Campus-killers usually, and suicide-bombers by definition, kill themselves after they have done what they had set out to do. It is, therefore, impossible to ‘find out’ what goes on in their minds while they kill or plan to kill. The Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg is proving to be the worst of its kind in American history. Thirty-two people are dead. Their killer — a student at the university — obviously wanted to out-Columbine Columbine, the ‘copycat effect’ being part of this peculiar genre of violence that seems to have become an American monopoly. The internet, characteristically ahead of the official news media, is talking of an ‘Asian’ killer who went round the bend after killing a former girlfriend. Does this mean that he is an ‘Asian-American’' In which case, is it not significant that his Asian origin suddenly becomes worthy of mention now' But there is also talk of his having been a Chinese national who had arrived last year on a student visa. Eighty-five per cent of Blacksburg’s population is white, and race relations have occasionally been an issue. Two years ago, there was a fracas over racial abuse and graffiti directed at the university’s branch of a leading black rights group.
Apart from wondering whether the police or university authorities could have handled things better, people tend to interpret events of such enormity, and opacity, sociologically. Profiling of school or campus killers does not really work. All kinds of typical backgrounds — from Healthy All-American to Dysfunctional Gothic — seem to fit. So, wondering what it is about America that fosters such acts of violence is the other way of trying to make sense of Blacksburg or Columbine. Schools or universities are usually thought of as somehow insulated from the rest of society or the nation that is driven by complicated, ‘larger’ forces. Similarly, young people (some legally children), especially students, are also thought of as somehow ‘protected’ from the larger, adult world of bombs and guns. But events like this break down such reassuring boundaries. The schoolboy with a gun inhabits the same kind of space as, say, his ‘peacekeeping’ father does in Iraq, who, in turn, is doing something essentially similar to a computer-generated character in a brutal video game. Classrooms, armed forces, occupied territories, cyberspace, cinema and human fantasy all become interlocking and intersecting spaces in which to kill is simply to kill.