(Ab)normal: What We Can Learn from Elliot Rodger's Vlogs

So, I made the fateful decision of watching the youtube channel of Elliot Rodger, the kid who just went on a killing spree in California.


I think that police have already referred to him as a madman, and terms like 'lone assassin' are being thrown around, as they always are.  In some sense this is true, and obviously his actions are inexcusable.  However, the violence masks another serious issue, which is that loads of people on the internet agreed with him through liking his videos or leaving comments of agreement.  It is easy to pick apart one person and analyze their flaws and what led them to crack, and I am sure the media will do just that.  But in many ways, these videos are just extreme expressions of problems that exist for us as a society, and if Rodger hadn't shot people, most of us would just classify him as kind of an asshole; annoying, weird, but harmless.

First of all, let's address his intense hatred for women (especially blonde ones, it would seem).  The world is full of guys who understand equal rights and are respectful of women.  But equally well-represented is this phenomenon that has come to be called "rape culture."  I know that this term makes lots of people uncomfortable, and it should.  But no woman I have ever met hasn't been subject to some form, however minute, of this phenomenon.  I, myself, have been stopped twice on the street in the past week by male strangers telling me to smile.  I know I have bitchy resting face, people.  I know that.  I responded both times by briefly smiling because that's a lot fucking easier than getting into some feminist discourse, and I guarantee that if I had responded, I would have been called some variation of bitch.  But the messaging behind such statements is that, as a woman, I am valued for my appearance, the purpose of my appearance (the sole source of my worth) is to be pleasing to others, and if I am not pleasing to others I need to change.  Guess what?  That's the same messaging that Rodger is referencing when he talks about being disgusted by these beautiful girls walking around with losers or young couples kissing on the beach.

Next, there's his contention that his appearance and possessions alone should be enough to elicit someone's love.  He repeatedly refers to his good looks, his car, and his clothes as reasons why he should have a girlfriend.  He shouldn't have to be kind, he shouldn't have to empathize with others, he shouldn't have to be able to give love, because he has things.  Sure, you can say that I'm being a hippie, or hating on capitalism or something, but the simple truth remains: Americans are conditioned to view things and commodities as keys to happiness.  Listen, if you disagree, go watch Wolf of Wall Street and then come and talk to me.

Which brings me to the whole mental health thing.  We are so consumed by appearance and material in this society that we fail to recognize or adequately treat mental illness when it is staring us in the fucking face.  Yeah, he's saying some crazy, off-color shit, but he's doing it in a BMW and he attends college, and even though he's arousing some concern, he's polite and articulate when the police come check on him, so it's business as usual.  Somehow, he is able to purchase guns, in spite of the fact that watching a five-minute youtube video of him talking makes his psychological problems abundantly clear.

I don't want anyone to think that this is some sort of apologist essay.  It is not.  But every time something this horrible happens, it seems there are two reactions: there's no way we could have predicted this, and how could we not have caught this?  It's worth examining whether, by making sexual bias less acceptable, or teaching emotional literacy as well as math is schools, we could have predicted this tragedy.  It's worth examining whether stricter gun laws would have kept someone who frequently expressed hatred online from purchasing guns that he later used to shoot people.  It's worth realizing that this isn't a one-time thing, no matter how much we wish it were.  Violence happens at an alarming rate in the United States, and it is time for us, as a people, to stop acting like we have nothing to do with it.