Last Word on the Subject

Last night, I was disgusted that the various media outlets were giving airtime, ink, and webspace to the videotape and writings of the person behind the massacre here at Virginia Tech.

Amidst the images I saw on the New York Times website, one that stuck out as odd — an image of the young man brandishing a hammer. To me, the image called to mind a still from a movie — at first, I thought, something from a Gasper Noe film. Then, later, I remembered it was the revenge movie, OldBoy.

For others, the image might have suggested something else, but I am a filmmaker and I suppose I am inclined to make comparisons between images of cinematic texts, if one can use such coolly academic terminology for a killer’s self-taped imagery. Both images feature people looking into a camera’s eye brandishing a hammer and, importantly for me, both images are “revenge texts.” The fact that both images are of Asian males was largely inconsequential to me; if either person had been of a difference race, nationality, etc. I would have, I feel, made the same connection. As I said, at first I thought the image came from a French film.

Certainly, I thought, some readers and viewers would be perplexed by such an image, and I wanted to suggest a possible reference. Mainly, though, I wanted to use this opportunity of having the Times’ attention to tell them how I would prefer that they did not show such images in the first place. This message was included in my email to them though, perhaps not surprisingly, they chose not to acknowledge that comment. I believe that giving airtime to a killer’s ramblings does a disservice to those of us here in Blacksburg who are deeply, actively grieving; I also believe that it likely gives the killer the attention he so desperately desired. For me, sharing these images publicly goes beyond pornography.

How misguided and naive can a person be, particularly in light of the comments in my last post? I should have said nothing, done nothing, and ignored it all. I made the mistake of attempting to make sense of the nonsensical, assuming that my comment could be a simple footnote to a single still image, and above all, presuming that a person can have any control over any comment he feeds to the Media Machine.

This morning I awoke to several emails and blog comments accusing me of everything from racism against South Koreans to blaming cinema for the carnage on Monday. And all day I have been courted by several major media outlets salivating for an interview with me, as if I could somehow explain the events of Monday to them by way of a movie. How sad. How absurd. The answer to all of these individuals has been “No.”

Let me be clear: My comparison of these two images was not meant to suggest in ANY way that movies, any movie, “made him do it.” Likewise, my comparison of these two images is IN NO WAY an attempt to make ANY generalizations based on racial, nationalistic, or any other sorts of lines.

The fact that the comparison of these two images has been co-opted in various ways is extraordinarily painful to me, particularly the accusations of racism. Anyone who knows me knows that this truly, truly breaks my heart. As if it weren’t already broken.

To everyone outside of Blacksburg, the events of the past few days are a circus, an opportunity to use others’ tragedy for their own ends. It is not a circus for me. There is only the event, the profound sadness of its aftermath, and the utter confusion about what has happened.

I am mourning the loss of my colleagues, friends, family, and students. Here in Blacksburg we are all grieving. Deeply. The headline writers for many news outlets have determined that today “The Healing Begins.” It has not.

If what was intended to be my tiny footnote on a minor point has stirred up passions in you, I truly regret that. If you have taken my comment to be implicitly or explicitly racist, I hope you can believe me when I write with utter sincerity that this was never the intention.

And if you are with the media, do not bother contacting me. I have learned my lesson.

Finally, to reiterate: My point in all of this, however misguided the effort, was to initiate a conversation about what Jill Godmilow calls “the pornography of the real” — in this case, news outlets using a mass murderer’s fantasies as sick spectacle and — let us never forget — as a source of revenue.

4 Responses to “Last Word on the Subject”

  1. lisa Says:

    Wow. I’m very sorry to read this. It is one of the problems, or hazards, of blogging that anyone can read and react to what you say. And there is no way to screen out the stupid or impulsive or knee-jerky if you allow comments.

    I’m glad you do allow comments, though, so I can tell you that I think what you’ve written is valuable and informative.

    Ignore the twits. Ignore the mean-spirited.

  2. parke Says:

    my thoughts exactly. it’s a shame that the mediamachine likes to be a stealthy dog. your points are spot on. sorry for all the shite that’s happened.

  3. Stewart Says:

    Paul, I’ve been thinking a lot about you the last few days, and was glad to hear that you are okay. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and always appreciated the advice that you and Ashley gave me about grad school. It doesn’t surprise me in any way that you have made the best decision, which is to avoid the lechorous vultures known as the media. It is a sad and sorry day that we live in, when an event like this happens. It is almost, if not equally, as sad and sorry when the 24 hour cable news stations attach onto it, looking for sound bites, imagery, and to generally dehumanize anything left to the story. I’m glad you are okay. Don’t worry about anyone who would try accuse you of being something you aren’t, and I look forward to the possibility of your students using this event to create something amazing. Good luck.

  4. ed Says:

    i think that anyone that knows you, woudn’t give the media B-S a second thought.