The Tragedy of Elliot Rodger and Hollywood Culture
I’m sure that to many I may seem obsessed with author Bret Easton Ellis and his web of nihilistic characters, which stretches from the sandy beaches of Los Angeles to the luxury high-rises of 1980s yuppie-centric New York, but it’s his portrait of a superficial LA that has invaded my mind once again following the recent mass murder of seven, including 22-year-old suspect Elliot Rodger.
I first heard the story in the airport on the island of St. Martin on Saturday, the day following the shootings. It was the first news from America I had seen before returning home from my weeklong vacation. It was not something that made me want to get on my flight, but I was curious to know the details. That fascination with deviants will never leave me, because I often wonder if I could have been one had I not had a conscience or caring personality; I grew up as somewhat of an outcast, after all.
I didn’t actually read much about Elliot until I saw the headlines bringing up his feelings of rejection along with society’s warped view of masculinity. Many feminists sarcastically warned that if women didn’t go out with the loser they would normally ignore, a massacre might ensue. Then I heard vague details: Elliot was from Hollywood; his father was one of the directors who worked on The Hunger Games; he came from a wealthy family (which was later found to be false) and drove a BMW. People asked that moronic question: “Why would he do what he did when he had it all?” Clearly the people asking this question know nothing about Hollywood. It’s a cesspool of superficiality and greed, and even in a city devoid of humanity, money alone can’t always buy happiness.
Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero and its more recent sequel Imperial Bedrooms taught me all I needed to know about the smoggy landscape of LA, making it simultaneously appealing and depressing. I recall the simple-yet-poignant phrase the 19-year-old narrator of Less Than Zero coolly repeats throughout the novel, one I once considered getting tattooed: “People are afraid to merge.” This couldn’t be truer today, not just in LA but across the country as well.
I recently watched one of Elliot Rodger's YouTube video diaries in which he expressed his frustrations with women, alone in front of his camera. He wore a smug face thinly masking obvious insecurities and walked around beneath the glow of the western sun. He wasn’t a bad-looking guy, I thought, but as soon as he opened his mouth I quickly understood the problem—he was the ultimate narcissist, and an awkward one at that. I suspected high-functioning Asperger's played a part right away. A clear victim of a Hollywood upbringing filled with vapidity, he talked openly about his perceived perfection. “I’m magnificent,” he exclaimed in delusion, arms outstretched like he was the God of the West Coast, which he probably thought he was. He’d put his shades on, looking around with banal smugness again, only to remove his glasses and appear increasingly agitated.
At one point he said to the camera, “I don't know why you women hate me so much.” I certainly knew rejection, and I’m used to most women being unfriendly toward me, but I’ve never felt like they actually hated me in their rejection. Jesus, I thought. This guy really did have some serious issues with women. He clearly had a type as well: the typical valley girl with the tight figure and flowing blonde hair. It was the one type he couldn’t seem to possess. Then, he actually said something that I could entirely relate to, something he put so simply. He faced the hill he stood against, opened his arms awkwardly in exasperated frustration, then turned and walked back toward the camera, saying, “I mean, this world is so beautiful. But…it’s so sad and depressing when I have to experience it all alone.” I could understand that pain. I knew it well. It was like facing a familiar rusty dagger with an unforgettable sting when he said that.
The victims of the massacre were, in this case, deliberate targets of the killer. Elliot went after men and women who he believed were sexually active and, after stabbing his three roommates, in a single drive-by shooting managed to eliminate three University of California students and wound thirteen others before ending his own existence. As is the case with every mass murder that has ever happened, it changed nothing for the better. Elliot leaves behind a brutal legacy and has only amassed more hatred toward him, and has likely left his victims’ families in broken ruins for years to come.
The start of all of this? Elliot’s manifesto claimed it was the “pretty blond girl” on whom he had a crush in middle school. Like me, he found himself a victim of rejection in the seventh grade, enamored with a girl he couldn’t have in his life. He went on in the 141-page rant about how this girl and her friends’ teasing had caused him to eventually perceive all women as cruel, hateful people. Memories of my own early days of unreturned affection for a certain girl come back to haunt me frequently as well, but I wish I could’ve somehow convinced him that those days are gone, that women aren’t what they were when they were thirteen years old or that most kids are total assholes to others who don’t fit the mold. It’s how they deal with societal nonconformists when they don’t understand them. It’s how kids—and many adults—deal with anybody they don’t understand.
I wish I could’ve placed a friendly hand on the shoulder of poor lonely Elliot and told him, “You just need to embrace those differences and grow with them. Read some books, watch some movies, listen to music, smoke some weed, get drunk on the beach or even snort a little blow, and forget about how fucked up the world is for a while. Stand atop the pinnacle of hedonism and steer clear of anger for once. There are many fun ways to get along alone without women, trust me. Most of my ideas involve intoxicants of some kind or jacking off, I know, but that’s what falling in love basically is: a chemical reaction similar to what you get from many drugs. Open the floodgates of dopamine and serotonin, let the endorphins flow free, and just ignore the brainwashing bullshit they taught you in health classes. ‘This world is so beautiful,’ you said it yourself.” Slight humor aside, I know that mental illness is far from that simple to handle, particularly psychosis, and this guy was consumed by it. I don’t believe love was his true goal, either, so much as the material possession of a woman.
I understand well that depression is a beast to console, but Elliot was beyond that stage—delusion had wrapped around his neck and strangled him, suffocating that last bit of humanity within him. He became obsessed with revenge, fueled by envy and ensnared by rage, unable to cope with the life the universe chose for him. He was failed by the mental health system, a victim of a cold world revolving around surface and therapists who did nothing to correct his flailing psychotic narcissism. No surprise, he could acquire a gun in a flash.
As a result of all of this, Elliot is merely another extinguished invalid, put down by America’s shallow demands for the ideal man. Unable to live up to those standards and unwilling to lower his, he was a true product of environment and now serves as another reminder of what we should expect in an America without a noble dream, in a nation controlled by people with self-centeredness masquerading as morality. It’s become a nation of possessions where if a man can’t have all of the things he desires, he’s willing to take everything away from others before he implodes. We just don’t see this happen with the countless egomaniacs who are both lucky and charismatic enough to get everything they want. They see no reason to be violent—it’s easy enough for them to manipulate. Take that ability away, however, and see what erupts in the streets.