In the wake of every disaster, we always look for a scapegoat — someone or something to blame, something at which to point our wagging fingers. Or, in struggling to understand why or how something catastrophic happened, we try to re-trace the steps leading up to the event. We assign new, enlightened meaning to old facts and moments. We grieve, we televise the mourning, and then the witch hunt begins.
After the Columbine tragedy people pointed fingers at violent video games and the music of artists such as Marilyn Manson, insisting that such things warp the minds of young adults and turn innocent children into homicidal maniacs. In response to such accusations, Manson wrote an incredible essay for Rolling Stone called "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It? In it, Manson implicates all of us in the death of the students at Columbine — it's such a great essay that it's taught in composition classrooms all around the country (mine included). The main point: "America loves to find an icon to hang its guilt on."
So now I read on MSNBC that the gunman of yesterday's Virginia Tech shooting was a "depressed and deeply disturbed young man whose 'grotesque' creative writing projects led a professor to refer him for psychological counseling."
Fellow students in a playwriting class with Cho also noticed the dark and disturbing nature of his compositions. “His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, told the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times. “I remember one of them very well. It was about a son who hated his stepfather. In the play, the boy threw a chainsaw around and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a Rice Krispy treat,” Derry said. Otherwise, Cho was a young man who apparently left little impression in the Virginia Tech community. Few of his fellow residents of Harper Hall said they knew the gunman, who kept to himself.
Okay, sure, that's a little disturbing, but I think this is just where the scapegoating process begins. Dark, disturbing creative writing projects do not a murderer make. Think of iconic Southern gothic writer Flannery O'Connor, whose stories include everything from girls with wooden legs being taken advantage of to small children being crushed by tractors and farmer's wives being gored by bulls. And what about Edgar Allen Poe? Surely we can think of countless examples of literary greats who were consumed with the idea of death. But, like I said, this is where the witch hunt begins, as we point the first round of fingers at school counselors and teachers who read his dark writing and did little or nothing about it.