The media frenzy over the UCSB shooting frenzy

Gun play

Gun play

The University of California Santa Barbara killings by Elliot Rodger should have unleashed a unified national outcry to break the mental illness/gun accessibility chain, as exhibited by Richard Martinez, father of one of Elliot’s victims, Chris Martinez. Instead, some feminist writers have gone off on a tangent that has led to a separate media frenzy. From slamming so-called “pickup artists” to blaming the shootings on Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow movies, these articles appear to glom existing feminist theories onto a tragedy, or worse, as Judd Apatow tweeted about Ann Hornaday‘s Washington Post article, “She uses tragedy to promote herself with idiotic thoughts.” In this case, such theories are woefully off base, and threaten to drive a wedge between men and women on an issue on which we all should agree.

First of all, the premise about Elliot Rodger only targeting women is wrong on its face, given that four of the people six Elliot killed were male. Second, for thousands of years, most men have had one or more periods of being unsuccessful at wooing women. Yet most men don’t go around killing people because of this longing. On the contrary, some of the greatest creative bursts in history, whether in songwriting (“Jessie’s Girl,” “Knights in White Satin”), poems, books, plays, etc. have resulted from men’s inability to attract the women of their dreams, and vice versa. Here’s one website with 241 book quotes about “unrequited love.” Other guys have sought self-improvement and social interaction through means from online dating to yoga classes (lopsided female/male ratio), makeovers, self-help books, Meetup groups, learning to play the guitar, and advancing in their careers, all to try to attract more women.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Elliot made any efforts to improve himself and his ability to meet women. Instead, Elliot’s autobiographical “manifesto” talked of preening and passively sitting at tables, showing up at parties or walking the streets, waiting for women to approach him rather than having the courage to approach them. As Cervantes wrote in “Don Quixote” 400 years ago, “faint heart never won fair lady.” Elliot also admitted to spending most of his teen years obsessively playing computer and video games like World of Warcraft, choosing instead to hate and envy the boys who were good with girls, and to resent the fact that women weren’t handed to him on a silver platter like his BMW or the many things his parents bought him for the asking.

Third, contrary to the theory that Elliot was following the advice of “pickup artists” (“PUAs”), Elliot posted regularly on a website called PUAHate, which, as its name indicates, attacks rather than adores the methods that the “pickup artists” use to attract women and that the feminist writers hate so much. Indeed, the very name PUAHate implies that the focus of this website is hating on the men who identify themselves as PUAs. Moreover, Elliot writes that he only discovered PUAHate and its lingo in the past couple of years, well after he evidenced severe anti-social problems. The PUAHate site has since been taken down.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Elliot’s problems with people began at a very early age, way before he knew about women, pickup artists or the Internet. As early as 4th grade, Elliot had conflicts with his stepmother, who he says made him eat “foul-tasting soup” as a punishment. Elliot was also the product of a divorce, and moved to different schools, starting out as the shy “new kid” more than once. He was also small in stature, “physically weak,” and felt racially isolated due to his Eurasian heritage. He wrote that, while in 5th grade, “I was still quite the outcast, as I always will be.” In 6th grade, wrote Elliot, “My mother and father both showed concern that I wasn’t making any friends.” Elliot also wildly overreacted to small incidents, such as when a girl he accidentally bumped into when he was 11 got mad at him. Elliot wrote that this little incident not only ruined his entire summer camp for him that year, “it ruined a part of my life.” Elliot also wrote that he “started to act weird” and “became the weird kid” in middle school, caring only about World of Warcraft. At 16, Elliot had a suicidal breakdown in front of a group of people. He never heard of lottery tickets until he was 18. Elliot’s mother had to hire “social skills counselors” for him.

While few people writing about this tragedy knew Elliot Rodger, it appears that his root problem wasn’t woman-hating any more than the disgruntled, depressed employee who “goes postal” and kills his male boss in a workplace shooting is a man-hater. Indeed, Elliot’s manifesto is extremely misanthropic rather than simply being misogynistic. He complains about boys who bullied him in high school, including one “evil bastard.” Another male former friend became his “bitter enemy” and “a disgusting and treacherous little bastard” after becoming popular. Elliot wanted to “wage a war against all women and the men they are attracted to.” He writes:

The world truly is a brutal place, where man must fight a bitter struggle against all other men to reach the top. Humans are nothing but vicious beasts in a jungle.

And Elliot says in his last video:

I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species…. And all of you men, for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men, I hate you.

This is a kid who, without the right mental health treatment and supervision, proper medication or even hospitalization, seemed destined from an early age to cause a tragedy. Indeed, his father, Peter Rodger, even called the police to check up on Elliot last month, and Elliot had at least two previous incidents with the police this year.

At the same time, Elliot felt entitled to women, and unjustifiably so, given his lack of efforts to attract them. But it wasn’t the delusional entitlement of the misogynist male. It was the narcissistic entitlement of the spoiled child whose parents always bought him everything he wanted, who never worked a day in his life until age 18, who said he “would never perform a low-class service job,” and who, in his own words, “didn’t want to grow up.”

The issue here is simple: mental illness plus easy accessibility of guns. Elliot had 3 semi-automatic handguns — all legally registered to him — with him at the time of the shooting. Elliot had a long history of mental problems, was seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist, admitted numerous times in his manifesto that he suffered from “social anxiety,” and was demonstrably suicidal. According to his own family, Elliot was on the autism scale and had Asperger’s Syndrome. He was on at least two medications for his condition. Americans should be asking: How did Elliot get these guns? Did his parents, friends and roommates know he had them? If so, what did they do to get the guns out of Elliot’s hands? Who really was keeping an eye on Elliot, after he raised one red flag after another to the people around him for much of his life?

This is an all-too familiar pattern that involves not just Elliot Rodger, but also Adam Lanza (Newtown, CT), Ivan Lopez (Fort Hood, TX), Jared Lee Loughner (Tuscon, AZ) and other mass shooters who had a demonstrated history of mental health issues. The answer is to break this chain between mental illness and easy gun accessibility, not to try to start a new war between the sexes.

Photo by David Lytle, used under Creative Commons license.

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