In 2007, against a tragically ironic backdrop of National Poetry Month, 1 April indeed was “the cruellest month” (Eliot 1922, I.1). The media spotlight during that time repositioned from Iraq and Afghanistan to Blacksburg, Virginia, where a stateside guerilla incursion at Virginia Tech would mark the single worst episode of school shooting violence in American history. Shortly after the first wave of shooting, student gunman Cho Seung-Hui mailed a self-produced, twenty-three-page PDF “manifesto” 2 to the local NBC network, where producers later uploaded a closely bowdlerized version of the new media composition. MSNBC.com went on to provide a dedicated Web space for Seung-Hui’s content—a virtual gallery installation, really—that remains at the time of this writing for viewers to examine more closely the various incarnations of Seung-Hui’s performative rage (“What We Know” 2007).
In light of the DC sniper, the 2009 Fort Hood spree, the wave of employment-related killings, and additional school shootings over the past nine years, one could argue that mass violence both in and outside of schools has become a peculiar kind of post-9/11 phenomenon. In fact, the terror of Virginia Tech itself was immediately reminiscent of the September 11, 2001, attacks on several levels. Like 9/11, it appeared that Seung-Hui left many unanswered questions about motive and rationale. There are further reminders of 9/11 in the incessant media attention that followed the event, the culture of spectatorship, as well as the similar rhetorical lines taken by the news organizations that worked to dehistoricize completely the reality of the tragedy. Along with the depictions of Osama Bin Ladin, it was as if Cho Seung-Hui also emerged fully formed from some unforeseeable terror netherworld. Thus we were led to believe that Virginia Tech materialized in a historical bubble that could only be understood when compared to like antecedents of an immediate, localized familiarity—à la Columbine and other school shootings—or by dismissing the rage itself as the product of a frustrated and failed English major. The flaws, we were told, were to be located within youth culture rather than unjust social, economic, or racial politics. A 2008 hour-long BBC documentary on the killings, Massacre at Virginia Tech, worked tirelessly to invisibilize any of these structural or political features. At various key points in the film, students who knew, had roomed, or spent time with Seung-Hui said over and again that no one “saw” any bullying or “oppression” of any sort. At the same time, there was nothing to be said, for example, of global economic history in relation to Seung-Hui’s family, the militarization and hypermasculinization of culture, or how Seung-Hui’s image was appropriated to fuel debates on illegal immigration and the war on terror. Simply stated, little effort went into decoding the manifesto or the plays Seung-Hui left behind from a political vantage, and those rare attempts to understand that did appear, in print or video form, were either incomplete or ineffectual. Most critics, it seems, are content simply to accept Seung-Hui’s actions as yet another “senseless tragedy,” devoid of political significance. This essay works to challenge those assumptions.
Before venturing further into that analysis, I want to explain briefly how I ordinarily present this material to my students. In my undergraduate-level research writing course on post-9/11 society, the Virginia Tech materials buttress a discussion of post-9/11 racial othering and a detailed analysis of the media’s role in cultivating political reality. The various readings tied to the course module on Seung-Hui help students to trace the broad trajectory of contemporary violence and terror that follow in the wake of 9/11. Teaching such complex and discomforting content, as one might imagine, comes with its challenges. In one of the more memorable classroom exchanges, a young criminology major bristled visibly over the discussion, indicating that giving the killer a kind of “forum” after death was akin to saying “he wins.” My counter to this was rather straightforward; I stated simply that the issue was not a case of “winning” or “losing” but one, through the acquisition of knowledge and the application of critical inquiry, of “preventing” future events like Virginia Tech from happening. Had I been privy to the lyrics of the Jewish reggae sensation Matisyahu (2009) at the time, I might have even provided the following rejoinder on why we must acknowledge the “blood drenched pavement” in our world: “it’s not about / win or lose / we all lose / when they feed on the souls of the innocent” (n.p.).
Along those lines, I often frame the pedagogical significance of these classroom discussions by first recognizing the media depiction of Seung-Hui as “monster.” Indeed, I have always acknowledged unreservedly that his actions are ghastly and reprehensible—I make no claims to the contrary. I believe also that most rational persons familiar with this case agree on these matters. Nor do I diminish the contributing factors of Seung-Hui’s history of mental illness in complexifying any analysis of rationale, political or otherwise, associated with the Virginia Tech shooting. However, I think it’s also important to consider that if we are ready to deem the actions of Seung-Hui as “aberrant,” to thus label him as “monster,” then we must also be prepared to ask ourselves deeper and more disquieting questions like, “Who or what are the Frankensteins at work producing these monsters?”
TOWARD “A SANE HISTORICAL SENSE”
Historical examination is certainly one way of attempting to answer the preceding question. Richard Ohmann (2003) has a remarkable chapter in his Politics of Knowledge that legitimates this conversation. On the value of “teaching historically,” Ohmann declares that “every student should know how to read a text with careful and subtle attention to its language, and every student should be able to read a text with some appreciation of its historicity” (53, emphasis added). While I agree wholeheartedly with his points, I might respectfully invert the sequence—and I often do—instead placing the emphasis on the historical before the textual. As I see it, the use of language serves as handmaiden to history and is thus beholden to it, for, as the late Howard Zinn puts it, “If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, [then] anybody up there, in a position of power, can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it” (quoted in Howard Zinn 2004, n.p.). But semantics aside, Ohmann (2003) does have two other points in his chapter on teaching historically that are indisputable: (1) “[H]istorical sense has to define itself as critical of both official history and the power relations that sustain it and are sustained by it” and (2) “Historical teaching can awaken a sense of agency outside the sphere of the personal” (48, 52, emphasis in original). And that’s precisely the way in which I enter into the discussion on Seung-Hui, by taking elements of global economic history, entwined with histories of racial exploitation and immigration, and juxtaposing them against his life in the United States, asking how that experience may have shaped the young man’s consciousness (as it does with other minority populations), and finally placing that history alongside select language in the manifesto and plays to draw some conclusions.
An early Associated Press (AP) follow-up report on the Virginia Tech shooting offered a crucial piece of that history, 3 alluding to a significant trauma in Seung-Hui’s life. Regrettably, however, the story was soon buried by more scandalous tabloid content and never received the full scrutiny it deserved. Since those preliminary reports of April 2007, one would be hard-pressed when searching mainstream media sources to find anything other than scant efforts to connect the sociocultural or economic facts contained in that article with Seung-Hui’s manifesto content. 4 Surprisingly, the 2008 BBC documentary referenced earlier at least skirted the economic issue by interviewing Seung-Hui’s grandfather and family acquaintances living in Seoul, South Korea. The political commentary, however, was largely left unattended. Instead, the cameras surveyed a panorama of the densely populated urban sprawl accompanied by the more proximate scenes of Seung-Hui’s family’s cramped living quarters, merely hinting toward the difficult social and psychological spaces negotiated by late capitalist workers (what Hardt and Negri  refer to as “the multitude”). The documentary notes in this sequence, albeit offhandedly, that South Koreans work some of the longest hours of all Southeast Asian laborers, though it remained notably silent on the specific “hows” and “whys” of that reality—or its consequences for family life or for children.
Neither has there been any substantive mention of the South Korean global economic history, in which the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) played a central role, short of the following. Citing records from the South Korean Foreign Ministry and an article from the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, the Associated Press notes that Seung-Hui’s family “was poor when they lived in a Seoul suburb,” having emigrated to the United States in 1992 to “seek a better life” (n.p.). For anyone familiar with South Korea’s rampant unemployment and fiscal instability leading up to the 1997–1998 Southeast Asian financial crisis, it makes perfect sense that Seung-Hui’s father, Seong-tae, would move his family from the peninsula. Admittedly, the history leading up to that crisis is indeed far too complex to examine here in full, 5 but, suffice it to say, the evidence presented by the AP at least suggests that Seung-Hui’s father was among the South Korean laboring class who suffered personally and professionally during this period. 6
Some pertinent facts contributing to this crisis are worth mentioning. After 1990, it was a direct result of South Korean business owners’ attempts to improve “capital flows” through off-shore production, combined with the state’s increased reliance on borrowing from foreign banks for credit leverage, that “Korean industry succumbed to the competition, experiencing a loss of export markets and a collapse of profitability” (Harvey 2005, 108). Of course, domestic workers get caught in the crunch any time a corporation chooses to lower its burden of labor costs by shipping production abroad, which is likely what happened to Seong-tae. In short, encouraged by massive profits and a state driven by corporate policy, the interests of business owners were placed before the social welfare of the state, its citizenry, or the fate of its laborers—neoliberal policies that by now are acutely familiar to many American workers and taxpayers today. Adding insult to injury, the country was forced amid a resultant currency crisis to restructure in a loan arrangement profitable to United States and IMF terms instead of those that would otherwise benefit South Korea. As they proved to be in Argentina and sub-Saharan Africa, the results were truly disastrous. The structural adjustment imposed on South Korea, compounded by the fact that South Korean corporations were heavily indebted to foreign investors, meant that “[South] Koreans suffered through massive bankruptcies […], a recession that contracted national income by seven per cent,” a depreciation of ten percent in “wages for the average worker,” and a unemployment rate of “nearly nine per cent” (Harvey 2005, 111).
There’s another narrative thread at work here, too. If we traverse further back on the historical timeline, at the heart of this story is the fact that South Korea was once “at the frontline of the Cold War,” and as such, “the US was [once] prepared to support it militarily and economically” (Harvey 2005, 107). However, in later years after the Cold War ended, the “US saw no reason to offer financial support […] and instead followed the dictates of Wall Street” in the 1980s and 1990s (110–111). That mandate resulted in foreign direct investors driving down South Korean asset values so significantly that they were able to (re)acquire the depreciated goods at fire sale prices and sell them later for substantial profit. Many South Koreans were ultimately dispossessed, unemployed, and homeless.
But how might all of this relate to Seung-Hui’s violent response years later at Virginia Tech? The modern South Korean economic history reminds me of Chalmers Johnson’s assessment of “blowback” in this capacity, a CIA-coined term for how our Cold War foreign policy decisions and temporary political allegiances might one day eventually turn violently against us. The term has gained pervasive application since 9/11 with the revelation that our government, in effect, groomed Bin Ladin, providing him and other mujahideen with weaponry and training in the final Cold War conflict in Afghanistan. The collapse of that temporary allegiance, we now know, later paved the way for the rise of al Qaeda. 7 Though scholars such as Noam Chomsky and others point to the fact that Bin Ladin sees the war with “infidels” as a religious duty, thereby downplaying the role of globalization as rationale for the attacks, 8 there are others who suggest that economics do play a role in the “politics of rage.” Fareed Zakaria’s (2001) analysis in Newsweek immediately following the attacks suggests that for some of the 9/11 planners, including Mohammad Atta, the rampant disparity of have/have not culture in the Middle East served to fuel deep resentment. It is by no means a stretch to consider in this light that our own economic policies in South Korea—the same that forced Seung-Hui’s father to emigrate to the United States—contributed similarly to the production of Seung-Hui’s politics of rage. 9
While in the United States, Seung-Hui’s family was, essentially, twice alienated. On the one hand, they were South Korean economic refugees, but at the same time, it appears that the family never achieved American citizenship, or “the better life,” either; they had no homeland, as it were, and so they remained fixed in a state of double-dislocation. 10 Notwithstanding Seung-Hui’s status “as a resident alien,“ 11 or the pervasive mythology of the “model minority,” what could impoverished South Korean immigrants hope to find in a decade marked as “one of the most unpleasant […] in US history” (Associated Press 2007, n.p. Harvey 2003, 16;)? This was the early 1990s, after all, when “[c]ompetition was vicious, the avatars of the ‘new economy’ became millionaires overnight and flaunted their wealth”; where “scams and fraudulent schemes proliferated,” “teenagers shot and killed their classmates in Columbine,” and “corporate corruption of the political process was blatant” (Harvey 2003, 16). Still, the United States seemed to offer more than what the family had in South Korea, when they “lived in a rented, basement apartment […] no larger than 430 square feet,” where “mildew stains mark the pale blue walls of the three-room residence” (Associated Press 2007, n.p.). 12 The BBC documentary, Massacre at Virginia Tech, indeed, presents a very different picture of Seung-Hui’s family’s prosperity in America, reporting that they lived in a “$400,000” town house in a Virginia suburb. And yet, it was also acknowledged, albeit in somewhat contradictory fashion, that the mother and father worked seven days a week at a local laundry cleaning service (interestingly, there was no comment on the irony that South Korean Americans were unable to escape “working some of the longest hours of all Southeast Asian laborers”).
It then stands to reason that Seung-Hui’s manifesto and plays would obviously reference the class tensions at work in his life and allude to how they could potentially blowback if left unattended. In one telling manifesto passage often replayed by the media, Seung-Hui charges the conspicuous consumption of “brats with their Mercedes and gold chains” with a vicious ire (2007, n.p.). And in each of the two plays, Mr. Brownstone (2007) and Richard McBeef (2007), those in power—particularly, economic power—are reviled with the narrator wishing upon them a swift but painful dispatch. Tellingly, in Brownstone, the authoritarian figure is a teacher, and in McBeef, a fictional step-father.
The references to poverty in Seung-Hui’s life and writing, and the manner by which socioeconomics serve as the dominant contributing factor in identity formation, isolation, and rage, cannot be underemphasized. Consider also that Seung-Hui’s father, Cho-Seong-tae, told a family friend that in America he hoped to “live in a place where he is unknown” (Associated Press 2007, n.p., emphasis added). 13 The context of South Korea’s massive unemployment and rampant dispossession of rights and property in the laboring class suggests that one way of reading “to be known” is to be recognized by the state for bearing the shame of debt. How might the young Seung-Hui have adopted this pedagogy of invisibility and disposability? The medical accounts reveal that Seung-Hui suffered from a crippling form of self-imposed silencing known as “selective mutism.” The condition affected Seung-Hui so significantly that he would often look down, look away, respond only after twenty to thirty seconds of being asked a question, and then only in a barely audible whisper. In the most obvious sense, even as a boy, Seung-Hui was said to have remained utterly within himself, barely speaking at home or at school. Here the BBC documentary contradicts its earlier assessment of Seung-Hui’s family’s prosperity when it interviews various medical staff members of a community service center—a free clinic—designed to help minorities with various disorders that would otherwise prevent them from social integration. This begs the question: Isn’t it more often the case that a family of economic means would seek out a private practice solution to help their child?
At the university, Seung-Hui often referred to himself not by his own name but by “Question Mark,” an alter ego that first manifested after he introduced himself in class as a question mark written on the page. The effort to distance himself from himself was so pervasive that he took to creating online profiles for “Question Mark,” and self-identifying the persona as “Seung’s brother” among the few associates he had (Kellner 2007, 43; Massacre 2008, n.p.). Even earlier, in high school, former classmates recount that he was “invisible” in a certain sense (Massacre 2008, n.p.). The double-dislocation of not having any real sense of home, coupled with the personal and social invisibility, must have only exacerbated already intense feelings of isolation for Seung-Hui. Those emotional upheavals, too, could have caused deep conflicts in his identity. How might social integration have contributed? Consider the media’s indecision, for example, in how it should refer to Seung-Hui, as alluded to in the Slate.com article “Cho Seung-Hui or Seung-Hui Cho?” Reporter Michelle Tsai states that in Korean culture, “Cho” would be understood as the first name and “Seung-Hui” as surname, with the full name properly articulated as “Cho Seung-Hui.” Though, apparently, Seung-Hui chose to adopt the Americanized (in)version (much as many news outlets did). Tsai (2007) notes also that at various points, Seung-Hui’s attempts to self-identify were also deeply conflicted, modulating from “Cho” to “Seung”:
At the Washington Post, editors debated the matter of the name several times. The paper heard from people who knew the student that he sometimes went by the single name “Cho.” By Thursday it was clear there was a conflict, as the paper had learned that the gunman had written the Americanized name on a speeding ticket and on a mental-health form.
[…] National Public Radio, ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, and others went with the American format of the name. They reasoned that Cho had been in the United States since 1992, and there was other evidence to suggest he preferred the American way. (n.p.)
At least one counselor interviewed in the BBC documentary suggested that Seung-Hui’s writings and violent performativities in the manifesto were an attempt of a failed English major to “get noticed.” If this is true, then the confliction over his name abetted the more serious social failures, as well as it exacerbated the young man’s sense of inferiority and invisibility. Of course, this says nothing of race politics that still play an insidious role for immigrants and minorities living in the United States, evidenced in the final sentence of the previous quote (e.g., “They reasoned…he preferred the American way”). Even as Seung-Hui signed his two plays Richard McBeef and Mr. Brownstone “Seung Cho,” and that a name tag found in Cho’s suite said ‘Seung,’ his manifesto was mailed with still another persona—Ismail Ax (Tsai 2007, n.p.). 14 It’s as if in an extreme sense that even before the Virginia Tech shooting was underway, Seung-Hui didn’t even know who he was. 15
“DISPOSABLE ‘SURVIVAL MACHINES’”
Although the actions of Seung-Hui seem random in one sense, the words and performance(s) he left behind were not. The carefully constructed performativities in the manifesto serve as the means by which to examine critically the many episodic statements of Seung-Hui’s political positioning. To start, the evidence suggests that Seung-Hui had a sophisticated understanding of “culture jamming”—that is, a momentary subversion by an activist or group that overturns the traditional social understanding of cultural references, advertising, and symbols. These cultural phenomena are often classed in contemporary terms as “memes” and, accordingly, the act of undoing their meaning, often tied to the technological, is a form of “meme hacking.” Stephen Downes, editor of the techno-pedagogical newsletter OLDaily (Online Learning Daily) and a Senior Researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, describes at some length the historical origins of the meme and the ways in which they are subverted. In his “Hacking Memes,” Downes (1999) explains:
The concept, we are told, originates in Richard Dawkins’s 1976 book The Selfish Gene. The word “meme” sounds like “gene” and has similar properties. Humans, from the point of view of either gene or meme, are the means by which genes—or memes—are propagated. Animals, plants, and even ourselves, are merely their disposable “survival machines.” (n.p.)
The theoretical principle, if we are to boil it down, is the familiar notion of an idea outliving the person. Seung-Hui makes the point clear in the manifesto that he would not survive the confrontation, but he knew regardless of that fate that his manifesto and the language, images, and sounds contained therein, would. Let us not forget that the manifesto as a literary form is in and of itself a political document. And so this notion of “disposable ‘survival machines’” as political ideology has some resonance when applied to Seung-Hui’s tract.
Grounding this discussion in the political, we can then see Seung-Hui’s performativity in the manifesto oscillates between our socially constructed views of “normalcy” and those of bullied teen pariah. His poetics of drawings, borrowed cinematography, typed and written words, as well as articulated still life and self-portraits (many of which imitate cult-film scenes such as those found in Heathers , Terminator 2 , Basketball Diaries , The Matrix , Old Boy , and others), reflect a savvy politico and violent “master of pastiche.” 16 Along with Seung-Hui’s obvious personal conflictions, he in turn complicates our emotional reactions by strategically placing in the manifesto self-reflexive moments of performed empathy, momentary regret, unbridled disgust, terror, and perverse ecstasy. As such, his e-text prompts us to ask: “Will anyone ever really know the actual Seung-Hui?” Or the concomitant, “Can we derive meaning from his actions?”
Though utterly shocking and certainly the most elaborate in terms of composition, Seung-Hui’s manifesto was not the first new media production tied to school shootings. In April 1999, the Columbine shooters—most notably Eric Harris—made use of Web technologies to intimidate and stalk potential victims as well as prognosticate the spate of violence that would follow. Assorted videos of Harris and coshooter Dylan Klebold surfaced, from school surveillance-tape footage of the shootings to self-recorded footage known as “The Basement Tapes,” with the two young men propagandizing, instructing on the manufacture of pipe bombs, and test-firing weapons in a wooded area. Unfortunately, even as recent as November 7, 2007, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, an 18-year-old Jokela, Finland, high-schoool student, continued the new media trend of school shooters by posting various e-invectives on MySpace, and other outlets, and uploading a YouTube clip entitled, “Jokela High School Massacre,” before going on a similarly styled rampage as Harris, Klebold, and Seung-Hui. What once was thought of as the uniquely American condition of youth school shootings has now migrated beyond our national borders. It could very well be that as a result of the ever-increasing immediacy of information sharing and cyberliteracy, relied upon by Seung-Hui and the other young gunmen as the means to disseminate their political messages, that a very real amplitude of school shooting violence may yet lie before us. As reported by Sarah Rosario (2010) of KATC, Lafayette, Louisiana, the crisis has in no way abated, but instead precipitously risen, reflecting some very real concerns about the future of our youth. In fact, just between 2008 and 2010, alone, “Statistics show in the last two years there have been 23 school shootings nationwide” (n.p.).
Whereas the media presented the Columbine shooters performativity of violence as asimulacrum of video game first-person shooters such as Doom, 17 diary entries revealed other politically motivated plans of the shooters. It bears mention that Harris’s online handle “Reb” was an abbreviated sobriquet for “Rebel.” A rebel against what? The following excerpt from Harris’s diary reflects aspirations that seem hauntingly similar to events of September 11, 2001:
“If by some wierd as s–t luck my [sic] and V survive and escape we will move to some island somewhere or maybe mexico, new zelend [sic] or some exotic place where americans cant [sic] get us. if there isnt [sic] such a place, then we will hijack a hell of a lot of bombs and crash a plane into NYC with us inside iring [sic] away as we go down” (quoted in “Columbine Killer Envisioned” 2001, n.p.)
Harris’s statement reminds that school shootings are not necessarily actions conceived or conducted in a vacuum. Beyond the schoolyard/classroom bullying and pathological tendencies largely believed to be the precipitants for Harris and Klebold’s—and later, Seung-Hui’s and Auvinen’s—actions, there exist politicized statements in each shooting against authoritarianism, in general, and the American capitalist system of valuation, in specific. Many in our society overlook the complexities of motivation behind violent acts, discounting the opportunity to learn from the political in the wake of wholesale slaughter. And so the resultant shock for society intensifies when faced with the prospect that beyond the more or less “average-looking” yearbook photos of these young people lie hyperlinks to violent performativities of Generation Y killing machines. Although the preceding example of how shooters subvert the materialist system itself reflects a form of détournement that cannot be ignored, the Web pages and media left behind by Seung-Hui and others then become the actual détournements, with familiar signifiers rooted in Western culture now more purposefully overturned.
“THE PERFORMATIVITY OF VIOLENCE”
Perhaps then, the first of Seung-Hui’s performativities corresponds with his invocation of Columbine. By choosing the same month as Harris and Klebold to carry out his plan, Seung-Hui immediately reconstructs the earlier wave of violence and reopens old social wounds. Even more directly, Seung-Hui refers/defers to Harris and Klebold in a video portion of his manifesto, as “‘martyrs […] Eric and Dylan’” (quoted in Nicholson 2007, n.p.). When placed among the many meme hacks in Seung-Hui’s manifesto, his use of “martyr” functions as an elaborate conceit in that the terminology sequentially resonates beyond the scope of school shooting violence to include immediately recognizable political traces within a post-9/11 society. 18 The term, commonly used by al Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists, establishes some basic political premises we can use to understand better Seung-Hui’s efforts to disrupt his cultural surroundings. Seung-Hui also demonstrates a working knowledge of the war on terror lexicon by relying on words like “martyr,” which carry with them the loaded signification of oppression in Othered and minority circles. At the same time, Seung-Hui speaks not only to like-minded persons committed to disrupting hegemony through acts of violent resistance—those willing to exchange the temporality of life for ideological permanence—but also in unification with them. There are those who have argued that violence to the (human) body (politic) is in itself a form of communication. Gayatri Spivak (2004) received more than her fair share of negative criticism when she ascribed a kind of Foucauldian meaning to suicide bombings. She claims
Suicidal resistance is a message inscribed in the body when no other means will get through. It is both execution and mourning, for both self and other, where you die with me for the same cause, no matter which side you are on, with the implication that there is no dishonor in such shared death. (96).
The statement in no way condones or evangelizes violence, as her detractors were wont to believe. Rather, it attempts to make meaning from the otherwise uninterpretable. Controversial certainly, especially in the sphere of post-9/11 restrictions on intellectual freedom, but not beyond the pale of legitimate theoretical consideration. Ultimately, if we consider this context, Seung-Hui sees himself simultaneously cast as “martyr” and master, in order to tease out the dialectic of submission and assertion as part of the same power whole. He relies upon this textually interwoven subversion of martyrdom to anticipate the media projection of his motivation(s) as school shooter, but perhaps also as how he might be parlayed as suicide/homicide bomber. But I think we would be mindful to avoid treating his use of “martyr” purely as a religious invocation of the term, which is to say that in the tradition of manifesto as political instrument, Seung-Hui also packages his rhetoric as a form of vanguardism. “Martyr,” then, is essentially another kind of weaponized détournement aimed at the fundamental oppressions he reviles—in American government, American values, and American systems of capital. I return to Seung-Hui’s use of religious imagery as political statements later in this essay. For now, let us set those matters aside.
It seems clear, in light of these precedents, that Seung-Hui’s choice of images (moving and still) in the manifesto outline a systemic plan for an elaborate upheaval of American cultural iconography. As Seung-Hui works to deconstruct the socially familiar, he concomitantly manages to reinvent or, perhaps, destroy himself in the performance, as observed by Philip Kennicott (2007) of the Washington Post:
All the cheap rage, all the macho posturing of a demented boy is condensed in that image. A young man holds out his arms, at eye level, each hand covered in a dark glove, each holding a gun. He wears a vest that looks vaguely military, and his eyes are set in a steely rage. A black cap, turned backwards, covers a shaved head, as if he meant to doubly annihilate his personality. The young people fortunate enough to survive and tell the tale of Monday’s horrific murder rampage at Virginia Tech described that face—expressionless, determined—and those eyes—devoid of feeling, or mercy. (n.p.)
The manifesto images described by Kennicott along with the many other suicidal still shots of what appears to be a spiritually drained Seung-Hui placing a gun to his head or with eyes closed in mock death and a hunting knife pressed against his throat, also signify an almost futurist embrace of war aesthetics. The “double-annihilation” performance cited previously suggests further that Seung-Hui accepts his role as “disposable ‘survival machine’” and transfers the value of self to a poetics that will outlive him. This is not to say that the shootings in and of themselves are performative, per se, but rather, the heightened imagery of violence that Seung-Hui scripts for the psychic residue of his aftermath is most definitely the product of artifice. His extensive familiarity with new media forms—cybercultural social outlets like MySpace and Facebook—enable him to manufacture a social metanarrative and yet create a political performative space where he renders false “profiles” of images to temporarily stand-in for the Seung-Hui we now recognize as the Virginia Tech shooter. To Seung-Hui’s advantage, these images attract our attention (as he intended they would), giving us a sense that he wanted to belong, and, incidentally, they also act as accelerant for his performative constructions on this front.
Excerpts from the first pages of the MSNBC-housed manifesto provide some obvious insight into Seung-Hui’s performance. At the onset, we encounter a smiling Seung-Hui, an introductory image designed to unsettle the viewer/reader with an almost inconceivable signification of an unthreatening and seemingly typical teenager. Here Seung-Hui plays upon an immediate alienation effect (a-effect) in such a characterization that rubs harshly against our foreknowledge of his actions. The accompanying photo caption goes on to bridge this disturbance with a shift from a visual to a literal poetics: “Oh, the happiness I could have had mingling among you hedonists, being counted as one of you, only if you didn’t ____ the living ____ out of me” (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). The a-effect persists when directly below this image Seung-Hui provides another early glimpse of a fictionalized self. The text in this instance more closely mirrors the photographic content of the smiling Seung-Hui who now looks away from the camera, as if contemplating the world outside the vehicle interior from where he sits: “You could have been great. I could have been great. Ask yourself what you did to have made me clean the slate” (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). 19 His use of a modified anaphora embedded in a lyrical, rhyming poetics—possibly to create a more memorable aural permanence for the reader—reflects a conscious effort on the part of Seung-Hui to perform and communicate through détournement. We are led to think of a Hallmark greeting, while in full knowledge of the reality that this is a much more somber mass eulogy.
The performance continues with a digital still life of blue sky and clouds. A typical if not hackneyed evocation of Westernized sublimity, blithe peace, restfulness, and uplift, the image serves Seung-Hui’s purpose to maintain his theatrics of visual catachresis, forcing us to see both tranquility and violence in tandem. The tension Seung-Hui creates through such nonthreatening imagery vastly complicates the many violent images of his later actions running concurrently through the viewer/reader’s mind. Does Seung-Hui perform for the audience in order that they feel unsettled by the potentiality of a “normal” life disrupted in midstream? Does he plan to recontextualize and redefine connotations of social, cultural, and political normative values as abnormal?
The textual caption below the sky begins, “Are you happy now that you have destroyed my life? Now that you have stolen everything you could from me?” (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). As the literal poetics become increasingly more menacing in the move toward “disposable ‘survival machine,’” the viewer/reader scrolls to the lower half of the page to find Seung-Hui visually transitioning from teenager to insurgent, outfitted in black vest, cargo pants, with pistol in right hand and hunting knife in left. Seung-Hui replaces the smile from the preceding page with a confrontational hate sneer. And even in the midst of this arresting segue there is yet in Seung-Hui’s transformation a perverse desire to merge into society. In her contemporary work on the subaltern, Gayatri Spivak (2005) describes this phenomena in a much more positive context as a “metonymizing of self”—that is, when a person lacking agency seeks to (re)make oneself in the poetic sense as part of the larger whole (the state/society) (480). 20 By committing his acts of violence, it appears that Seung-Hui employs a mutually assured destruction of self and society, one that guarantees in the metonymy that ultimately he will be equal with his victims amid that immediate social sphere. It is entirely possible, and certainly regrettable, that for Seung-Hui to be a part of the whole he believed it necessary to raze the entire structure.
This is one way to answer the hows and whys of terror acts like 9/11 and the insecurity that follows in our post-9/11 world (and the twenty-five some-odd failed attempts since to cause comparable, perhaps greater, tragedies domestically and internationally) 21 —that is, the notion not only that cycles of violence perpetuate violence perpetually, but also that a politics of invisibility and disposability will inevitably fuel a politics of rage.
Returning to the manifesto content, the textual passage accompanying the insurgent Seung-Hui invokes tonal shifts in the visual performance:
Now that you have gone on a 9/11 on my life like _______ Osama. Now that you have _____ your own people like ______ Kim Jong-Il. Now that you have gone on a hummer safari on my life like ______ Bush? (“Multimedia Manifesto” 2007, n.p.)
Again, the evocation of post-9/11 cultural referents buttresses a political schema, largely overlooked by the media. It appears that while Seung-Hui sees himself as one of the many chickens coming home to roost in recent years, 22 he nevertheless fails to reconcile how imperialists define terror and insurrectionists define justice. Seung-Hui finalizes the rhetoric with a question that reverts to the initial image of the sky: “Are you happy now?” The lingering caption forces us to momentarily set aside many of the media-formulated excuses for school shootings (which tend to be of the same ilk following post-9/11), and rather forces us to examine whether we bear any social responsibility in the production of Harrises, Klebolds, Seung-Huis, Auvinens, and others. 23 Consider that MSNBC titles its Web installation of Seung-Hui’s manifesto as “What We Know,” which begs the rephrased question, “What do we know?” as corollary. Likewise, Seung-Hui’s question, “Are you happy now?” of its own accord, meme hacks in a somewhat existential way the Western propensity to blame others for problems we often perpetuate through a reliance on situational ethics and temporal politics.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Matt. 10:36–36; Jesus Christ quoted in Haley 1969, 37).
Rather than mask this performativity of terroristic martyrdom, (e.g., in the invocation of al Qaeda, post-9/11, Bush), throughout the manifesto content, Seung-Hui embraces overt expressions of a subversively charged messianic suffering. In one notorious broadcast image, Seung-Hui appears with arms outstretched and pistols in each hand to simulate a Christ-pose. 24 MSNBC also aired a picture of Seung-Hui in weaponless self-crucifixion/submission, later mirrored by CNN.com and other national news carriers (“Cho Seung-Hui Leaves Manifesto on Film,” 2007). Combined with these images, Seung-Hui makes a literal comparison between himself and Christ in one of his video-recorded diatribes, and thus augments the performative metaphor of mock crucifixion while remaining consistent with his “Live from Golgotha” media trappings. 25
The news commentary that followed, however, failed to deconstruct the full resonance of this particular theme. In the attempt to decode political signification in Seung-Hui’s reliance on messianic imagery, it might prove valuable to consider some possible theories on what Jay Haley (1969) has dubbed “the power tactics of Jesus Christ” in an essay of the same name. It’s difficult to say whether in calling for “revolution” Seung-Hui was at all familiar with Haley’s (1969) argument, but as the latter acknowledges
To understand the messianic revolutionists of today [or those who imitate them] one must appreciate the legacy left by Jesus. Men such as Lenin and Trotsky in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh in Asia, Castro in Cuba and black power leaders like Elijah Mohammed in the United States all discredit Jesus in their public statements […]. Yet their debt to him is far greater than they would acknowledge. (21)
Haley (1969) continues, “The most obvious debt such leaders owe Jesus is his basic innovation: the idea of striking for power by organizing the poor and the powerless” (21, emphasis added). Seung-Hui’s language choice when speaking of Jesus (and similarly of Moses at another point in the manifesto) demonstrates his grasp of this foundational principle. Consider that while Seung-Hui says to the camera, “You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing,” he recognizes a kind of powerlessness, but then in the next breath he uses that feint to organize politically (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). By choosing to “die like Jesus Christ,” he hopes “to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people” (n.p., emphasis added), a move not at all unlike that which Haley (1969) describes above as “striking for power by organizing the poor and powerless” (21). The focus here, just as with the martyr imagery acknowledged earlier, is not on the religious but the political—as with Haley, so with Seung-Hui.
Seung-Hui mimics the politics of a revolutionary Jesus when he too “step[s] into public life […] alone and unknown” and “skillfully use[s] the forces available to him” in the attempt to rouse a “discontented” public (Haley 1969, 22–23). One of the ways Jesus “became known,” Haley suggests, was by “attack[ing] the leaders of the establishment consistently and cleverly, bas[ing] his attack on their religious framework,” which indeed calls to mind a similarly employed tactic of Seung-Hui when he cites Bush, Bin Ladin, and Jong-Il in the manifesto. It is the consequence of living as but a shadow within the shadow of authoritarianism that leads Seung-Hui to strike against the modern religious framework of what Henry A. Giroux calls the “New Gilded Age,” a climate of zealous free-market fundamentalism that sells the quality of life as a commodity future to those who can afford it, and in turn, persecutes, terrorizes, and eventually disposes of those who do not conform to its proscribed sets of values (Giroux 2004, 26–32; Giroux 2009, 145–188; Giroux 2008–2009, “Academic Unfreedom”). For the power brokers, the existing system affords a license “to have trash shoved down [the] throat” of anyone who does not fit the market model, most often the “weak and defenseless” (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). It is to this select cadre that Seung-Hui addresses the brunt of his frustration in the manifesto. The epistrophe of “wasn’t enough/weren’t enough” adds a sense of urgency to the tangential contrast of everything/nothing:
You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your vodka and Cognac weren’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough. Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything. (Seung-Hui 2007, “Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.)
Supplementing the multimedia manifesto that was mailed to MSNBC, law enforcement officials indicate there was “a rambling diatribe” found in Seung-Hui’s dorm room, also directed “against people of privilege” (Streets 2007, n.p.).
Seung-Hui’s invocations of an urbanized anti-American Christ demonstrate a large-scale culture jamming designed to strike at the nerve center of Western sensibilities. This is to say, Seung-Hui’s choice of imagery here disrupts the fundamental principles and visual theatre of the Christian religion and, thus, the core fabric of American (and Western) society. 26 The metaphor of crucifixion, designed for mass consumption by those who see it as a symbol of Christian forgiveness and peace, allows Seung-Hui to get more mileage from his meme hack. Embedded in the performance is the message that suggests violence—even if based in religious tenets—begets violence. 27 Related to this, one cannot help but wonder if Seung-Hui attempts to expand “readership” of his manifesto by communicating with his generation through the Christ trope with phrases such as “Do you know what it feels to be humiliated and impaled upon a cross?” which follows a series of questions describing how Seung-Hui was bullied by others (“Multimedia Manifesto,” n.p.). A comparison of Seung-Hui images, such as that of him with arms outstretched facing the camera with pistols in each hand, with the provocative 50 Cent (2003) Get Rich or Die Tryin’ promotional billboard further raises the possibility of a cross-generational brand recognition for Christ/martyrdom imagery. 28
The visual recontextualization of the historical violence perpetrated upon Christ allows Seung-Hui to then adopt and subvert the sanctified so to outwardly express in a larger social forum the rage he claims to have absorbed/internalized. The meme hack, of course, transliterates to the real world when Seung-Hui stops performing violence on film and Internet servers and literally mutates the aesthetic to an outward destruction upon classmates and professors. We can only speculate that Seung-Hui may have conceived himself an ostracized “martyr” by applying a critical lens upon the statements he left behind. On the other hand, one gets a more definitive sense of his attempts at détournement in the power association that such imagery unlocks in the cultural sensibilities of Western audiences who have been conditioned to expect religious-infused violence from Middle Eastern representations of a post-9/11 Dark Other.
The attempt to capitalize on the newsworthiness of this portion of Seung-Hui’s subversion, however, was not entirely lost upon the news media during the airing of these clips. Prior to the Virginia Tech shootings, various pundits were busy spin-doctoring conflations between Iraq and Vietnam, a time when the war on terror also shifted to the renewed war on immigration. After the shootings, the violence of Seung-Hui provided a moment of subliminal propagandization on a massive level, where Seung-Hui’s menacing emotionless side profile projected a sense of the ambivalently inhuman more than the xenophobically foreign. 29 The media also appropriated Seung-Hui’s university ID for an alternating image used to serve the same politicized purpose. The unflattering, sebum-tinctured representation of Seung-Hui immediately conjured the criminal “mug-shot” and nearly blocked out any other possible referent. 30 These incessantly played images replaced the commonplace oscillations of Bin Ladin and Ayman al Zawahiri for a quasi-neo-North Vietnamese presence. Thus, the succinct repackaging of “us”/“them,” “terrorist”/“Other,” “war”/“antiwar,” and Qaeda/Vietcong concatenations as multifarious feedback loop. With that said, the images Seung-Hui used to conceptualize his substitution of one terror for another was similarly reconstituted by the media and appropriated as a coincidental subversion of terrorism itself.
In this sense, it’s difficult not to see a startling détournement of Eddie Adams’s (1968) Pulitzer-Prize winning photo Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon in Seung-Hui’s manifesto. (The image is generally regarded as one of the most powerful and disturbing of all Vietnam-era photographs. The reader is encouraged to compare this image with Seung-Hui’s pose that forecasts how the Virginia Tech tragedy will end.) 31
It may startle us to find within Seung-Hui’s manifesto an elaborate schema that communicates beyond surface-level interpretations, the complicated instances of how Seung-Hui subverted the element of surprise for his performativity of violence and the dialectical extensions of the violence he performed. In building a critical assessment of Seung-Hui’s performativity of violence, my efforts here were to apply logic to the seemingly illogical. The assessment itself, therefore, does not endorse or justify Seung-Hui’s actions, but rather attempts to open discourse into the possible social flashpoints that induce disaffected youths such as Seung-Hui to leave their societies with violent political testimony. The alternatives—silence, apathy, or casual dismissal—are simply not viable if we have any hope of leaving behind a functional democracy for our children. With that said, this essay shows that Seung-Hui in fact designed his manifesto with a performative political intent to conflict our perceptions, expectations, and interpretations of news reports he prognosticated would follow: the rather quick and dirty yellow journalism that traditionally casts social problems under the rug as historical detritus of an unclassifiable “indiscriminate and incomprehensible violence.” In this capacity, I would go so far as to say that Seung-Hui sought agency through performed violent détournements for a society that appeared to him as incapable of listening and seeing anything but a media-constructed reflection of itself. The days leading up to April 16, 2007, therefore, were moments when Seung-Hui performed violence in order to shed his college classroom sobriquet, the “Question Mark Kid,” and quite possibly, for the first time provided for himself a forum where his person could be seen and his voice heard.
Portions of this essay were first developed as a graduate course paper for Dr. Kenneth Sherwood’s media poetics class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2007 (Carvalho 2007). I mention this to acknowledge some areas of inevitable critical overlap with Douglas Kellner’s compelling study of domestic terror and school shootings, Guys and Guns Amok (Paradigm, 2008), released after portions of my initial research had been conducted.
I also would like to thank Susan Searls Giroux for her many valuable editing suggestions as well as for her and Henry A. Giroux’s kind support of my work.
On the morning of April 16, 2007, I was picking up poet Martín Espada from a Pittsburgh hotel for a reading later that evening at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I remember distinctly that the news was on in the hotel lobby, and the live feed from a helicopter focused on police officers in SWAT-like gear strafing with weapons drawn along brick buildings. At the bottom of the screen, the news ticker referenced shootings on the Virginia Tech campus, citing at least two people injured or killed.
For the better part of that day, I was with Espada on a classroom visit and meet-and-greet with Literature and Criticism graduate students, completely out of contact with news outlets and therefore unaware of how the full atrocity would play out in Virginia. It was not until just before the reading—around 6 p.m. that evening—that when passing by a big-screen TV in a student lobby area we learned that Cho Seung-Hui had killed 32 students and himself in what we recognize today as the single most violent school shooting of the modern era.
NBC Anchorman, Brian Williams, is credited as the first to label Seung-Hui’s audiovisual statements as a “multimedia manifesto” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18183171/displaymode/1107/s/2/ (accessed November 5, 2007).
Here I am specifically referencing “Report: Virginia Tech Shooter’s Family Sought Better Life in U.S.” that posted to FOXNews.com on April 17, 2007, as listed in the references. See also Kellner (2007), 131–137.
Alternatively, Kellner (2007) goes much further in his interpretation of the manifesto content and its media reception. An example of this appears in a section devoted to exposing the media depictions of cultural “borderlands between” the Korean and the American (36, 131–137). But he stops just short, however, of advancing an equally necessary, dialectic survey of the American borderland that exists between the Korean, that is, the U.S. financial stake in the region, as I attempt to take up in the current section of this essay.
The reader is encouraged to read chapter 4, “Uneven Geographical Developments,” of Harvey’s (2005) Brief History for a more substantive account of the South Korean economic collapse. See especially 106–112.
Seung-Hui’s emphasis on hypermasculine identity in the manifesto could have been an attempt to compensate for the economic emasculation of his father. The resentment of the father is a theme Seung-Hui explores in his play Richard McBeef.
It is interesting to consider how that ideological conflict led us to where we are today—in Afghanistan.
See Chomsky (2001), 30–32.
The previous passage is absolutely analogous with sentiment across America immediately following 9/11. And what consequences have our historical amnesia had with respect to post-9/11 affairs? Many, actually. Segueing from Ohmann’s example, between the radicalization of Iran, one could argue that U.S. intervention all those years ago squelched democracy in that country and instead left us today with having to face down Mahmoud Ahmanidejad on nuclear proliferation. With respect to its neighbor, Iraq, Arundhati Roy (2004) reveals also that not more than ten years later in 1963 “the CIA, under President John F. Kennedy, orchestrated a regime change in Baghdad” that resulted in the “new Ba’ath regime systematically elminat[ing] hundreds of doctors, teachers, lawyers, and political figures known to be leftists” (45). Most telling, a “young Saddam Hussein was said to have had a hand in supervising the bloodbath” (45). It would be utterly redundant to elaborate on the profound irony at work, the billions of dollars wasted, and the vast global insecurity caused by our fickle political allegiances with Hussein. Even more contemporarily on the historical timeline, Chalmers Johnson (2000/2004) reminds us that “[t]he CIA supported Osama bin Laden, like so many other extreme fundamentalists among the mujahideen in Afghanistan, from at least 1984 on,” and shortly thereafter “[i]n 1986 it built for him the training complex and [Khost] weapons storage tunnels” (xiv). The above narrative rather precisely defines the term “blowback” Johnson co-opted in his analysis of “the costs and consequences of American Empire” (xi–xv). History will show throughout this essay that the term is certainly applicable to finding meaning in Cho Seung-Hui’s actions.
I have addressed some of these historical overtones elsewhere, specifically as it relates to the Star Wars missile defense program and its resonance in the post-9/11 present. See my “Star Wars and ‘Star Wars.’”
The term is derived from an interview with poet Martín Espada by poet E. Ethelbert Miller and corresponds to Espada’s take on the Puerto Rican American experience of colonial dislocation. Despite this context, I nonetheless see a broader theoretical application in this concept, useful for rethinking DuBois’s notion of double-consciousness and grounding the pathology of a subject’s psychical alienation in his or her physical remove. See Miller (2007).
A fact of no minor significance in relation to how Seung-Hui’s image was subverted by the media amid the raging illegal immigration debate of that period.
In the same report, the AP acknowledges that Seung-Hui lived on campus at the time of the shootings.
The following corresponds to Seung-Hui’s self-referential “Question Mark.” I find it incredible (and at the same time eerie) that of those who interacted occupationally with the alleged Ft. Hood shooter (Maj. Nidal M. Hasan), most acknowledged him as one would a prisoner, by a reductive numeric moniker (Rucker 2009, n.p.):
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, had moved into the 27-unit Casa del Norte apartments in late July when he was transferred to Ford Hood from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District. During his nearly four-month stay in apartment No. 9, Hasan made few friends. Most other tenants didn’t know his name, referring to him as “Number Nine.” (n.p.)
The controversy surrounding the “Ismail Ax” moniker is reviewed in some detail by Kellner (2007). See 40–47.
This is echoed in the following report from Dr. Michael Welner, professor of psychiatry and chairman of The Forensic Panel at New York University:
This is not him […]. These videos do not help us understand him. They distort him. He was meek. He was quiet.
See Sell (2007). Kellner (2007) also uses a similar term, describing the construct of Seung-Hui’s “multimedia dossier” as “a postmodern pastiche” 41, 178n21.
See Giroux (2004), especially 40–43, for an analysis on how the militarization of culture has impacted and targeted youth markets. Giroux writes: “In light of the militaristic transformation of the country, attitudes toward war play have changed dramatically and can be observed in the major increase in the sales, marketing, and consumption of military toys, games, videos, and clothing” (42). With respect to the Doom franchise, Giroux provides the following historical overview:
Video games such as Doom have a long history of using violent graphics and shooting techniques that appeal to hyper-modes of masculinity. The Marine Corps was so taken with Doom in the mid-1990 s that it produced its own version of the game, Marine Doom, and made it available to download for free. (2004, 40)
For a related deconstruction of Seung-Hui’s reliance on martyrdom imagery, see Kellner (2007), 42, 48.
In a 2010 e-mail, colleague Jennifer M. Woolston pointed out the following connections to the movie Heathers after reading an earlier draft of this essay. She writes
J.D. (Slater’s character notes) “You want to wipe the slate clean as much as I do. Okay, so maybe I am killing everyone in the school because nobody loves me.”
Also, before strapping the bomb to himself and committing suicide (while ironically assuming a Christ pose), J.D. again remarks, “The slate is clean.” (n.p.)
The relevant passage from Spivak’s (2005) analysis in “Scattered speculations” reads as follows:
If the repetition of singularity that gives multiplicity is the repetition of difference, agency calls for the putting aside of difference. Agency presumes collectivity, which is where a group acts by synecdoche: the part that seems to agree is taken to stand for the whole. I put aside the surplus of my subjectivity and metonymise myself, count myself as the part by which I am connected to the particular predicament so that I can claim collectivity, and engage in action validated by that very collective. A performative contradiction connects the metonymy and the synecdoche into agential identity. All calls to collectivity are metonymic because attached to a situation. (480)
See Monitor staff, Montgomery, and Ryan (2009) for a list of terror plots since 9/11.
See Churchill (2003).
For more on this subject see Kellner (2007); see also Searls Giroux (2008–2009) as well as Giroux (2009).
Reminds one of the lyrics from the Soundgarden song, “Jesus Christ Pose” (Badmotorfinger 1991).
But you’re staring at me
Like I’m driving the nails
In your jesus christ pose
And you stare at me
In your jesus christ pose
Arms held out like its
The coming of the lord
And would it pay you more to walk on water
Than to wear a crown of thorns
It wouldn’t pain me more to bury you rich
Than to bury you poor
In your jesus christ pose (n.p.)
See also Kellner (2007), 41 for a few remarks on Seung-Hui’s dual use of Christ imagery as one part “sacrificial and redemptive” and opposingly as rationale for the “rampage” that would follow.
The “Live from Golgotha” reference alludes to the work of Gore Vidal (1992/1993) of the same name. As for the Seung-Hui image that is referenced, see “What We Know” (2007) (Path: “Photos sent by Cho”/Image 10).
Consider the double-entendre effect when Seung-Hui also refers to Moses in the following audiovisual excerpt of the manifesto: “Like Moses, I split the sea and lead my people, the weak, the defenseless, the innocent children of all ages” (2007, n.p.).
Churchill uses the old biblical proverb from Gallatians 6:7, “As ye reap, so shall ye sow,” to open his expanded commentary on this matter. See Churchill (2003).
To parallel the 50 Cent image with Seung-Hui’s crucifixion performativity, first see “The Week in Pictures” (2006) and compare with “What We Know” (2007) (Path: “Photos sent by Cho”/Image 1).
The image to which I am referring appears on numerous Web sites. For an example, see “Police Uncover” (2007).
As with note 29, the following image is also in wide circulation among mainstream news outlets, accompanying a variety of stories on the Virginia Tech tragedy. See Friedman (2009).
See Faas (2004) to view and learn more on the background of Adams’s photograph. The corresponding picture from Seung-Hui is housed on the MSNBC.com gallery installation. See “What We Know” (2007) (Path: “Photos sent by Cho”/Image 13).
As Kellner (2007) reminds us, the scene is “an iconic image of Old Boy” but it also reflects the famous culmination of violence in Taxi Driver (1973), where Robert De Niro, as antihero Travis Bickle runs out of bullets, shapes his index finger and thumb into a mock gun, and figuratively shoots himself in the temple multiple times (40).
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