VT killer video needed to be seen

By Sujay Kumar

When I first heard that NBC had aired a video sent to them by the Virginia Tech killer, it didn’t mean anything to me. I was numbed by the overwhelming media attention swirling around the tragedy, and the video manifesto seemed like the sensational blockbuster news networks were waiting to get their hands on. I thought the story had already reached its chilling climax and that there was nothing left for me, or anyone else, to see.

Then I watched it.

There was something in the killer’s incoherent, profanity-laced tirade and the images of his arms stretched out, holding handguns that slapped me in the face. I saw through the headlines that had been constantly running through my head for the past two days, carrying the same, overused words “massacre” and “national tragedy.” I saw an awkward and unsure boy, a few years older than myself, struggling to communicate with the video camera capturing his final words. And then, I realized why NBC had to air the video.

The video reminds us that it wasn’t just any Korean recluse on a college campus who was responsible for what happened. It’s too easy to dismiss this fact as obvious yet still feel a sense of uneasiness, however so slight, when one sees a loner Asian, or an oddball of any ethnicity for that matter. Instead, we must see that the gunman was the mentally unsound individual who appears on camera in front of us.

Critics argue that the gunman’s name and face mean nothing to us, but in reality it is essential to know both. I found it incredibly frightening to hear that a faceless “gunman” was the reason for the haphazard, desperate news reports that suddenly bombarded us. It’s essential that we see the images and hear the words of this killer in order to reveal the feelings of outrage and confusion that have and continue to plague us.

It’s been suggested that NBC should have released the video on the Internet instead of on broadcast television, so that viewers could access it only if they so desired. This works in theory, but I and many other people who felt that there was nothing more to know about what happened would have opted not to watch it.

Airing the video on national television is what the killer wanted. He also probably wanted his actions to generate 24-hour news coverage, front page headlines above bloody full page pictures and the coining of catchphrases such as “Virginia Tech Massacre” or “the events of 4-16-07.” The sad reason we can’t prevent any of his wishes from being fulfilled is that they not only resonate in the media, but also in our minds.

Some say the airtime that the murderer’s video received will inspire other potential killers to mimic his actions. As we saw in the NBC video, it seems as though anyone capable of perpetrating such a travesty is so tragically distant from reason that a “multimedia manifesto” he or she has created is surely of secondary importance to what he or she has already set out to do.

While the video showed me that the killer, and he alone, was the reason for the havoc, it also struck a far more terrifying chord. I listened to the babbling diatribe of the gunman, and looked into his blank stare. It was a stark reminder that the events at Virginia Tech were more than a national frenzy, but a truly disturbing moment for all of us. Particularly, as a college student, I shudder at the thought that one person so full of rage could cause so much pain in an environment so similar to my own.

It is just as important to view the face and hear the words of the killer as it is to take in the images of the Virginia Tech campus in mourning and hear the stories of the victims, because it shocks us out of the instant, one-dimensional grief wrought by that day.

The 33 families that lost someone deserve that.