Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting to the Core of the Elliot Rodger Shooting

Some people know that Elliot Rodger is the son of Hunger Games co-director, Peter Rodger. What people mostly know him for though is the event in which he shot innocent people and in turn, took his own life. An event like this breathes tragedy. It is an event that is linked to other tragic events, like a paper chain you make in kindergarten. Suddenly people are linking this event to other really horrible events like Columbine and Sandy Hook. They are linked by tragedy but can easily be separated just by tearing the paper. This chain leads to popular thoughts such as the rapture is near and the end of the world will soon be upon us. I'm sure the new movie adaption of the popular (but God awful) book series, Left Behind, will only add to this chain or for some people complete the chain. People will also go to lengths to shake their heads and comment on how effed up our country is. Instead of trying to understand the situation, they act superior to the event altogether.
But there is a lot more to this story and Elliot that people aren't taking into account. Almost every article and opinion piece I have heard or read has taken a different approach to this event and often these approaches are polar opposites. It is almost as if people are arguing about what describes a blueberry Popsicle. "It's blue!" some say. "It's cold," others retort. Well yes, those are both right answers but blue and cold isn't exactly what a blueberry Popsicle is. The same can be said about this situation.
In this post I am going to attempt to flesh out Elliot Rodger and what he did in a non-biased way. I will try to address every single aspect of his story and ask for forgiveness if I miss something. A fair warning that this will be a long blog.
I did a bit of background research on Elliot to see what his life was like before all of this happened. My research wasn't digging too deep but just enough to get an overview. Elliot's parents are different races - his father, the Hunger Games co-director Peter Rodgers, is white and his mother is Asian. Elliot's multiracial background is said by some to have played a big part in his earthly struggles. Elliot was also taking a drug called Alprazolam, also known as Xanax. Apparently he was addicted to this anxiety drug, though that could just be a dramatic fabrication by reporters seeking more readership. Either way, he was taking the drug but it didn't seem to be helping him and what he did supports that hypothesis. Before Elliot went on his slaughtering rampage, he not only recorded a video but wrote a 141 page essay on his plan and how his entire life led up to this moment. He titled it, My Twisted World. The essay is available online via PDF. I plan to read it soon but unfortunately did not read it before writing this blog so I can't comment on anything inside. I did glance over it though and from what I saw, it is a detailed account of Elliot's every year on this earth.
What struck me while reading articles about Elliot and what he did, was the lack of emotion towards his death from his parents. Neither of them even mentioned Elliot's suicide; only the victims of Elliot's revenge plot and their families were mentioned. Perhaps this was a political/media manuver to keep themselves in a good light, that even though they grieved for their son they were afraid to show it. Or perhaps they had no sympathy towards their son. Either they loved him and cherished him while alive but now believe him to be a monster or they never showed him much affection and therefore have little to say about his demise.
I watched Elliot's retribution video after a friend of mine posted it on Facebook commenting on how messed up Elliot was as most people were doing. I had formed an opinion before Elliot's video was even over. I took an extreme interest in this story and did some hunting for other stuff this guy had posted. Turns out, he has a YouTube channel where he posted tons of videos very similar to his last...minus the day of retribution stuff. Almost every video possesses the question, why aren't girls attracted to me? And he goes on with the usual perfect guy crap and self pity.
After watching most of Elliot's videos, I felt a strange but familiar feeling. His narrative voice resembled that of a character in a novel. If Elliot was a fictional character, I would probably have been sympathizing with him in his struggles. The way his story ended would be a perfect tragedy with an artistic message about loneliness, entitlement, and what it means to be alive (and I don't mean the sensation of being alive like you get when you go skydiving or something but to feel your heart beat and breathe air through your lungs kind of alive - like how Harry feels before he enters the forest at the end of Deathly Hallows). The first video itself also showed Elliot in a fictitious light. Between his occasional dark giggles and putting his hand to his chin, one could say he reminded them of a Disney villain. Either way, if this were a fictional story I think our take on it all would be much different. You may be laughing at the very idea of this but let me point out a few stories that display a character who is murdering innocent people. Sweeney Tod, the demon barber is a huge example.Then times him by ten and you've got A Song of Ice and Fire (known as a Game of Thrones to many). In the series there are tons of characters who murder for revenge and it is usually a character we like and route for! My point in bringing this up is that the reason we sympathize with these characters is because of their history of pain and suffering. What Elliot did was wrong. There is no question about that. But to understand this story in its entirety, we must view it through a narrative lens and see our character, Elliot, as a whole and not just the parts we want to see.
Elliot's character was that of quiet reflection. He seemed to love watching sunsets while Belinda Carlisle's voice echoed her popular track Heaven is a Place on Earth over the radio. He would often reflect on the loss of his innocence and the current state of his sad life via poetic musings. He yearned for love just as every person does. In his day of retribution video he states, "All I ever wanted was to love you [girls], and be loved by you." You can argue that his idea of love was sick and twisted and I would have to agree. But his longing isn't unique. It is universal. Everyone has a longing to be with another person in some sense.
In many cases, Elliot's situation can be compared to more classic tales such as Macbeth and Phantom of the Opera. First, the Phantom is a tragic character who fan girls love to swoon over (just go on any Phantom message board) yet he murders so many people to get what he wants and to be with Christine. Fans feel for his character and excuse his dark deeds all because he did them for Christine and had a deformed face. Sounds very similar to Elliot in my opinion. Of course the end gives Phantom his moment of redemption by fleeing but that doesn't change the fact that he is a murderer. Then look at Macbeth! I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the classic play and it seemed to scream Elliot Rodger. It not only shows a man descending into madness but begs the question of fate and free will. Was it the witches or Macbeth's own lust for power that motivated his decisions. For Elliot we must ask, was it societal pressures and girls or his own insanity that brought on this tragedy? And I think the answer for each character is both.
Upon first watching the day of retribution video, I saw a narcissistic college student who had been led to believe that loosing his virginity was his sole cure for loneliness and lack of identity. He said things such as, "I have been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires," and, "I'm 22 years old, I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl," and it is quite plain that this identity he has formed almost accidentally has become his own subconscious way of victimizing himself. This kid was extremely lonely and searching in all the wrong places for find happiness. His first problem was his big head. Something he says repeatedly throughout all of his videos is how fabulous he is. Second, he has been led to believe that sex equals happiness. He doesn't just want a girlfriend or intimacy. He just wants to be able to say he is not a virgin. And how can we fault him for this notion with movies like 40 Year Old Virgin making fun of virginity and our schools sex ed programs that don't teach kids about sex properly? Kids are regularly taught by school, the media, and even their parents that their self worth can be found in how much their lives revolve around sex. And lastly, Elliot is clearly very lonely. I feel like I've written that a million times already but it is true. He is so lonely that he has convinced himself it is the fault of others and nothing to do with him. "I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," he says in his video. It seems Elliot has a magic mirror complex...which harks back to my Disney villain accusation. Let's talk about the Disney villain who Elliot's demeanor reflects so well, the Evil Queen from Snow White. Elliot is far too often blaming others for his loneliness, just like the Queen blames Snow White for her insecurity about her own beauty. What Elliot needs is a mirror to see his own reflection and realize he is a large part of the problem, but he would most likely begin swooning over himself than see his faults just as the Queen only sees herself being fairest in the land. So if a mirror wouldn't have helped Elliot, what would?
Well it looks like he turned to pills to help him deal with his anxiety. The pills were said to help him. But the pills didn't seem to work and it can be argued they made his condition much worse. It can't be denied that Elliot was mentally unstable. Between his recording a video full of villainous laughter and discussing his plan to "enter the hottest sorority house and slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up blonde slut," one can't say mental health had nothing to do with this. Sure Elliot was angry and frustrated, but if he wrote a 141 page essay on his life and never once stopped to think about what he was doing and what the consequences were, something must have been wrong. It takes a long time to write 141 pages! He had plenty of time to question what he was doing and what it meant. It makes me genuinely mad when someone claims mental health played no part in this story. I'm a regular listener of a podcast called The Moonshine Jesus show and they spent an entire episode discussing Elliot. The episode was titled Mass Media, Mass-Murder, Mass Misogyny and the two guys discussed the "portrayal of women in mass media" and "how misogynistic perspectives contributed not only to the UCSB mass-murder...but to constant negative, abusive and domineering directed toward women on a daily bases." Okay, sounds like interesting conversation, right? And it was. It was a really great conversation actually and I encourage everyone to listen to it. But the two guys on the show made me extremely frustrated when they said, "What we tend to hear mass media doing is trying to be dismissive of it from a mental imbalance or saying this person had some type of a mental issue that led to this which is a really easy out because that's not the reality." Yes that is part of the reality. It isn't the full reality but it is a huge part of it. Obviously another big part of the reality is the way women are viewed by the media and men in general but saying mental health had no part in this story but is just an easy explanation is simply ludicrous. Elliot's perspective on how women should treat him was distorted but even that isn't the root cause of how he felt and what he did. So if simply having a girlfriend wouldn't have helped Elliot, what would have?
Quite frankly, it seems, Elliot had a real sense of entitlement. This is where I believe distorted ideas of woman comes into play. Elliot felt entitled to have a girl not because she wanted to be with him but because he wanted to be with her. He felt entitled to have a lover and someone to love him when no one has a right to force love. His concerns aren't totally out of the blue of course. I can remember being in high school and not having a boyfriend and wondering what guys didn't see in me. Fortunately I didn't define myself on a scale of having a boyfriend or not and knew that even though people said sex mattered, I was okay with waiting. My point is that Elliot's mindset isn't uncommon and isn't specific to his male gender status. Everyone wants to be loved. But we aren't entitled to love. Elliot is among a generation labeled for their sense of entitlement. I would know - I'm a part of that generation. It is ironic that this whole event happened during the same week my mom and I were arguing about why millennial's are so entitled. She claimed that it is because everyone received trophies just for participating and therefore everyone expects reward just for being. I strongly disagree with this argument. It bothered me to an extreme and while at work my brain began to buzz and throughout the day I wrote snippets to disprove her case. My fragmented argument about entitlement can be viewed here. The point is, entitlement in young males plays a role in this event too. So if Elliot learned he did not deserve reciprocated feelings, would that have changed things? I don't think so. We've hit another brick wall. I hope you are noticing a pattern here. There are many hypothesis's to fix Elliot's attitude but none would actually be a valid solution. A mirror would not teach Elliot he was his own problem because he was so vain that he would only admire himself. A girlfriend wouldn't have helped Elliot unless she submitted to his every desire sexually. And telling Elliot he wasn't entitled to be loved would have only damaged him further. I doubt he was at a stage to sit and learn that he wasn't the one the universe revolved around.
No problem of this scale is ever simple yet we tend to dress up fake solutions in a hope to move forward until the problem returns again and someone else has to suffer and deal with it. The best example I can think of to explain my point further is war. War solves nothing. It is a temporary solution to a problem. For example, war eventually ended the Holocaust but prejudice still continues today and Holocausts still go on and war will never fix that. The Holocaust was a branch on an ever growing tree, the root of which is, as already stated, prejudice.
There are many branches that stem from Elliot Rodger. Each continues to add to the discussion and to his story but soon the tree becomes crowded with branches and confusion. Which branch is the strongest? The American Dream and Hollywood's illusion, men's rights, mental health, narcissim, loneliness, sex and virginity, violence, life and death, gun rights, portrayal of women in the media...have I missed any branches? I apologize if I have because it is very likely something is missing. Yes, all of these things are branches in Elliot's story and have to do with what he did, why he did it, and how he did it. But what is the root cause? What holds up this tree and lives deep within the earth? I believe it has to do with our perception of what it means to live: to be alive, give life, receive life, and have a good life.
It doesn't seem like Elliot had a good life and from what I have read and seen, he seems to have struggled with the idea that his life was perfect yet it was also haunted. Besides being lonely, Elliot seems to have also struggled with his race and bullying. He was half white and half Asian and according to, it played a big role in Elliot's pursuit to be the true Alpha male. It would make sense since to be a true Alpha male in American culture you must be a white man, which Elliot was not 100%. But I don't think this was among Elliot's big concerns, otherwise he would have mentioned it in his day of retribution video. I still have yet to read his 141 page essay so perhaps he mentions it in there. Perhaps he felt his feelings on his race were implied by the language he chose to use. After all, I think bullying played a role in this yet he didn't mention being bullied in his video either.
One thing I seem conditioned to do when watching a YouTube video is to scroll down to the comments. When I watched Elliot's YouTube videos, most of the comments were openly stating how messed up he was. It's hard to disagree when a video contains a person saying how fabulous they are. But something else I noticed about Elliot's channel is that most of the videos were posted only days before his violent attacks and one commenter made a point that some were posted after his death. After doing a bit of research, I learned that Elliot's videos must have been reposted - by who I don't know. What I was also interested to learn is that the videos were up a while before all of this madness became headlines but Elliot made them private when he received tons of negative feedback. Regardless of how messed up this kid was, no one is immune to the hurt you feel when you state your feelings out in the open and have them shot down in a harsh way. Some people responded in a healthy way toward Elliot by creating video and audio responses not insulting him but discussing his points made in his videos and then explaining why they weren't very logical. But for the most part, no one reached out to help him. All anyone could do was insult him which I already decided wouldn't have solved anything and it didn't. Just as war kills people but doesn't fix our hearts, negativity killed Elliot internally but didn't fix his own heart. A good character study of bullying and gun violence takes place in a book by Jodi Picoult called Nineteen Minutes. It is a favorite of mine and it takes a look at a boy who was bullied all his life and decided to devise a school shooting. The book deconstructs school shootings and reveals branches while also revealing roots. I'm not saying bullying is the root of the issue, just another branch.
In an attempt to make himself more attractive, Elliot often brought up his luxurious style. He had a nice car and a pair of sunglasses worth $300. Of course he could afford these things with a rich Hollywood Papa but you can't say Elliot is the only person who uses possessions to pump up their exterior and hide the filth on the inside (one word - Kardashian). I think we all do this in some form or another to lie to ourselves that we are better than so and so. In a song titled Not So Nice by the Vespers, they sing, "When my baby brother fell, they didn't even stop to help, Not so nice at all, not so nice. But even though I have this much to say, I'm just like them in my own way." The song is basically recognizing that hey, there are people who are jerks and you know it but guess what, you can be a jerk sometimes too. It is essentially forcing us to recognize that no one is perfect and we can't be hypocritical. Sin is sin and you can't hold one wrong way above another. It speaks to the idea that we all have a bit of Elliot Rodger in us in a unique way and that Elliot Rodger most likely had a piece of us too. He was searching for compassion in a destructive way. Many people do this everyday through less public acts like one night stands or binge drinking, all in the attempt to get rid of loneliness. Isn't it strange how and why people do certain things? Strange but fascinating.
I have now talked out what I believe to be the root of Elliot's issue, a distorted view on life. Banning guns won't stop shootings and women's rights won't convince all men they aren't entitled to women (trust me, I witness ignorant men on a daily basis). But by teaching our kids the value of what it means to live and breath and learn that we are all human and need to respect one another, hopefully we can help kids find their self worth and find worth in those we disagree with.
I think there is a quality ingrained in all of us that makes us naturally jealous of those who have what we can't. Of course everyone handles this jealousy differently but it still exists in all of us. I remember the summer when I was 9 and my brother was 6 and he got a new cool loft bed and bright green stereo. I cried the day they set the bed up and my dad sat me on his lap and explained how lucky I was to have a double bed and a better black stereo. I suddenly began to appreciate what I already had. I think it is really easy for us to put blame on others as Elliot did for having things we don't or just blaming people for doing something that we also do but may not realize. As the Vespers song continues, they sing, "I'm afraid I might be everything I hate." Elliot was, like many of us, an accidental hypocrite. He didn't take the time to reflect on himself but rather what others had done (and not done) to him and therefore did not understand the evil he was conjuring.
I have already pointed out many ways fiction reflects our reality. Allow me one more example. Let's look at Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables. When Jean Valjean is constantly wronged, one person shows him love and he becomes an honest man. It took many people to wrong him and enforce revenge but only one to push forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard and I know it is easier to talk about, especially when you are on the outside of a situation. I was not personally involved with Elliot or what he did yet I feel attached to the situation. That being said, while I can sit here and forgive Elliot, I have an easier time doing it than the mother of one of the girls Elliot shot.
From a Christian perspective, we must forgive because God forgave the unforgivable in us. Do not let what Elliot did poison you. Two wrongs don't make a right. Let Elliot's decision, and the similar decisions made by others in the future, be a learning experience. I pray all the families involved can find forgiveness in their hearts. Forgive others as Jean Valjean. Don't let one hateful act or several spread like wildfire. We have the power to put the fire out.
I believe what would have helped Elliot would have been a person who reached out to him. Perhaps some feel nothing would have helped and Elliot was the Joffery Baratheon of our world and can't be redeemed. Either way, let us recognize that Elliot was a person who was hurting. Let us recognize what he did was wrong and let us forgive him and mourn those who suffered because of his actions. And finally, let us learn from what happened and see the event for what is really was at it's roots instead of arguing. I pray we as a human race can look for those who are troubled and help them to prevent people from making rash decisions like Elliot did.
I'm interested to know what you make of this situation. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to disagree with me. I would love to have a conversation!


  1. Your analysis is pretty accurate for not reading the 137 page manifesto. You will however get better insight into his family life after reading it. I believe every parent should read it.Children need extra love and care and attention and children especially with Asperger's. It seems to me that he got none and like you stated looked for it in the wrong places.

    1. Thank you. I just printed it out so I will be reading it soon. As someone who wants to be a parent someday, I see what you mean and hope I can take something from his essay.