Tuesday, April 24, 2007

postal scrotum: from the Washington Times

Assistant national editor Robert Stacy McCain of The Washington Times sent me an email in reference to my previous post, in which I wrote:

One article in the Times Online quotes extensively from Camille Paglia (among others) regarding the VA Tech massacre. I hate to say it, but I found Paglia's take disappointing: she, too, has fallen into the trap of interpreting Cho's behavior through the faulty lens of systems and structures. Her rhetoric about frustrated maleness would be more impressive if it had any predictive value, but it doesn't. We're all capable of Monday morning quarterbacking.

McCain links to an online WaTimes article, "Everybody's Got a Theory" (here) in which he writes:


Gun control, mental illness, popular culture -- these are just a few of the factors that have been used by various pundits seeking to explain last week's Virginia Tech massacre.

The shortcomings of theoretical explanations for this nightmare extend even to those theorists whom I admire. Sarah Baxter in the Sunday Times of London quotes Camille Paglia on the Blacksburg killer:

Trapped in the perpetual adolescence of the student, he has become a new monstrous poster child for boys who would rather kill themselves and others than grow up.

Camille Paglia, professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and author of Sexual Personae, believes Cho is emblematic of the crisis of masculinity in America. "Women have difficulty understanding the mix of male sexual aggression with egotism and the ecstasy of self-immolation," she says.

Interesting, if not persuasive. It is possible to share Miss Paglia's view of modern public schools as "boring prisons" and her disdain for the "hook-up culture," without thinking these factors constitute a sufficient explanation for an act of insanity like the killing spree at Virginia Tech.

Social criticism cannot explain Cho's violence for the simple reason that such violence is so extremely rare. There are millions of American college students, and only one of them has ever committed such a horrific massacre. The factors cited by Miss Paglia affect all students; only one reacted as Cho did.

Long before the April 16 shootings, Cho's behavior was recognized as unusual by teachers, fellow students and family members. His grandfather told a Seoul newspaper that, even when Cho was a boy in Korea, he was so quiet there were concerns he might be mute.

Extremely rare events are difficult to explain by theoretical reference to general factors. What happened at Virginia Tech was a rare event, although sadly not rare enough.

-- Robert Stacy McCain, assistant national editor, The Washington Times
Posted on April 23, 2007 12:18 PM

I would like to thank Mr. McCain for writing in. We seem to be on about the same page.


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