Ben Metcalf wrote an article a few years back in Harper’s about whether he was allowed to say he wanted to hunt down George Bush and kill him with his bare hands. He makes ther statement regularly throughout the article, but only as a hypothetical phrase, and I’m pretty sure he’s still alive.
something similar to this happened to me when i was at ball state. i started a metal band with friends where all the lyrics were comically violent and over the top mysoginistic, murder, satan, blah blah blah. i just wanted to take offensiveness as far as i could to see if it could still be funny. the album was recorded with friends over a single weekend. on sunday night i posted the album on my ball state website. then a friend posted a link to the album on a ball state livejournal community. monday or tuesday, the virginia tech shootings happened. someone listened to the album and got freaked the fuck out i guess. i was called in to the disciplinary office. i forgot the official name for of the office or the guy’s job title. doesn’t matter. in the meeting i actually had to explain the band to this guy and then post an apology/explanation on the livejournal community to avoid suspension. even after the apology ball state took away my webspace privileges.
I like the “the super-freaky super-nunchuck from outer-space.”
Something similar happened to me in high school, concerning a “disturbing” mini comic book I’d drawn and written about an evil priest abusing kids at an orphanage, and one of the kids then getting revenge.
Understandable that the authorities want to make sure students aren’t planning on doing anything violent, but it sucks to be young and put in a position where you have to defend your art or creative writing or whatever as simply being that, and not some evil master plan to kill people with a doll’s penis. I’m glad this student was able to see the humor in the situation.
Gonna go practice my super-freaky super-nunchuck moves now.
In all the great paranoiac dystopian novels (and in the totalitarian regimes that were in some ways their analogues), the state conditioned the individuals to report on one another in just these ways. And of course that’s not always a bad thing — I am comforted when I’m on the NYC Subway and see the “If You See Something, Say Something” signs. But: C’mon. It was a bad undergraduate creative writing exercise of the sort teachers see every day. And the guy who made it was working in the computer lab on St. Patrick’s Day in a leprechaun suit. That’s not a very threatening scenario, except to the extent that post-Columbine and post-Virginia Tech we’ve raised the level of alarm to a degree that when a fellow student overreacts by seeing Columbine and Virginia Tech in a guy in a leprechaun suit who is working on a bad undergraduate creative writing assignment in a computer lab, and when the police further overreact, severely, by taking the student into custody and interrogating him harshly instead of simply approaching him decently and raising the question: What is this, exactly?
I teach two sections of introductory creative writing every semester. They are full of hackneyed but sincere poems and stories about murders, forensics investigations, zombies, werewolves, revenge fantasies, and even the occasional school shooting. Their foremost quality is their ineptness, and who would expect more from someone who has never tried to do something as difficult as writing a poem or story is? The proper response, I’d think, is to have a conversation, and the thrust of the conversation in most cases is a conversation about how to take the material that interests the would-be writer enough to write it and turn it more fully in the direction of the extraordinary thing the writer had in her head when she tried it the first time.
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t fuel the craziness by ensuring every imbalanced person in the country that if they act out, we will give them a lot of attention, some of it very public. That’s incentive for a certain kind of person, and incentive isn’t what you want to offer. Turning down the heat seems like a good first step. This whole exchange was rooted in the kind of fearful overreaction that is making our society in general more suspicious, more fearful of whatever we deem to be other, and more likely to bring the good instruments of law and justice and peacekeeping down upon the heads of people who haven’t done anything wrong, and all of it too quickly. I’m glad this kid ran into some reasonable police officers, and not the other kind we now see with semi-regularity on YouTube.
And this is the most encouraging part of the story, I think: After the policemen overreacted (it’s possible that their response was dictated by policy, which raises a larger issue), they did let him go after he vetted his story, and they didn’t hit him or act in any other unlawful manner.
It doesn’t seem like it would be fake when you consider that (1) The student’s professor was involved enough in the situation to involve Johannes Goransson, (2) Goransson did homework enough to make sure it was true before putting it up on the Montevidayo blog, and (3) Goransson, who is a respected professor at Notre Dame, has always been a reliable source of information in the past.
A bunch of little weasels in my creative writing class must have reported some of my writings because–no fucking joke–a couple of FBI—yes, FBI, for christ’s sake– agents showed up at my door asking if I had weapons of any kind and whether or not I intended on “hurting” anyone. It was fucking surreal. They came in a black car and everything. You can’t make this shit up. My best friend was a college professor and she showed me the list of “warning signs” that teacher’s should report. Not many friends, interested in disturbing subject matter, quiet and reserved, etc, etc. Basically everyone who’s not a jock or cheerleader.