We know a lot more now than we did on Monday. And we know for sure that Cho Seung-Hui had a problem with America. Today, of course, we are being bombarded by the contents of a package sent by the killer to the folks at NBC: videos, photos, writings, and ramblings — all disturbing and in their own way telling. But I contend that the play’s the thing.
Cho Seung-Hui wrote a viscerally anti-American play called “McBeef” in which a former NFL player and McDonald’s connoisseur sexually molests his stepson and then kills him. Early in the play the stepson rages against the stepfather, calling him a “pedophile” and repeatedly referring to him as “a Catholic priest.” In the eye of the author, pedophilia and Christianity are one in the same. The play also makes constant reference to the evil stepfather’s obesity; in the eye of the author we are all fat Americans who eat at McDonald’s.
The title of the play manages to swipe at Shakespeare and McDonald’s at the same time. Cho Seung-Hui punned Macbeth, the play in which an evil man kills his way to the top of the kingdom. However, he pilfered Hamlet, a story in which a vile man murders the king, takes the queen as his wife, and ultimately kills the son. “McBeef” is about a sick nation; it attempts to inform us that something’s rotten in the state of America. But what we discover is the rot in the killer’s head.
Envy, deep and powerful, comes through it all. Resentment against our society. Christianity, capitalism, and sports all take their hits. This was a man who hated the American regime — our very way of life. And he took a Muslim name to register his discontent — Ismail, the preferred Arab spelling of “Ishmael,” Abraham’s first son, the disinherited son who took second place to the wealthy Isaac.
Do I blame Islam for Cho Seung-Hui? No. He was a curse on Islam, not the other way around. Do I blame films such as Super Size Me for his extreme and bizarre attitudes toward the eating habits of a good many Americans? No again. Do I blame the New York Times and its obsession with wealth-inequality for his hatred of “rich kids”? No, once more.
But I will go this far: There is a rising tide of resentment in our country against the so-called “rich,” and Christianity, and a Big Mac with fries. Talk-show hosts, op-ed writers, documentarians, and authors of all stripes take part in it. They speak to psychologically healthy audiences, although the bent and wicked are listening in too.
Cho Seung-Hui, it seems to this writer and radio host, was exposed to all of it. He gulped the resentment in the air, chewed it over in the dark corners of his soul, and then released it in a torrent of rage. He alone is responsible for his actions, but our society can either stir up hatred or pour oil on troubled waters. Unfortunately we’ve gotten better at the former and worse at the latter.
It’s like poisonous mercury in the ocean. For some reason, a number of fish pick it up but never purge it. The poison grows in concentration, until the life is irreparably lost.