Elliot Rodger was both pathetic and terrifying. The strange sub-culture that produced him was certainly the former. He showed that, at its most extreme, it could be the latter, too.
Lethal shootings are dismayingly common in the gun fetishist US, and, as grim as it is to say it, the one perpetrated by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista, California last month was actually quite mild by American standards. South Korean student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech back in 2007. 20 year-old Adam Lanza slew 26, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut in 2012. Elliot Rodger killed six.
Let’s deal with the morally obvious first. Each one of those six deaths was a calamity. Young, flourishing, entirely blameless human beings were ripped away from everyone that ever cared for and relied on them, and out of the only existences they’d ever have, by a psychopath with a Glock 34. Just because we live in a world where lunatics with guns can kill dozens, wars kill hundreds of thousands and poverty, starvation and preventable disease kills millions, that still doesn’t mean that each and every premature death isn’t incomprehensibly tragic. The death toll might’ve been relatively small. And it could’ve been much higher – police found over 400 rounds of ammunition in Rodger’s crashed BWM coupe, along with three semi-automatic pistols and Elliot himself, dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound. But for us, and a lot of other people on both sides of the pond, it seems, this was one of the most profoundly chilling incidents we’ve ever looked into. Believing that it’s better to face horrible things in the hope of understanding them, we watched his final message to the world, ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’. Undoubtedly, it’s among the most frightening things we’ve ever seen. It’s just a five minute YouTube video of a baby-faced young man sat at the wheel of his parked car, sunset on his face, monologuing to camera. But the things he says are just mind-bendingly, inexpressibly deranged.
He wants revenge on humanity because he’s a 22 year-old virgin, and women don’t like him. Women deny him the attention, the pleasure, the ‘adoration’ they lavish on the popular kids. And he’s genuinely baffled at being passed up. He doesn’t just feel he deserves it – clearly, he feels entitled to it.
‘You girls have never been attracted to me … I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime … I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the perfect gentleman. I will punish all of you for it’. ‘On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house at UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut I see … Now I will be a god compared to you, and you will be animals … and I’ll slaughter you like animals … The popular kids, you never accepted me, and now you will all pay for it. Girls, all I ever wanted was to love you, be loved by you. I wanted sex, love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of you. That’s a crime I can never get over. If I can’t have you girls, I will destroy you’.
Then he does the cheesiest, faux-villainous chuckle, and your brain does backflips to try and block it out. Everything about it, the sneering tone of voice, the Hans Gruber diction, the pouting to camera, is so hackneyed and stereotypical. It’s like a panto baddie’s audition tape. It’s repulsive and horrifying and unutterably pathetic all at the same time. Except he means absolutely everything he says. A few hours later, six people were dead.
Elliot Rodger the rampage killer represented a grisly collision between utter self-absorption, lack of empathy and repulsive misogyny, all magnified by genuine mental illness. In the days since, there’s been a tendency to latch on to one or other of these attributes and try and explain him with it. But you can’t understand the man and what he did without appreciating them all in tandem. The vast majority of mentally ill people wouldn’t deliberately hurt anyone. Most angry male chauvinists manage to vent their frustrations without resorting to gun violence. Narcissists might be manipulative and deeply unpleasant, but they tend to resist doing drive-bys on innocent bystanders.
And yet, undoubtedly, it’s the sheer extent of his misogyny that stands Elliot Rodger out from America’s depressingly lengthy list of solipsistic mass murderers. He passionately, obsessively hated the young women who weren’t interested in him, and the men they were. And that hate didn’t come from nowhere. Rodger might have been sick, but the culture he was a part of was sick too – a culture that gave him the intolerant, embittered view of the world that being ill could then push to murderous extremes.
Which would be a nice ham-fisted segue into lambasting American culture at large – as irrationally fixated with guns and upsettingly backward in its treatment of women. It is both those things, of course. But we’re referring to a very specific culture. A sub-culture of a sub-culture would be more accurate. It’s something The Bemolution has seen a fair bit of over the years (as a reasonably geeky entity more than lightly touched by the ugly stick), albeit in an infinitely milder form than Elliot Rodger demonstrated.
But it’s also easy to see how the attitude in question could be twisted into something dangerous, especially by someone unhinged. For want of a better term, we’ll call it nerd supremacism. Thankfully, it’s become increasingly acceptable to be a bit alternative over the past two decades or so. Computer geeks like Bill Gates and Zuckerberg rule the world. Liking Buffy the Vampire Slayer and knowing who Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton are is reasonably fashionable is certain sectors. But there’s still a dark, deeply unpleasant side to some geeky outsider culture – especially male geeky outsider culture.
Often, it’s stoked by people who are justifiably angry after years of bullying. But they take it too far. Embittered by years of having to live on the fringes, some outsider-types develop a lingering hatred for the mainstream kids. It sounds daft to say it, but really they’ve been radicalised by their experiences. They take some quite insightful critiques of the stiflingly conventional – their brashness, their dumb materialism, their superficiality – and stitch it into a horribly elitist worldview. The popular, attractive, sporty kids are all scum, the righteous outsiders decide. They themselves, by implication, are inherently superior. We’ve seen nerdy kids raging against the ‘chavs’ and ‘the in-breds’, declaring they should all be shot, herded into camps, forcibly sterilised.
Unlike the Elliot Rodgerses of the world, they don’t actually mean it. But they’re irrationally angry, and women often get the worst of it. Essentially, like Rodger, the blokes in question are torn up by their lack of success with the fairer sex. Because women they find attractive tend to not find them attractive, they begin to bitterly resent the female half of humanity. They’re sluts, they’re whores, they’re nymphomaniacs. They’re sex-mad harlots or brainless bimbos, passing up substance and sensitivity for empty-headed good looks, gorilla-like jocks and vacuous pretty-boys. The fact the angry, lonely young men attack womankind for its supposed promiscuity when their whole problem is that women don’t want to have sex with them is an irony that few of the gentlemen in question are self-reflexive enough to acknowledge.
Quite a few seem to grow out of it. For others, it softens, just a little, with age. But just the other day, we were watching some YouTube video or other featuring two men in their early thirties, ostensibly talking about video games but often rambling off onto more psychologically revealing topics. ‘Women’ and relationships soon cropped up. Yes, it was more subtle than you’d get it from a lot of younger angry young nerds. But as they lamented their lack of action on the bedroom front, they could barely contain the bitterness whenever they talked about women.
All these people, whether they’re the type who harmlessly fume in their bedrooms or end up venting their disenchantment out of the barrel of a Sig-Sauer p226, are looking at reality wrong. Rather than treating life as a messy, shapeless, spasming by-product of physics and biology which human beings only semi-successfully try and impose some kind of order on, they look at it like it’s a little story, with them as the main character. Most people have, at least at some point in their lives, a sexual partner, and a great many of them go on to have full-blown spouses and rosy happy families and sire some offspring.
The logical error comes when just because that’s the case, you assume you are entitled to any of those things. It might happen, it might not. If it doesn’t, it might just be bad luck. It might be the nature of your job, or something to do with where you live. And it might be something to with you – how you look, or, as the nerd supremacists really need to keep in mind, how you act, your attitudes, how you treat people. What it emphatically doesn’t come down to is society failing to ‘provide’ for you, or some profound character flaw in the people you want to fancy you but don’t.
The universe doesn’t owe you anything, or give a monkey’s about your existence for that matter. The Bemolution is all about arguing that society, human civilisation, owes every person alive a lot more than it gives them at the moment – food, water, stability, comfortable shelter, rewarding work , leisure time, free healthcare and other things. Sex unequivocally isn’t one of them.