On May 23, a 22-year old California student killed six people and injured seven while rampaging through a college town. He has been identified as Elliot Rodger, the son of “Hunger Games” assistant director Peter Rodger. Elliot died at the scene of the crime from what looks like a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Police are calling this the work of a “madman,” but I object to the term. It’s clear that Elliot was disturbed, but calling someone insane too quickly dismisses the influence that society/family life might have had on his decisions. No one is just born a “madman.” As a child of the Internet age, Elliot has left us with a bizarre and distressing saga through message boards, Youtube videos, and book-length “manifesto” that details why a person would go on a killing rampage.
After reading excerpts from Elliot’s internet use (which includes racist rants such as expressing outrage over seeing a black man with four “hot, white girls,” and saying that “Asian men can’t get white women”), I was really interested in seeing what in his life might have spurned on this intense hatred. I began to read his manifesto.
The first impression I had of Elliot was his strange arrogance. He spends a good length of time on each of his years, even from when he was a baby to about four, years which most of us do not remember well. He recounts specific memories of being upset about when another child was given the first piece of cake at Elliot’s birthday, and brags about being a “world traveler” at such a young age. He is obsessed with how “innocent” he was as a child, how “happy.” The first trauma he recounts is when he was about seven, when his parents divorced. He also expresses how when his father remarried relatively quickly, he was impressed with his father’s ability to find another woman in such short a time.
The rest of Elliot’s earlier youth seems fairly normal, although he is clearly very privileged, though unaware of it. He spends a lot of time describing the various video games and vacations he is given, as well as the various houses his parents live in. In middle school, Elliot becomes obsessed with being popular and writes about all the tricks he learns to try and fit in, which includes bleaching his hair, taking up skateboarding and then hacky-sack. It seems that he was relatively successful, though he seems to underemphasis this. He talks about several friends and how he was welcomed into the “cooler groups,” but is fixated on how isolated he still feels. When puberty hits, things start to get weird.
Elliot sees other boys getting attention from girls and is filled with raging jealousy. He doesn’t understand why these girls pick “bastards” over him. The first year of high school was rough for Elliot; he describes being bullied, have rumors spread about him, and not having friends at his new school. His parents allow him to leave this school after freshman year. Around this time, Elliot becomes obsessed with the game World of Warcraft, where he feels more important, but still isolated by even his Internet friends. At 17, Elliot decides the only way to obtain “justice” for his loneliness is to take violent action.
I skipped ahead at this point, to college. Elliot moves into a frat dorm intent on losing his virginity. It does not happen. Elliot’s anger escalates. He describes an incident where, drunk, he observes frat brothers standing on a ledge with girls and partying loudly. Furious, Elliot charges at them, targeting the women, and attempts to push people off the 10-foot ledge. Elliot is then attacked, having his leg broken, and sunglasses and necklace stolen. The next day, Elliot lies to the police and says he was attacked for acting “cocky” and wants those responsible to be punished. Elliot seems aware that what he did would get him in trouble, but believes that he is still the “true” victim. At this point, Elliot decides it’s time to bring about the “Day of Retribution.” He does not intend to come out of it alive.
Elliot is clearly an extreme narcissist. He is fixated on how “unfair” and “unjust” his life is, about how “evil” his peers are, when really what he is describing is not uncommon. Who hasn’t had sucky teenage years? Lots of kids are bullied, many much worse than Elliot, and they don’t go off on shooting sprees. So why did Elliot? He truly believes that what is happening to him is the worst thing any human could endure and that is justifies mass slaughter. That is not normal.
I don’t think society can be blamed for what happened, but it definitely played a part. Elliot is obsessed with sex and that somehow that is what gives him worth, so when he is not able to get a girlfriend and have sex, his world falls apart. Today’s culture is similarly focused. Men are expected to lose their virginity at a young age and engage in lots of sexual activity while in college. TV, movies, and music paints the ideal young American male as confident and athletic, with his pick of women. On the opposite side you have “losers,” who are socially inept, rejected by women, and therefore ripe for the mockery. If a young man does not lose his virginity at the ideal time, he is taught to live in fear of never becoming an adult.
Women are tools for this entry into manhood. From a young age, boy (and girls) are bombarded with images of female sexuality. Magazine covers, TV shows, commercials, Internet ads, billboards, movies..essentially every kind of media has bought fully into the lie that “sex sells.” And that’s not even counting porn, whose effect on people is something that psychologists, parents, and lawmakers alike fight over. Girls (especially “party girls” who are part of Greek life) are expected to be gentle with male egos and readily available for sex. Elliot being a virgin is because he was “deprived” of sex, it was something he was entitled to and when it didn’t happen, it was a great injustice. Elliot watches these “party girls” drink and flirt with other men and is filled with hatred at both, though he specifically says he hates the girls more. Elliot sees another child getting a piece of cake, one that he sees as belonging to him, and he is furious. Elliot believes women are the root of evil and depraved beasts, an extreme version of blaming Eve for bringing evil into the world.
Seeing no other options, Elliot sought to destroy that which he couldn’t have. It’s a bizarre, movie-like scenario and Elliot’s writing reads like a dark novel from an author who can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. There was something clearly wrong with Elliot. That, and the pressure of societal expectations of male and female roles, created a killer. God help us all. We need to learn from this and not just write Elliot off as another crazy kid with a gun. He is representative of something much more sinister and engrained in our society. He calls women “a plague,” but his hatred is a plague, and plagues spread.