THE WORST OF TIMES, THE BEST OF TIMES
What a week it’s been, huh? The VA Tech massacre packed a powerful punch, and just as we were beginning to get over it, the TV networks provided another present in the form of the images from Cho’s film. Did the networks really have to play them over and over and over and over …? Seriously, what were they thinking? It was almost like Kubrick was controlling them from the grave, having finally been given the chance to improve on A Clockwork Orange. I’ve seen some pretty violent, disgusting movies in my life, but I’ve never seen anything sicker and more obscene than the flick that MSNBC and CNN replayed countless times this past week.
To me, the most memorable scene from Cho’s film was the portion when he indicted our culture of narcissism. “Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your vodka and cognac wasn’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough. Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything. … You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today.”
Don’t you get why that’s so creepy? It’s because those same words almost sound like prophesy. I can well imagine an insightful, well-meaning social critic invoking the same language following some dreadful day of reckoning – like after a team of scientists announces that we have passed the point of return on global warming.
Heck, who among us haven’t looked with disdain on the complacency of the well-to-do in this slowing dying empire of ours? But after we’ve shaken our heads at the decadence of the “rich and famous,” we’ve then shrugged our shoulders, and moved on with our lives – tending to our work, our families, or our hobbies. Not Cho. He just got further and further mired in psychosis. And that’s why he gave us those other unforgettable images – the totally hateful faces, the brandishing of weapons, the looks of complete despondency. I’m telling you, Kubrick is up there – or is it down there – marveling at the cinematographic brilliance of it all.
Just as Cho’s film reminded me of A Clockwork Orange (without the humor), his plays reminded me of Beavis and Butthead. Have you ever seen any piece of “literature” more stupid than Richard McBeef or Mr. Brownstone? But that only added to the amazement of the experience, didn’t it? Cho was a guy who figured out a way to kill 32 people and fire over 200 shots at close range before he finally turned the gun on himself. From the way he locked in his fellow Hokies and deliberately mowed them down, keeping himself alive while removing any potential foil to his plans, you’d have to acknowledge that he was exceptionally crafty. And yet … here he was, a 23 year old English major at a well-known university, writing plays that looked like the products of a deranged pre-teen.
It’s just a further reminder of another point that ol’ Kubrick used to make. Do you remember his other dramatic masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey? When Haywood Floyd was leading us on a voyage to the moon, Kubrick displayed human beings at their most refined, repressed and, well, adult. Yet, just a few minutes earlier, he spotlighted “The Dawn of Man”: a group of apes who, with the help of some infernal (or was it divine?) monolith, figured out how to kill with not the least semblance of compassion.
To me, that movie illustrates the complexity of the human soul. Cho isn’t the only one of us who’s a bizarre hodgepodge of abilities, interests and dispositions. Think of yourself at your best and your worst – it’s like you’re thinking of two totally different species! As for Cho, one minute he’s excelling on an SAT Test (he must have done well, or VA Tech wouldn’t have taken him), and the next minute he’s writing that Mr. Brownstone’s “shit is so thick and so oddly shaped that he can’t go and all his shit are piled up in his intestines all the way up to his chest. He probably rips his sphincter to relieve a single gram of turd after two hours of pushing, sweating, teeth clenching, screaming in frustration and holding breath for a half gram of green mold shit.”
I could picture Beavis saying those same words, except that MTV would have censored some of them. Surely, Sarah Silverman, looking cute as a button, could have uttered them too, all the while smiling, and thereby pointing out the irony of how a beautiful, intelligent Jewish woman could get filthy rich by sounding like such a horse’s ass.
Well, we’re used to laughing at such idiocy. But somehow, this week, the laughter has given ground to a different emotion, now hasn’t it?
Obviously, I find the psychological components of this disaster to be the most gripping. But the public policy implications are even more difficult to ignore. For starters, what in blazes are we doing making guns so darned available in our society? Here’s a guy who (a) isn’t a U.S. citizen, (b) is still too young to rent a car, (c) is mentally ill, and (d) has been adjudicated as a threat to himself and to others … and we’re allowing him to walk into a store and quickly leave with a pistol that fires 17 bullets. Talk about ridiculous.
In The Creed Room, I pointed out the impossibility of denying Americans – or is it pronounced Amuricans? -- their right to bear arms. But c’mon, my bloodthirsty friends, do we need to take our lust for weapons quite this far? I’m not asking that y’all join me in embracing veganism. Let’s just take a look-see at exactly how easy it has become to blow away large quantities of human beings no matter who or what we are? I’ll give you your six bullet handguns. I’ll give you your hunting rifles that can shoot one beautiful, defenseless animal at a time. Just please take a second look at whether you need the fancy stuff. And while you’re at it, think also about whether you want to limit possession of any weapons to people who have negotiated their way through the tumultuous years of their teens and twenties. Just a thought.
And while we’re on the subject of public policy, shouldn’t this episode make us think a bit about how we’re handling mental illness? If anything, Cho’s depravity might cause us to attach an ever greater stigma to those forms of sickness. But as far as I’m concerned, as soon as we stop stigmatizing the mentally ill and start dealing with their demons as we deal with illnesses to the heart, lungs and liver, we might actually begin to make some progress.
Right wingers love to look at Cho as “e-vil.” But to me, he was just sick, sick, SICK. We need to help these people – keep them isolated if necessary, but whatever we do, we must get them the help they need. Let’s start with finding a way to stop allowing insurance companies to discriminate against the mentally ill by making it a whole lot more expensive to receive treatment for your “mind” than for your “body.” And please, can we stop talking about people like they’re either “good,” “F-d up,” or “downright evil”? Methinks it’s not quite that simple, now is it?
Well, that’s about all the Cho-talk I can handle for one morning. Before signing off, I wanted to share with you the part of this week that was WONDERFUL. This Wednesday, my dear friend, Steve Novick, threw his hat in the ring. He is now, to my knowledge, the first Democrat to declare himself a candidate for Oregon’s U.S. Senate seat in 2008. It had been rumored that Congressman DeFazio from Eugene would be the Democrat who would take Smith on; DeFazio even led Smith in the polls. But wouldn’t you know it? Only two days after Novick opted in, DeFazio opted out. And that means that as of now, Novick is still The Man on the Democratic side.
Loyal readers to this blog might remember something about Novick. But please, don’t just take my word for what an amazing man and candidate he is. Find out for yourself. Google such words as “Steve Novick,” “Senate,” “Gordon Smith,” “Announces” … or some combination of the above. I promise you that the more you know about this remarkable person, the more you’ll see that he is an absolute antidote to so much of what is wrong with the American political system.
Go ahead. I challenge you: Google the guy, and then tell me that his story and his approach to politics isn’t every bit as fascinating as all the depraved michegas with which I began this blog post. The fact that there exist people like Steve Novick who might have the opportunity to come to Washington and shake things up … well, it’s the stuff that movies are made of. And this time, we’re talking about movies that you can watch with your kids.