By Doctor RJ for Daily Kos
Human relationships sometimes don’t make a lot of sense. But there’s nothing that says they have to be “fair.” All of us have dreams and desires for the lives we would like to experience and who we think we might want to experience those lives with. Society has a way of making value judgments about a person if they’re a virgin in their 20s or unmarried in their 30s. But the whims of the fates don’t always give us what we want or who we want. Most people don’t go on a shooting spree when they get turned down. However, some do.
As more details about the mass murders committed by Elliot Rodger near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara last Friday come to light, it’s renewed debates over gun access and whether or not Rodger’s is a symptom of a rape culture within the United States. Given the views expressed in Rodger’s manifesto and videos, the cup of blame has come around, as it often does, to wondering about the effects of pop-culture in this incident.
There have been various armchair psychiatrist explanations floated over the past 96 or so hours. Is this a reflection of a misogynistic male-dominated media that devalues women and results in shooting sprees and daily violence? To that end, is there an aspect to this where popular media has fostered a culture in which people have an unrealistic image of what love, relationships, masculinity and sex are supposed to be? Or is it just a situation where someone was in need of psychological help, didn’t get it, shouldn’t have had a gun and a calamity ensued?
I only have a minor in sociology and I’m not the type of “Doctor” that’s going to psychoanalyze someone based on YouTube videos, nor am I going to play that kind of doctor on the internet. However, I do think the broader issue is an interesting one.
From Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post:
As Rodger bemoaned his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire” and arrogantly announced that he would now prove his own status as “the true alpha male,” he unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA. For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
Hornaday’s column basically argues movies sell a myth that people believe the same way commercials sell toothpaste and fast food. And similar to critiques made by Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency and others, the stereotypes and tropes in those movies condition people to expect certain behaviors in the real world. Much has been made of Rodger’s connections to the “men’s rights movement” and the pick-up artist (PUA) community. And many see in those connections a culture of violence against women influenced by media stereotypes.The entertainment industry is male-dominated, and the majority of fiction created today is from the focus of a male character (see the Bechdel Test). In most movies and television programs, we are taught that “love conquers all.” In most love stories, persistence and patience eventually opens people’s eyes to the love of others that they couldn’t see. Even if they at first reject you, if you just stand outside their window playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” they’ll eventually see that you’re destined to be together. If that seems dangerously close to the mentality of most stalkers, that’s because it is.
Movies are also full of attractive female models, cute pseudo-nerd women and Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Usually those female characters exist to fulfill the male character’s journey in some way. The problem is those kind of characters have no goals themselves, and it leads to an expectation that women and relationships with women exist to complete a quest for sexual satisfaction or help a man toward peace of mind.
However, the flip-side of this argument is that a movie is a work of fiction and fantasy. If we’re going to say unrealistic depictions of romance are contributing to homicides, then I wince to think of all the damage the Cinderella story has done in its more than two-thousand-years of existence. The line of reasoning put forward by Hornaday and others is along the same lines of past debates over the effects of video games.The problem with that sort of explanation is that it constructs white, middle-class killers as victims of the power of media, rather than fully culpable criminals.
Ultimately, if a person has a problem differentiating between how things work in a romantic-comedy and how relationships work in the here and now, or they think getting someone to have sex works the same way as in the movies, the problem isn’t film. The problem is the mental health of the person. Furthermore, men have been treating women like crap long, long before widespread modern media. And men have been killing people over wounded pride and a sense of entitlement long before the development of the movie camera or celluloid.
It’s interesting that Hornaday chose Judd Apatow as an example for her column. Say what you want about Apatow’s films, but they’re usually about how the “shlubby arrested adolescent” characters have to grow up, be honest and face their faults to be happy and get the girl.Unless you’re the luckiest dude on the face of the Earth, at some point or another most men on this planet have faced rejection in love. Men can either accept the rejection, be introspective and move on. Or they stew, blame others and wallow in pity. The latter choice leads to people saying “hey, I’m a nice guy, I’m being rejected because I’m too nice, and these bitches and sluts only like assholes!” The problem with that sort of pick-up artist thinking of Alpha and Beta males is that it’s based on some iffy evolutionary psychology and it’s predicated on a sexist notion that women owe a man sex, companionship or a relationship for being “nice.” Part of equality is that women can be just as vain and shallow as men when it comes to picking a sex partner. And beyond that, most guys who fall back into “I’m not getting a partner because I’m too nice” have issues they don’t want to deal with, and blame rejection on women and being nice instead of making an honest assessment.
Some conservatives have even taken up the torch of buying into the “women like bad boys over nice guys” argument after the Isla Vista killings. Jack Cashill at the conservative magazine American Thinker blames feminism for Rodger’s “sickness.”
A generation or so ago a woman might have looked for a man who was kind, loving, pious, generous, faithful, hard working. The women in Rodger’s circle, as he saw it, looked for men who were hot, hunky and/or rich, none of which he was.Yes, there is a sickness afoot in the land, but feminists have no more hope of curing it with sexual harassment laws or enforced sensitivity training than Rodger did with his “day of retribution.”
The “sickness” was Rodger thinking because he drove a $40,000 BMW and wore $300 Giorgio Armani sunglasses it meant he automatically deserved to get laid because of it. And as much as Rodger railed against the cruelty of humanity and his rejection, I would bet dollars to donuts his anger didn’t come from a rejection by all women. It was that he was rejected by the women he thought he deserved.That sort of thinking didn’t come from feminists. And that sort of male privilege may very well be societal, but I don’t think its source was a movie.
John Lawrence says
As distorted as Rodger’s thinking was, his problem was basically existential. He could not get laid, and all his mental agonies built up from there. Half of his problem was that he was a virgin. That could have been solved quite easily. One of the positive aspects of prostitution is that it relieves that pressure cooker for single men who can’t find a girlfriend. The rest of his problem could have been solved by going about finding a girlfriend in a more constructive way. That’s where a good life coach could have helped him. Rodger could have been alright if at least one of those pressure cookers could have been relieved. Instead the problem festered and his inability to solve it build up to the point of no return. He even expressed hope at the last minute that he wouldn’t have to go through with it if his life could have changed.
Will Falk says
I think a radical feminist analysis has much to offer in understanding what happened here.
There is a war being waged on women. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a dominant narrative in the dominant culture is hatred of women. Derrick Jensen explains hatred best: “Any hatred felt long enough no longer feels like hatred, it feels like what passes in this culture for religion, economics, tradition, the erotic (each of these being toxic mimics of what they would be in a human culture). It feels like science. It feels like technology. It feels like civilization. It feels like the way things are.”
1 in 4 women are raped in their lifetimes, and another 1 in 5 fend off rape attempts. A woman is battered every 15 seconds in this country. It’s one of the leading causes of death and injury for women. The amount of people watching porn – and now hardcore porn – is skyrocketing.
As Robert Jensen (no relation to DJ) has argued so wonderfully, porn is the death of empathy. “The privileges that come with being a man in patriarchy had undermined his capacity to empathize, allowing the sexual pleasure he felt to override his humanity and making it difficult for him to put himself in the place of a woman experiencing overtly cruel and degrading treatment.”
So, while Rodger’s words and actions seem more extreme than those of other men, they are hardly unusual. Killing women because they won’t have sex with you is just a step farther than beating a woman because she won’t act the way you want her to is just a step farther than watching two men penetrate a woman in the anus and vagina because a woman’s body is, after all, something to use. And we paid her for it didn’t we??
Rodger’s basic problem was entitlement. It’s the same with men who rape. It’s the same with pornographers. As long as we have a society and institutions (porn, some versions of Christianity/Islam, the anti-choice movement, the SDPD) that prop up a man’s entitlement over a woman’s fundamental right to her own body, we will continue to have mass murders like this.
Some will shy away from such a big problem and offer solutions like “Rodger just needed to get laid.” But, what about the woman who has sex with Rodger? Prostitution, in my opinion, cannot be the answer because prostitution props up male entitlement. A woman’s body is objectified, she needs money due to the insane living conditions established by capitalism, so she yields herself to Rodger who, due to his privilege, has money and a deep hatred of women.
If no woman will freely (FREELY!) have sex with Rodger, then too bad. We simply cannot capitulate to abusers because we’re scared of them. That only makes the problem worse.
bob dorn says
I’m wondering if Sex and Women are being overplayed here. His first three victims were males, weren’t they? If you argue that he killed them because they were getting laid and he wasn’t, then you’re taking a step away from saying he was killing women because they weren’t screwing him.
There’s more fascination and fodder for speculation because No Name left a “manifesto.” Ooh… now there’s a big word. It encourages analysis.
No Name was pretty, privileged and being rewarded by parents with commercial goods. He watched violent video games. And he seemed proud of himself, if the “manifesto” is to be trusted. He seems to have been a No Name against his will. A lot of privileged No Names are resentful of others’ successes, not just with their sexualized objects but with other objectives, like, say, money and power. Let me quote the author:
“The problem with that sort of explanation is that it constructs white, middle-class killers as victims of the power of media, rather than fully culpable criminals.”
It’s a good thing No Name is dead. If he were alive these long-distance psychoanalyses might be continued until the next freak tries to prove he’s superman.
Will Falk says
Great article by Gail Dines about the connection between porn, misogyny, and Elliot Rodger.
“The more I read about Rodger’s unspeakable acts, the more enraged I become with the unwillingness of the mainstream feminist movement to take on the elephant in the room: a well resourced, multi-billion dollar a year industry that doesn’t just produce misogyny, but actually ties it to male arousal and ejaculation.”
“While most social and political institutions create woman-hating ideology, name one other that delivers it in such a crisp, succinct, unambiguous manner. Name one other cultural institution that prides itself on torturing women as its raison d’être. Porn is now the major form of sex education in the western world, and it produces an ideology that makes women seem disposable “sluts” who are undeserving of dignity, bodily integrity, or the slightest shred of empathy. Whatever psychological disorders Rodger had, he was sane enough to internalize the pornographic ideologies so perfectly embodied in Facial Abuse and the thousands of other websites that tell the same story.”