A 22-year-old became the latest perpetrator of a “shooting rampage” this weekend when he killed six people before dying of a gunshot wound to the head. He claimed he was taking revenge on women for a life of sexless scorn. Well, if I were a virgin at 22, I’d be angry too. But I’ll let you into a secret: in no meaningful way was this killer a misogynist, as some are claiming. He was simply insane.
It isn’t hard to imagine why Elliot Rodger struggled with girls. He was a pretty boy but self-conscious, theatrical and obviously disturbed. Despite his own protestations, he was an archetypal beta male: insecure, socially awkward and obsessed with the fantasy worlds of video games and science fiction movies.
It’s those movies and games that provided the contextual framework for his crimes, not the “entrenched misogyny” that feminist campaigners are now jubilantly fingering. He modelled himself–particularly his camp, affected YouTube persona–on the loner protagonists of the video games with which he was obsessed and the sci-fi movies his father directed.
If you close your eyes while listening to his creepy, narcissistic videos, it’s almost as if you’re listening to the pre-game voiceover from any one of a thousand violent computer games, such as Duke Nukem or Grand Theft Auto. The reason Rodger’s over-rehearsed, pantomime villain chuckles and talk of “retribution” are so unsettling is that they remind us of these fictional bad guys.
It’s clear what’s going on: for this dorky loner, video games had become an alternate reality in a terrifyingly literal sense. Fantasy had bled into the real world, inspiring and structuring his violent fantasies. Counterstrike, which together with Halo and the ubiquitous World of Warcraft are mentioned frequently in Rodger’s manifesto, is the classic frustrated sociopath’s pastime.
And here’s where we get into controversial territory. For, as much as Rodger himself banged on about his hatred of women and his desire to punish them, both in his videos and the extraordinary manifesto he left behind, his lack of sexual experience wasn’t really the point at all.
The aetiology of Rodger’s crimes is more simple: he was psychologically damaged, unable to respond to trauma in a normal way and determined to hurt the world he felt had injured him. It becomes increasingly clear as you read his manifesto, which is riddled with racism as well as apparent sexism, that any target would have sufficed.
It just happened to be women that served as a proxy for his pain–something Rodger himself admitted: “Women represent everything that is unfair with this world,” he wrote, before he went on a killing spree that resulted in more male deaths than female. A strange sort of misogyny, that. (Let’s also not forget that he killed three of his male victims with a knife, a much more “intimate” version of murder that has even led some to speculate about his sexuality.)
“Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species,” Rodger says in his most infamous video. It’s a chilling echo of the psycho protagonists of the games he played, and a reminder that Rodger hated everyone around him, not just women. Like so many serial killers before him, he had come to view his own species, through the lens of self-loathing, as repugnant.
Rodger’s twisted view of the world was assembled piecemeal from the games he immersed himself in. His meticulously rehearsed YouTube videos directly plagiarised video games, in particular World of Warcraft: his retribution and “mountain of skulls” routine is lifted directly from the current boss of that game, Garrosh Hellscream. Fragments of game dialogue are quoted verbatim in his manifesto.
So why fixate on women? Well, sexual confidence is one of the ordinary anxieties everyone has: fear of “the other,” as social scientists call it. The popular press is gifted at exploiting these fears–as is mental illness, which fixates on obvious insecurity. Anxieties about those of other sexes, sexual orientations and races are often crudely labeled “Right-wing” by snobbish metropolitan newspapers.
What is remarkable, and sad, about Rodger’s response to his alienation is that he fixated on games rather than his dad’s films. His father was involved in the production of the Hunger Games movie series, a film arc that represents the triumph of passionate, pacifist, wronged geek over sociopathic, athletic jock. In responding to his damage as he did, Rodger became that which he professed to hate: the anarchic, preening bully.
So it is the games we should look to for insight into his condition. It’s understandable that after a tragedy those left should seek answers–and depressingly predictable that the feminist Left should seize on his manifesto as further ammunition for their insatiable, misandristic war of attrition. But no one is served by the delusion that so-called “everyday sexism” is spilling over into murderous rampages. There is a colossal gulf between casual sexism–what some call “old-fashioned” attitudes to women’s roles in society–and what Rodger did.
To debate Rodger in terms of misogyny is to purposefully misunderstand why he killed, in furtherance of political ends, and to rob us as a society of the ability to stop other damaged individuals from committing such horrible acts. It is a self-defeating, bigoted and hateful response to a horrible tragedy.
So ignore the shoddy, opportunistic posturing from feminists about Rodger’s crimes. It’s the blurring of fantasy and reality in today’s video game-obsessed young men that’s the real enemy. If there’s a cultural milieu that contributed to the creation of Elliot Rodger, it was that of nihilistic video games, not the myth of patriarchal oppression.