brothercyst: "Richard McBeef"

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Richard McBeef"

An infantile one-act play by the Virginia Tech murderer.

I'm ambivalent about referring creative writing students to counseling when they turn in disturbing material. Still, it can't be denied that people who harbor a certain kind of potentially explosive resentment sometimes produce these weird little blasts of fiction that are at once aggrieved, pathological, and utterly incompetent.

"Richard McBeef" reminds me of a staggeringly terrible story that was emailed to me a long time ago by a person who had somehow found me on the internet. His story depicted a future society where evil, sexy superwomen ground up the testicles of captive males (bred and used pre-castration for "service and pleasure," if I recall) and fed them to dogs, or something. Also he claimed to have slept with many women and once killed someone in a bar.

UPDATE: And Mr. Brownstone, another of Cho Seung-Hui's embarassing stabs at writing for the stage. This one's more creepily insane, actually.


Ian said...

This is an interesting topic -- the 'creative' output of sociopaths on the verge of snapping. However, I don't think it's so clear-cut that we can say this shooter's (or any violent offender's) writing should have served as a clue.

I gleaned this from a NYT article:
“When we read Cho’s plays, it was like something out of a nightmare,” Mr. MacFarlane wrote. “The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.”

This statement strikes me as post-facto bullshit. The only really salient feature of Cho's plays is that they suck. Otherwise, the violence is neither unique nor, for that matter, even all that transgressive by modern standards. After all, Bret Easton Ellis wrote of a white-collar NY male who liked to carry out heinous acts such as starving a rat and tunneling it into a woman's vagina. Does that mean that Ellis is America's next mass murderer? Or does the brilliance of his creative output somehow exempt him from this potential and clear him from suspicion?

It strikes me we devote far too much effort to protracted rationalizations of acts that are by their very nature inscrutable. No matter how much we analyze one murderer's proclivity for writing violent plays or another's tendency to take orders from a neighbor's dog, we will still be left with a fundamental lack of understanding of their motivations and capabilities; this is simply because they are mass murderers, and hence have minds that work in utterly distinct ways from those of the rest of the non-mass-murderer world. In the process of our exegesis of these incomprehensibe acts, however, we end up inculpating any number of people, events, or activities that likely do not deserve blame. Or we wind up limiting the creative expression of our nation's youth, because every time they write anything vaguely offensive it lands them in the principal's office.

Anyhow, I'm hungry and tired and I'm going to stop ranting on your blog. Thanks, Nick.

NickAntosca said...

I agree with a large part of what you've written here, Ian, and thanks for writing such an in-depth comment. As I'm sure you assumed, when I said "people who harbor a certain kind of potentially explosive resentment" I didn't mean "people who will almost certainly one day commit mass murder." But I think that works of fiction produced by the sort of person who feels like a martyr/pariah (and fantasizes about both attention and spectacular public retribution for real or imagined slights) often have certain characteristic and an identifiable tone in common. Now, a lot of people like this will never do anything like what the VTech killer did, but I think that his mindset is a recognizable one.

Which relates to my next comment, which is to say that I actually disagree (or maybe not completely disagree but take issue) with the notion that the mind of a mass murderer necessarily works in utterly distinct ways from the mind of a non-mass-murderer. I'm sure most people my age have known someone about whom they've specifically thought, "That guy is disturbed enough to try and pull a Columbine." I'm sure there are young people angrier and more mentally unhinged than the VTech killer who, due simply to external circumstances beyond their control, will never become killers. At a certain point, I think that whether or not someone goes from "that guy never talks" to "the second we heard, we knew it was him" is a roll of the dice--gravity and chance and an accumulation of miseries.

Ian said...

Hey Nick,

I understand your point. Interestingly, studies have been carried out on violent criminals that show limited activation of certain brain regions on fMRI, impaired serotonergic projections in certain parts of the brain, etc. -- in essence, evidence that, at least on a cellular and a systems/functional level, their brains do work differently than most other peoples'. By extension one could assume that their experience of the world is different, but of course then we begin to enter the realm of the brain-mind dichotomy with its messy philosophical and cognitive psychological ramifications.

Anyhow, it's interesting.

Tao Lin said...

i just read 'mr. brownstone.' i don't see how it is creepily insane at all. i'd rather read that than most things i read in writing workshop. it's about some guy who keeps inexplicably ass rapes all his students and now has 5 million dollars. i don't understand why you called it creepily insane, but would like to hear.