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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
When is a shitty play not just a shitty play? When it's a cry for help. 
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007 | 03:08 pm [college, commentary, news, review, virginia tech shooting]
I was obviously shocked by the shootings at Virginia Tech as soon as I heard about them and was able to conceive the immensity of what had happened. It wasn’t until Ashley told me that two plays the shooter had written were available to read online that things veered off into the surreal. Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old student who murdered 32 of his peers and professors Monday morning, was an English major. His plays, one-acts written for a playwriting class, were posted online here by a former classmate of his.  Ian MacFarlane, said classmate, also wrote an eloquent little piece about the shooting and a few of the victims he knew personally, which you should take a second to read before diving into the fruit of the murderer’s id.
I lack all necessary expertise to analyze Cho’s motives or personality, to speculate on why he decided to kill so fucking many people, but having read both his plays, I can at least tell you this: the guy couldn’t write worth a shit. Both plays — Richard McBeef and Mr. Brownstone — read like something a precocious-but-deranged eighth grader would write. This guy was a senior in college and an English major; I know he murdered a lot of people, but even so, I’d expected better.
The first play, Richard McBeef, is composed entirely of an argument between a teenage boy and the stepfather he despises, with interjections here and there from the boy’s mother. It’s profane in the most juvenile way, and violent in the extreme. The thing is only eight pages long (not counting the title and character/setting pages) and there are repeated accusations of pedophilia, rape and murder, and assaults via shoe, plate, wrench, pipe, chain-saw and cereal bar. The teenager spends almost the entire play hurling abuse at his stepfather, but Cho never tells us whether any of the awful stuff said about the stepfather is true, or if the kid is just a mouthy little bastard in need of a horse-whipping.
The second play takes place inside a casino as three high school friends play the slots and complain about their hated teacher, the titular Mr. Brownstone. The teacher, who appears only briefly near the end, is a darker, more deviant version of a Scooby Doo villain, accused by the kids of stalking, harsh grading practices, ridiculing one of them for not having telephone service, and ass-rape. Mr. Brownstone is never happier than when he is enjoying an act of involuntary anal intercourse, it seems. He finds the kids just before one of them hits a $5 million jackpot on the slots. Brownstone impersonates an elderly man by stooping over and speaking in “an old dry voice,” and is able to convince a casino official that the $5 million winnings are his, stolen from him by those meddlin’ kids. Brownstone gets the $5 million ticket and the kids get dragged out by security, cursing him all the way. Nearly three pages of the 9-page story consist of the three kids singing the Guns ‘N Roses song, “Mr. Brownstone.” It’s a tribute to what a truly shitty band they are that their lyrics actually bring the rest of the play down.
So the guy was a horrible writer. To most people, that’s not the point. Most people see the plays as a warning that should have been heeded. Cho was obviously a troubled kid — in addition to his depraved writing, he stalked female classmates and apparently once tried to set fire to his room — but hindsight is always 20/20 in a situation like this. Should people have done more to help Cho out with whatever bullshit he was dealing with? Probably, but even as fucked-up as he was, it’s not like his behavior was a bright red arrow pointing to “gun massacre,” for Christ’s sake. Now that he’s murdered 32 people and committed suicide, we look back and it all seems so obvious, but at the time there was no way to know things with Cho were going to turn as bad as they did.
The problem with this kind of second guessing is that the key incident is what happens after the person snaps, when they go off and kill everyone. You don’t recognize the warning signs until it’s too late, and even those warning signs are open to interpretation. It’s like a Nostradamus prophecy — as soon as something happens that seems to line up with one of those quatrains, the nut-jobs come out of the woodwork to explain how it’s obvious that he must have been talking about Hitler or 9/11 or the war in Iraq, but it’s all ex post facto subjective analysis, completely useless for predicting or preparing for the future. If Quentin Tarantino ever goes off the deep end and starts shooting motherfuckers, we’re all gonna slap ourselves in the forehead and say, “How the fuck did we not see this coming?” We will all turn in unison to Robert Rodriguez, to glare at him accusingly for not having warned us.
Fuck, I’ve written some pretty sick shit in my time, too. I wrote a short screenplay when I was 18 or 19 about a thinly veiled version of myself who stabs his little brother to death with a kitchen knife; if I ever embark on a campaign of bloody murder, I guarantee you someone will point to it as a cry for help that could have averted catastrophe if only someone had been listening. As long as I remain a well-adjusted, law-abiding citizen with relatively few homicidal tendencies, Sandwich and Fratricide will merely be the obscure output of an amateur writer, just like Cho Seung-Hui’s were before he loaded his guns and left his room early Monday morning.
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