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Paper Monitor

13:01 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2007

Every day in Magazine Monitor Paper Monitor sets out to highlight the riches of the daily press. But now and again, a story is so overwhelming it warrants a closer look.

It is rare that a story from abroad with so few implications for British society so totally dominates the domestic news agenda. But Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech is only starting to ebb.

The Sun still saw fit to have it as its main front page story on Thursday (see right). And even today most of the newspapers have some representation for the story on their fronts.

suned.jpgMuch of Friday's focus is on the eerie similarity between images sent by the killer, Cho Seung-hui, to NBC, and the Korean movie Oldboy. One picture of Cho wielding a hammer is particularly similar to a scene from Park Chan-wook’s critically acclaimed film from 2003.

The pictures are meat and drink for the tabloids, although there's no unanimity on just how much of a part the film played in Cho Seung-hui's life. The Daily Express says: “His bloody mission was clearly influenced by a violent South Korean cult film.”

In the Daily Mail, Paul Harris writes: “In his twisted mind he carried images of a violent Korean movie that appears to have scripted his thoughts". Another scene from the movie shows a man holding a gun to his head as Cho does (seen right).

The Star simplifies things on behalf of its readers with the headline "MASSACRE OF MOVIE MANIAC" and a sidebar on “Copycat murder horrors”, while the Sun is more equivocal. It does, however, wander off on a tangent of description.

“It [the film] features scenes of tongue slitting, skull hammering, dental torture and someone eating a live octopus.”

For its parts, the Daily Mirror explicitly links the film and the actual nature of the violence, but attributes this tie to the US police.

New concerns of a link between violent films and real-life killers are the theme in the Daily Telegraph, where an opinion piece by culture select committee chairman Gerald Kaufman asks film-makers to consider their choice of themes more in a world where the line between media and reality is blurring.

The Mail's Stephen Glover is far more strident, attacking “Hollywood’s glamorising of brutal and conscience-less violence”. The fact the film in question is Korean is irrelevant, he says, as this culture has spread across the planet.

But if it appears the link to Oldboy is conclusive, some bloggers have been busy rubbishing the notion, noting there are no obvious cues in the plot. Indeed, Professor Paul Harrill, who teaches film and video at Virginia Tech and originally made the observation, has expressed scepticism in US papers, blaming "news outlets using a mass murderer's fantasies as sick spectacle and - let us never forget - as a source of revenue".

The film, as much inspired by Greek tragedy and revenge dramas like Titus Andronicus as any recent US films, is about a man imprisoned for many years who tracks down his captors. There is little analysis in any of the tabloids of the killer’s references to Jesus and crucifixion.

Across the week, the coverage has had to sustain itself with only a steady drip of facts. If nature abhors a vacuum, then journalism does so twice as much. In the absence of facts a welter of speculation and analysis is inevitable.

But there have been some columnists who have tried to see if there is any link to the UK. And others have attempted to understand why the US should be so afflicted by this particular form of tragedy.

In Tuesday’s Times, Gerard Baker talked of “American exceptionalism” noting the “country’s religiosity” and an “economic system that seems to tolerate vast disparities of income”.

His criticism of the media’s unsettling enthusiasm for statistical landmarks like the largest US school massacre is followed by a warning.

“Only an optimist would imagine Virginia Tech will hold the new record for very long.”

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