Why do some people have a sense of humor and others not? Some people find sarcasm and satire to be hilarious while others do not even recognize them as humor. You have to explain to them when something is tongue-in-cheek.
Max Karson is a 22-year-old student who tests the boundaries of such humor and frequently runs afoul of them. This time he has been arrested in connection with remarks he made about the Virginia Tech shooting. Apparently he made a statement in a classroom at the University of Colorado that he was “angry about all kinds of things from the fluorescent light bulbs to the unpainted walls, and it made him angry enough to kill people,” according to the police report. It was claimed that students were afraid of him because of his statements, but another student had a different view of the class discussion:
“Max is honest, and people aren’t always willing to hear what he has to say,” said the student, who didn’t want her name published.
She said Tuesday’s debate started as an effort to understand how someone could go on a killing spree like the Virginia gunman’s.
Karson — who circulates a controversial underground publication called The Yeti on the campus — told his peers that he thinks institutions provoke anger in people, which eventually causes them to “crack,” the student said.
“He said, ‘Anyone who has walked on this campus and hasn’t wanted 30 people dead is lying to themselves,'” she said.
When Karson was asked why institutions make him so mad, the student said Karson used the women’s-studies class to illustrate his point: The room was in a basement and had unfinished walls and fluorescent lights.
According to a police report, Karson said: “The basement room with fluorescent lights and the unfinished wall make him angry enough to kill people.”
“But I didn’t feel threatened,” the student said. “He was just theorizing in an intellectual discussion about why people kill.”
After the shootings, most instructors initially encouraged honesty and openness in classroom discussions about Virginia Tech. The classroom was a “safe space” where no single opinion/emotion was privileged as “right” or denounced as “wrong.” For many of us, the freedom to speak openly about our emotions was an important component to the healing process. Nobody went so far as to support the killer; but some empathized with his pain and loneliness; others said they’d decided to be more sensitive in the future toward social outcasts like Cho Seung-Hui. The tone completely changed, however, when Karson was arrested. Not wanting to be the next arrest victim, students and professors reverted obediently to reiterating the politically correct… attitude. Karson’s situation opens the book on a whole new set of questions: Can professors still allow critical thought? Are all ideas equal, or are some more equal than others? Should we encourage dissent, or should we fear its consequences?
Karson’s underground paper, the Yeti, is currently unavailable online. I was able to read a few excerpts of it in other publications, though, which were unexpected enough to make me relax and crack a smile, but too heavy-handed to approach giggle status on my humor scale. I suspect Karson’s best writing is yet to come when he matures a little and learns a more subtle touch.