A Man with a Flashlight

Seung-Hui Cho and “Oldboy”
April 24, 2007, 12:09 am
Filed under: Depression, Movies

Odd, but about the only worthwhile comment I’ve read on the Virginia Tech murders was written by a movie critic. A.O. Scott gets it about right. Movies aren’t to blame. Would that it were that simple.

I haven’t written much about this here. Obviously it’s an important story, but I don’t have much to say. Discussing prevention measures, if indeed any are feasible, should wait for a thorough analysis of what led up to the murders, to the extent it is knowable.

I will only add that this seems like a good occasion to reflect how serious an illness depression is, and how important it is to treat early and aggressively. But it’s not clear that was the issue here. Cho’s depression was noticed and may have been treated. Earlier detection may have made a difference, or it may not have. Some sickness, inevitably, will not be healed.

I recommend two great books on depression: Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon and Peter Kramer’s Listening to Prozac. Beyond depression itself, they contain fascinating insights into the relationship between brain chemistry and personality.

In the future, early screening for depression will be as routine as screening for prostrate or breast cancer.

2 Comments so far
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Interesting article, but all he seemed to do was quote Stephen Hunter’s column on the same subject from the Washington Post.

Certainly entertainment media are not to blame for one man’s atrocities, but there are definitely influences.

Comment by The Shoestring Guerrilla

Respectfully, I think Scott is quoting Hunter in order to disagree with him. Hunter implies, though he is too smart to simply state, that movies served as an inspiration for the murders. What I think, and what Scott argues, is that the killer may have liked these movies – and we don’t even know he saw them – but his illness had nothing to do with them.

I certainly think there are cases where TV or movie images incite young children to do things they would probably not otherwise have done. But when a 23-year old man, who is at least mentally competent enough to get into college, kills, I think the source of his actions is him. If any outside influence can be blamed, it will be the sort of experience that leaves mental scars a movie could never create.

The killer’s somewhat grandiose self-portraits and “manifesto” do show clearly that he saw the murders as a way to some kind of stardom. Which is a fantasy shared by many people, in less insane ways. Perhaps instead of movie violence, we should be questioning the way fame is fetishized as a sort of permanent vacation from the sorrows of real life. From Courtney Love to Alec Baldwin, we have plentiful evidence that this is simply not accurate.

By the way, I see you’re writing from Virginia. I hope this tragedy hasn’t touched anyone close to you.

Comment by a man with a flashlight

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