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November 30, 2023

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It’s nothing more than fiction

April 16, 2007. As the hysteria settled that day, the bodies were counted, and prayers were said. Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Many teary-eyed onlookers were left with fear in their hearts, and a question on their lips: Why?

Of course, everyone had their story to tell. Passers-by described his dress and everyone agreed that he was the type. Acquaintances described his social habits and everyone agreed that he was the type.

And now, new evidence has been uncovered that Virginia Tech itself had evidence, which may have suggested beforehand that he was the type.

As reported by a number of sources, CNN included, Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, had written a number of graphic works in some of his English classes. As many as two of Cho’s plays are available, with some creative searching-on the Internet, surprisingly containing little more than dialogue.

It is from these, and a recollection of Cho’s social behavior that flags were raised, and Cho’s English professors suggested that the student be sequestered lest he become a risk to himself and others.

And he eventually materialized that risk.

It is the collection of resources and the formation of the opinion that I wish to address here. Firmly, I believe that this is yet another instance of the security scare that has swept the nation since 2001.

Many have already condemned faculty at Virginia Tech for not acting appropriately regarding this student, but the entire situation is probably best described as 20/20 hindsight. What sometimes may seem as an obscure warning sign can end up biting someone in the rear end if something bad happens. The reality is that situations like this shooting are often far too complex to sift through and weigh every single iota of information to find the ‘warning signs.’

Yet, the works of literature produced by Cho, at least those available online, do not immediately suggest to me that he was capable of such an atrocity. At least not extraordinarily capable.

Indeed, the corpus of Cho’s work that has been flagged by one of his classmates as being “macabre,” and “something out of a nightmare” strike me as being atypical situations and very dialogue heavy. Again, these are reflections from Cho’s work that is available online, but I can’t imagine that his work could be much more gruesome than things I’ve seen in other media.

The collective works of Edgar Allan Poe are the epitome of macabre, and what I’ve seen of the “Saw” trilogy makes me question whether situations more violent can even be envisioned by human beings.

The name of the game is censorship, and its rules are spread out unevenly. What may be considered a classic in the eyes of millions, may resemble pornography to others. At the same time, a piece of pornography may eventually strike millions as a classic.

What would Poe’s English teacher have thought if he turned in “The Tell-tale Heart” for an assignment? Would Anthony Burgess’s English teacher think him capable of rape simply because “A Clockwork Orange” contains a rape scene?

If the authors of these books had been flagged and dealt with, we all would have lost something, whatever that something may be. Whether inspiration, a new way of thinking, or simply an entertaining story, the value of those works listed above and thousands other are immeasurable.

No, I do not find the actions of Virginia Tech’s English faculty at all laudable.

Betraying a student’s work, macabre or not, betrays the entire endeavor of literature appreciation. It does little more than to inflict a censor on someone looking to improve his or her English skills. And such a censor stymies one’s ability to create.

Parents, teachers, while you may fear for your children’s physical safety, I fear for their intellectual safety.

Send comments about this column to [email protected].

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