After awhile, the endless montage of photos took on the quality of a recruitment poster for all of the disturbed and angry nutcases in America. No doubt, a legion of these guys managed to look up from playing their Doom or Grand Theft Auto video games long enough to think: Gee, maybe if I shoot up a school I‘ll be a big celebrity like Cho Seung-Hui... One wanna-be copycat killer was caught just last Thursday in California.
MSNBC and other networks are scrambling to do damage control in regard to airing the Cho videos, but they still don‘t seem to get it. The problem isn‘t that the videos were aired -- the problem is that they were played over and over, hour after hour, similar to the 9/11 jet crash videos. Or for that matter, the endless Don Imus apologies. It‘s like the networks get a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder on single issue stories these days and the rest of the news goes out the window.
The world is littered with people like Cho who feel like nobodies; it‘s a common ailment. We‘ve all met the ticking time bomb type at the workplace who has a hard time connecting with people. These are people who feel humiliated and unloved. They‘re angry men who can‘t connect with women. Add a culture that desensitizes impotent-feeling men with violent fantasies expressed through horror films and video games and it‘s remarkable we don‘t have more Virginia Tech massacres.
But it was especially grating to see the endless hours of Cho‘s glaring face on television. Obviously, MSNBC, CNN and other networks don‘t mean to glorify Cho Seung-Hui, but that‘s the effect they‘ve produced among the Harris & Klebold types lurking in the corners of our society.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has pointed out that the Ku Klux Klan was successful in recruiting poor, angry young white men because it fulfilled their dreams of being somebody “important.“ Instead of being just a janitor or a ditch digger, a new recruit could be an officer in the Klan‘s secret army. Overnight, a “nobody“ could be a warrior on a secret mission, fantasizing about holding power over people who were even weaker.
Isn‘t that what‘s been promoted over the past week with the 24/7 fixation on Cho Seung-Hui? Making him a poster boy for every violent nut in America?
Violence never follows a script. That‘s why self-defense classes and daydreams of overcoming an attacker tend to be futile.
I‘ve been robbed a couple of times, both at gun and knifepoint, and know of many persons who faced the same situation. When someone has a gun at your back, few of us get the bright idea to pull off a flying karate back-kick to put the bad guy in his place. Instead, you‘re thinking, maybe if I‘m cool, this guy won‘t blow a hole in my back the size of a manhole cover. You go into a submissive mode, hoping that your cooperation will save your life. A mugging is a transaction: you cooperate with the robber in exchange for your life. And of course, you hope that your assailant isn‘t a pyschopath, in which case, you‘ve chosen the wrong reaction.
In his book, “Deep Survival,“ writer Laurence Gonzales notes that a part of the brain known as the amygdala controls our emotional response to danger. The amygdala takes a “better safe than sorry“ approach to threats of violence, causing us to freeze like rabbits. Initially, there is no “fight or flight“ response -- more likely, people are shaking in their boots as part of the brain flooding your body with adrenaline. The amygdala is part of the brain‘s survival system that causes soldiers to dive for cover, even before they‘re conscious of hearing the whistle of an incoming shell.
It‘s a common fantasy to wonder what you‘d do in a situation where someone is running amok with a gun. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that by the age of 18, the average teenager has witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on television; and of course, often the hero on TV gets the drop on the bad guy with some feat of derring-do.
No doubt, many of the young men and women killed by Cho Seung-Hui had thought at some point in their lives that they‘d take some sort of heroic action if they were ever in such a situation -- possibly wrestling the attacker to the ground and winding up a hero.
But that‘s a fantasy, not human nature. Writer Gonzales notes that some elite human beings, such as fighter pilots and motorcycle racers, are able to react quickly to high levels of stress, but most of us react with confusion. “It‘s easy to demonstrate that many people (estimates run as high as 90 percent), when put under stress, are unable to think clearly or solve simple problems,“ he writes. “They get rattled. They panic. They freeze.“
And so it was that Cho Seung-Hui apparently took his time, cooly shooting dozens of students cowering under his gun. It makes the actions of Holocaust survivor, professor Liviu Librescu, seem all the more heroic: barring the door to his classroom and taking the bullets with his own body so his students could flee.
What to do? There are plans to start text messaging kids on campus the next time a Cho Seung-Hui turns up. The University of Texas has already used text messaging to tell students to stay home during an ice storm this winter.
It‘s a good idea. We can‘t insure the medication of every psychotic in the country or toss every sullen loner in a mental hospital. Not when we‘re manufacturing these people by the millions through the video game and slasher flick industries. Gun control? Good luck there. There are more than 230 million guns in America, according to the NRA, and that number rises by 4.5 million each year.
But warning people, that‘s a start.