By Frank Moher
We’d barely learned the identity of the Virginia Tech killer when the professional psych brigade told us they had him pegged. In heavy rotation on CNN Tuesday night was a psychiatrist offering her instant analysis of Cho Seung-Hui, based, among other things, on plays he wrote for a creative writing class. “You see a tremendous amount of warped thinking,” Dr. Helen Morrison opined, “even more warped sexuality, and what appears to be tremendous fears of his own same-sex urges that he projected onto other people . . . . you can see an individual who is psychologically deteriorating.”
Dr. Morrison’s opinions are based on two short scripts, one titled Richard McBeef and the other Mr. Brownstone. They are dark and angry and feature violence, both physical and emotional. Which of course describes a significant portion of literature and drama, from the Bible through Dostoevsky through Brad Fraser through Quentin Tarantino. Nevertheless, we are enjoined to regard this disturbed young man’s writings as a marker for what was to come.
Which suggests CNN might better have interviewed English professors, who know not to confuse the intentions of the author with the behaviour of his characters. Not that the VT killer should be confused with a real writer; his plays are terrible. But the great danger in all this is that young people who are real writers — or even those who aren’t, but who aren’t insane either — will now have to deal with the misplaced ministrations of teachers and parents and counsellors who are as confused as Dr. Morrison. Is any play or story or poem which reflects the anger of the author, or the anger of the characters, now to be regarded as psychopathic? Logically, no. Realistically, yes.
As a playwright and playwriting instructor, I have read dozens of such student scripts over many years, some talented, most not. But none have turned out to be the work of mass killers. In fact, in many instances I’ve supposed it’s a very good thing these young people could express their rage in written form, rather than acting it out.
Imagination is not reality. Reality cannot be written.