Like many teenage boys, I squandered too much of my youth wondering why girls did not find me as attractive as I would have liked. It seemed odd at the time, but is understandable now. I was a bit odd, and wore strange clothes. Thankfully, I was not as strange as Elliot Rodger, and did not blame women for preferring other men. The lovelorn and resentful messages that he scattered across body-building and “pick-up artist” forums would have made him seem like a spoof of wannabe Casanovas had he not filmed a bizarre video titled “Retribution” and killed seven women in a drive-by shooting. His failure to attract a girlfriend was, he said, “cruel”, “unfair”, “a crime” and deserving of punishment.
This Californian student was the child of an assistant director of The Hunger Games, and lived an opulent lifestyle with expensive cars and invitations to premieres. His life, though, was isolated and intensely narcissistic. His Facebook page is crammed with selfies, few of which inspired responses. He posted long videos to YouTube, in which he lamented the “hell” that his life had become. In a manifesto, which starts like Adrian Mole and becomes more like Mein Kampf, he tells of soaking couples with coffee and juice after they inspired his envy.
The constant theme is his outraged mystification at his failure to appeal to girls. That bitter, melodramatic narcissism might be off-putting never seems to have occurred to the man.
I commented on Twitter that he exemplified the evils of self-pity, but the estimable religious commentator Elizabeth Stoker noted that this could be seen as the self-pity of evil. Debate the meaning of this term all you want, but people who love inflicting pain are often united by the belief that they have been oppressed through no fault of their own. Think of genocidaires like the bad Austrian artist, for whom anything that was not the fault of the Jews was the fault of Slavs or homosexuals; gangsters like Pablo Escobar and Toto Riina, who could slay dozens in bombs yet gripe the moment that police caught them; murderers like Eric Harris, who, far from being the rebel that some would have liked him to be, signed off his manifesto with a note of hatred for those who had “[left him] out of so many fun things”. So inflated is their opinion of their own entitlement that any failure for their ambitions to be met is an outrage deserving of any form of revenge.
“Pick-up artists” will receive a lot of criticism in the coming days – of, doubtless, varying degrees of justice. Posters on the forums that Rodgers griped on treated him with short shrift but my limited exposure to their outlets suggests that a lot of men find them congenial places to wallow in bitter gloom over their failure to convince ungrateful harlots of their worth. What drives this? Fredrik deBoer blames “traditional masculinity”, or, at least, modern efforts to re-enact it. Well, for me, traditional manhood was expressed through caring for one’s family and being a decent part of one’s neighbourhood. Building one’s self-image around one’s ability to carve as many notches in one’s bedpost as is possible has nothing to do with this. Sexual solipsism is a cold, unpleasant thing.
Update: After publishing this post I remembered the theory that one of the most significant factors behind spree killings may be coverage of the murderers. It is extremely plausible. Such killers are often desperate for infamy and giving them attention might inspire others. Few people read this blog and none of them, I think, are potential gunmen, so I do not think it is irresponsible to keep this post. It is sad, though, to see Rodger’s mug plastered across the news, and to think that it might be stoking the flames within another disturbed mind.