth. Truman destroyed whole cities just to prove he could. Let us hope for the future that we become less violent.

  • plnelson

    Truman destroyed whole cities just to prove he could.

    Truman destroyed whole cities to save the lives of a million Japanese and a hundred thousand allied soldiers who would have probaby died if it was necessary to invade Japan to end the war. It worked.

    America is violent, but not uniquely so. We used to have the highest murder rate in the world but that honor has since passed to other countries.

    In other societies when someone blows himself up in a crowded marketplace to express himself there are religious and community leaders who praise him as a martyr. Here when a wacko kills 32 innocent people no one sings his praises. In other countries if a woman has the temerity to have sex on her own terms or takes a boyfriend her parents don’t approve of, someone from her own family kills her.

    In some provinces in China there are 800 girls for every 1000 boys. Guess what happened to the other 200 girls?

    Get some perspective. There is much to criticize about the US, including our violence, but just like software, cars, and manufacturing industries, we’re no longer number one in that category.

  • herbert browne

    Re: ..”Truman destroyed whole cities just to prove he could..”-

    ..”Truman destroyed whole cities to save the lives of a million Japanese and a hundred thousand allied soldiers who would have probaby died if it was necessary to invade Japan to end the war. It worked..”-

    Both of these statements hold a kernel of truth… and both hold up perspectives that we may need to examine in order to make progress in the world- both as a powerful nation and as a paradigm.

    If Truman (incl his administration) had bothered to learn something about the Japanese, an atomic bomb could have been dropped on Mt. Fuji, and inspired enough awe and appreciation of the power unleashed that a peace agreement could have been negotiated.

    In our latest armed conflict, at the beginning of our alleged pursuit of Osama bin Laden (before the Iraq invasion), our forces attacked with a level of firepower far beyond anything seen in that part of the world… ie we “proved we were bad.” As the Winter (a very severe one, even for that part of the world) shut down travel, we continued to hunt & attack- from the air. What if, instead of dropping cluster bombs (which will continue to maim & kill even beyond any set time of a cease of hostilities), our forces had dropped millions of loaves of bread on those same mountain villages? In the mountains of the border tribes there would be legends lasting for a thousand years of the Winter that their Enemy bombarded them with Bread- and it would have introduced another level of awareness on a people for whom violence & power struggles and invaders are “old hat”… As the children pulled frozen loaves out of snowdrifts in the early Spring, when they were near (or beyond) the end of their stores, what would this have done to their outlook about our intentions? How would they interpret our behavior? Even with a “Might makes Right” paradigm, it is possible to express that Might in countless ways. Why must it always be an expression of Violence? ^..^

  • mynocturama

    Bit late in listening to this one – sometimes I stream the show live, sometimes not. These threads tend to die off after airing, but I thought I’d put in an appreciative word anyway. I think the show went off quite well, and was a welcome way of addressing this story while adding something new, something other than the news cycle take. I don’t think the theme of “new media” was fixated on to the detriment of a sense of context. And I have to say I’m puzzled by Sutter’s indignation. Granted that the show overall wasn’t meant to overtly focus on the mental illness side, even within its framework I think ample voice was given to exactly these concerns. Siva repeatedly addressed the need for more sensitivity and understanding concerning mental illness, and how image-driven sensationalism gets in the way of such much needed reflection/consideration/deliberation. And to my ear at least Chris didn’t “petulantly refuse” or ignore Siva’s comments on this issue. He allowed room for them to be said, and, as far as I’m concerned, incorporated them into the show’s conception. If you give it another listen, I think you’ll see/hear that the very, very important issue of mental health and dealing with the mentally ill was addressed in relation to the theme and frame of the show.

  • Sutter

    Thanks, mynocturama. To be clear, I’m not indignant, and I don’t think Chris’s refusal to engage was petulant. As I said above, this wasn’t that show. It was a good show, as you say. My frustration is about the show’s reluctance to focus an hour on this, to have real give-and-take (Siva was giving but nobody was taking) on the topic.

    Sorry if I seemed to come on too strong. I absolutely agree it came up and was addressed (in part). As must be clear by now, I just have relatively strong views on the issue. and think we collectively need to air these matters out in more detail. (For a more measured take, see my post earlier today on the Pitch a Show thread.)

  • plnelson

    an atomic bomb could have been dropped on Mt. Fuji, and inspired enough awe and appreciation of the power unleashed that a peace agreement could have been negotiated

    That is unlikely and speculative in the extrme. The bomb used on Hiroshima was tiny by modern standards – around 15 kilotons yield. It would have made no obvious impact on Mt Fuji except on close inspection. Furthermore, Japan had a tightly controlled press during the war so any impact of such a bombing would have leaked out only slowly.

    The bottom line is that the atomic bombing of Japan worked, and in the end probably save vastly more lives than it cost. This is the exact opposite of the Iraqi situation.

  • http://www.johndegen.com john_d

    hey folks,

    I just heard this show last night on podcast — thanks a lot for it. After any such event, I can only absorb so much media and street rehash before I pretty much dissolve into the formless anxiety we all seem to want to live in. I mean, this was the first real weekend of beautiful spring up here in Toronto, and still all I heard was Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.

    Way to find a context that works on the brain, not just the fluttery nerves.

    cheers,

    –jd

  • herbert browne

    Re: ..”The bottom line is that the atomic bombing of Japan worked, and in the end probably save vastly more lives than it cost. This is the exact opposite of the Iraqi situation..”-

    Right… and if we had simply taken out the Hussein family this way, we’d be way ahead of the game. I’m reminded of a poem that I found, 3 years ago, in this same vein:

    If I should nuke Jerusalem

    And vaporize its trees,

    And its dust were blown around the globe

    Would anybody sneeze?

    And, if they did, what would we cry?

    “JERUSALEM!” of course-

    To let them know that sneezing

    Is no cause for remorse.

    If I should nuke Jerusalem

    I’d warn them, beforehand,

    So folks could gather up their things

    And scatter through the land.

    I’d pray they scattered far enough,

    Since I’d use a large device.

    (It’d be SO disappointing

    to have to nuke it TWICE.)

    (anon)

    ^..^

  • enhabit

    i’m with

    nother’s April 19th, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    putting cho’s stuff on the air only encourages the next one..and there will be a next one..

    the networks have become tabloids. where in the world is nbc’s head!

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  • enhabit

    been reading lucretius lately:

    Pleasant it is, when over the great sea the winds shake the waters,

    To gaze down from shore on the trials of others;

    Not because seeing other people struggle is sweet to us,

    But because the fact that we ourselves are free from such ills strikes us as pleasant.

    Pleasant it is also to behold great armies battling on a plain,

    When we ourselves have no part in their peril.

    But nothing is sweeter than to occupy a lofty sanctuary of the mind,

    Well fortified with the teachings of the wise,

    Where we may look down on others as they stumble along,

    Vainly searching for the true path of life. . . . (2. 1-10)

    weird how someone from b.c. can get our modern detachment.

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