Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Death Becomes Her

It's hard to take seriously as a font of wisdom on the subject of violence a woman who has said, "The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." (The part left out, of course, is something like "and it took them damn commie Jews the Rosenbergs to give the bomb to the Soviet Union.") Yet, sweet Phyllis Schlafly has decided to mouth-off as to the cause of the Virginia Tech shootings. And here's the opening:

What was the motive behind 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui's killing of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech? Why was he consumed with hate, resentment and bitterness?

Cho was an English Department major and senior. As a frequent lecturer on college campuses, I have discovered that the English Departments are often the weirdest and/or the most leftwing.

A look at the websites of Virginia Tech's English Department and of its professors reveals their mindset. We don't yet know which courses Cho took, but it could have been any of these.

It's hard to know where to start with these 3 two-sentence paragraphs (if you can't get your thoughts condensed, you just aren't cogitating, I guess). That "and/or" stands out, the one that automatically makes weirdest=leftwing. Her term "mindset" is also a hint, and proof Schlafly sort of misses the point of a university in the first place--it's about setting one's mind on explore and questioning. Later in her essay she'll attack the course taught by Professor Bernice Hausman called Introduction to Cultural Studies, and which features readings by Adorno, the man who wrote "the essay's innermost formal law is heresy" and could have been talking about academia too. (Shoot, I just connected academia to heresy--no wonder Schlafly is anti-academia. Maybe she can take Jerry Falwell's seat and run Liberty University and save the youth of America from thinking when they go to college. )

Alas, her critique, a collection of wild suppositions and unfounded stabs in the literary theory dark, just goes downhill from there. (For a fine examination of it, see Karen Houppert's blog at The Nation.) Overall, though, beyond the fierce anti-intellectualism one expects from a right-wing firebrand (hey, their hero is W.), what's most prominent in her argument is a distrust and dislike of feminist theory that could even make the guys in Spinal Tap finally realize the difference between sexy and sexist. Schlafly writes:

Other books Cho sold on the eBay-affiliated site included books by three authors whose writings were taught in his Contemporary Horror class. He sold Men, Women, and Chainsaws, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Takes of Horror and the Macabre, and The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense.

It's quite possible, and I hate to say this as a former college teacher but...perhaps Cho sold these books because he never read them. But let's pretend he was a good student and did do his assigned reading. Why would he then sell these books? Perhaps because they offer suggestions he didn't want to hear (and, sadly enough, neither does Shlafly). For instance, writes about Men, Women, and Chainsaws, "Before Men, Women, and Chain Saws, most film critics assumed that horror (especially slasher) films entail a male viewer sadistically watching the plight of a female victim. Carol Clover argues convincingly that both male and female viewers not only identify with the victim, but experience, through the actions of the 'final girl,' a climactic moment of female power." As for that Female of the Species book it's by none other than Joyce Carol Oates, who calls herself a feminist.

But Schlafly plays this "ignore the author" game throughout her essay. At one point she writes:

Did Cho take Professor J.D. Stahl's senior seminar, English 4784, on "The City in Literature"? The assigned reading starts with a book about an urban prostitute who finally kills herself and a book about a violent man who kills his girlfriend.

OK, what are those horrible horrible books? The urban prostitute is the main character of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Now, you'd think given Schlafly's take on the world a prostitute should kill herself out of shame (she's taken part in not just sex out of wedlock but sex for money), but for the purposes of proving why Cho would go on a rampage, it's better just to focus on the violence. That book about the violent man who kills his girlfriend is Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin's epic about Berlin between the World Wars (made into the mind-blowing Fassbinder film). Sure it's dark, but to reduce a 400-page novel into merely this action is as silly as reducing Hamlet to "Some great Shakespearean scene/Where a ghost and a prince meet/And everyone ends in mincemeat." At least Dietz and Schwartz meant the Hamlet summary from "That's Entertainment" as a joke.

The saddest part is Cho was actually a killer in the Schlafly tradition. After all, the biggest clue he had psychological problems prior to his attack came from his stalking of female students. If only he had learned something from a class like Studies in Theory: Representing Female Bodies then maybe he wouldn't have been so messed up that way, and he might have had some human connection and not been as alienated and not become a headline.

Who knows, just as Schlafly writes "we don't yet know which courses Cho took," for all we know he read Eagle Forum religiously (pun intended) and thought the world of Schlafly. So much so he took her demeaning attitude towards her own sex and externalized it first to the women on the Virginia Tech campus, and then one day to everyone there. He did compare himself on one of his videotapes to Jesus and Moses. Perhaps it was the religious right that made Cho a killer?

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Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Good thing there's no violence in the Bible!

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Fritz said...

Those darn intellectual elites! They're turning our kids into killers with their fancy book-learnin'!

12:21 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Ahhh, Phyllis. The Saran wrap is cutting off the oxygen again, I see. I know one of his former English teachers, a former self-made small business owner who worked in the auto manufacturing industry in Detroit. Weird. Totally weird.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Fuck Phylis Schlaffly.

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why was he consumed with hate, resentment and bitterness?"

Well, he was a Christian.

5:59 AM  
Blogger George said...

Mike, thanks, but I'll pass.

And to show just how much cultural influence INTOBB has, those of you who can, go check out the print edition of the LA Times today. The Calendar tab features an article about Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a picture of the ever-fetching Gina Gershon, and the headline "Death Becomes Her." How dare they steal my allusion.

9:42 AM  

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