Big Smoke

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Art Reflects Life Reflects Art

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There is a flurry of controversial accusations surrounding Elliot Rodger’s murderous stampede in Isla Vista, California. Between his printed manifesto, his YouTube videos, his posts on Men’s Rights Activist websites and forums, and the circumstances around his parents, psychotherapy and police scrutiny, there is indeed a lot of fodder for speculation, and multiple conclusions to be gotten from his actions.

The Misogyny Angle

Almost immediately after the publication of his manifesto, where he blames women as a whole for many of his frustrations, both feminist and anti-feminist organizations have taken to social media to either defend or indict him on those lines: The #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter took off, in response to comments online from men arguing that Rodger’s actions didn’t reflect that of all men (partly under the Twitter tag #NotAllMen). Correct, they replied, not all men act like that, but all women experience men like that.

Some MRA sites, including those Rodger frequented, go one step further in identifying with Rodger’s sexual frustrations. One poster on such a site argued,

More people will die unless you give men sexual options.

Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging him to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution—three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur. Even game itself, as useful as it is on a individual level, is a band-aid fix upon a culture which has stopped rewarding nice guys while encouraging female whoring to benefit only the top 10% of alpha males, all in the name of societal progress.

The misogyny rather speaks for itself, and continues to argue that Rodger represents a “beta male” mindset, using the terminology of such subcultures, which necessarily puts emotional relationships on a confrontational and competitive stance. Indeed, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post pointed towards the filmographies of men like Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, whose careers center around a basic story line:

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”?

Both Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow angrily absolved themselves on Twitter, making an argument akin to video game developers’ long-standing stance that violent first-person shooters are not directly responsible for tragic events like school shootings.

The Privilege Angle

Much attention was given to the “welfare checks” the police made on Rodger that failed to discover either the weapons stockpiles he had accumulated or his ravings on social media. According to Santa Barbara’s sheriff Bill Brown,

At the time the deputies interacted with him, he was able to convince them that he was OK. […] When you read his autobiography and the manifesto that he wrote, it’s very apparent that he was able to convince many people for many years that he didn’t have this deep, underlying, obvious mental illness that ultimately manifested itself in this terrible tragedy.

Brown admitted that Rodger had seen a variety of psychiatric professionals who concluded he had serious issues, but was yet deemed copacetic enough neither to be held against his will on what is known as a 5150 – an involuntary psychiatric hold – nor to be denied the purchase of three semi-automatic pistols and several hundred rounds of ammunition.

This prompted a bevy of speculation as to what appears to be a fairly comprehensive social safety net simply not giving any real scrutiny to what is, in hindsight, an obvious threat prior to the slayings. The most common complaint is that it was – ironically, considering his manifesto – his social status as a well-to-do white male that protected him.

Even now, after the event, most media coverage is predicated on his mental health rather than simply labeling him a sociopath and a murderer. The anger of the victims’ families, putting emphasis on issues of gun control and law enforcement, are not given quite as much coverage as the speculation as to his exact mental illness. The newfound emphasis on psychological screening and psychiatric care is certainly warranted, but as with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, an outsize level of care is given to determining their mental state compared to those of a different ethnic or economic background.

The Sociopathy Angle

Indeed, all this culminates into prescriptions for gun control, for mental health screening, for enhanced psychiatric care, and for a sociological look at the origins and promotions of what constitutes ‘rape culture’ as well as the culture of violence.

To return to Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, while the argument that the genre of “man-child gets the hot chick” films are directly responsible is akin to arguing that ‘cryptofascist FPS gunporn’ is responsible for school shootings is facile, the indirect relationship is perhaps more worthy of investigation: For instance, as First Person Shooters may be indirectly responsible, through providing a desensitization to violence especially if projected via a filter of “it’s not really happening here” and a drumbeat promotion of solving issues through violence, for public support for pointless foreign wars – as it is clear that public support drops precipitously when conscription starts, as the war then becomes “real” – so too perhaps might man-child films have an indirect influence for public complacency around emotionally-stunted men.

Elliot Rodger, after all, certainly did not lack for human contact. He was not a complete shut-in, which means that there are a number of ostensibly well-adjusted men who have had dealings with him but for whom his actions did not raise enough warning bells to prompt action. Just as the police who knocked on his door simply took his word for it, so have many people who might have received hints as to his character but explained them away and thus allowed him to continue his dysfunctional ministrations.

Similarly, if one believes that art can make a difference – and how could one not and still choose to become an artist – then at least some attention must be given to what sort of message is imparted. This is, of course, an issue that all writers must tangle with: The necessary glamorization of a project to make it palatable to a mass audience can end up tainting the final message. “All these accoutrements of the rich are superficial and cold,” says F Scott Fitzgerald, “yeah, but they sound beautiful” read his readers, who then stage ‘Gatsby parties.’ The incongruity can be cause for lament for some artists, but in this age of immediate and pertinent feedback, Apatow and others still keep making the same movie.

If Ann Hornaday had a point, it came with Rogen and Apatow’s angry responses, for while there is no direct cause and effect between their genre of films and rape culture, their utter unrepentant stance implies and gives credence to the idea that there is some correlative connection. This is perhaps too strong an indictment of any one piece of mass media – and would indeed give such content purveyors too much credit to call them culture guardians – but society made Elliot Rodger, and society must do some soul-searching in order to that it may not make another.

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