I wish that Elliot Rodger’s killing spree was a rare occurrence – something that would shock and stun our country. But instead, mass shootings like the one he carried out on May 23, 2014, have become commonplace. Instead of reactions like “Oh my god!” and “How?” we instead say “What, again?” There’s a weariness when we hear of yet another instance of someone going on a rampage and killing a large number of people. Filmmaker Michael Moore said, “With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA – I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life.”
In the aftermath, the rest of the country – those of us who don’t have a personal stake in the mass killing that left 7 people dead (including Rodger), start trying to piece together a why. Questions about gun control and mental health immediately popped up, but another question that has overshadowed the debates over gun control and mental health is unchecked misogyny and thwarted privilege. Was Rodgers another example of what happens when sexism and frustrated male privilege becomes toxic and violent?
In her piece on the killings, Ann Hornaday looks to pop culture and the media as complicit in festering soup of anger, self-loathing, and misogyny Rodgers was stewing in. She pointed to examples of pop culture, including the films of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen- which create the narrative that average-looking men are entitled to model-beautiful women. That nebbish men deserve to bed hot women, and if said hot women aren’t into the nebbish men, the implication is that they’re shallow and deserve to be somehow punished.
Now, obviously, Judd Apatow doesn’t advocate for violence against women. And he was understandably put out (as was Rogen) with Hornaday’s article, and took to Twitter and accused the writer of using the tragedy to make herself seem important.
But Hornaday is on to something. I won’t go as far as saying that a film, a record, or a video game causes murder – folks have been trying to say that for decades. I still bristle at the heaping pile of crap Marilyn Manson got after the Columbine shootings. But I do think a critical look at the narrative that is pushed by Apatow is needed. What Hornaday should’ve done is include him in a laundry list of offenses that make up a larger, more comprehensive picture of privilege and entitlement.
Apatow is just a tiny part of a bigger problem. And his movies didn’t create the sort of noxious privilege that men want – Apatow’s films are merely products of a culture that encourages that sort of privilege. We want women to look inside the man – not at his outward appearance, but what’s really inside, and if they happen to care more about looks, then they’re shallow and disingenuous. But we don’t give plain Janes the same space – we don’t expect women who look like Melissa McCarthy to win the hunk at the end of the movie (and in fact, with people McCarthy’s size, we prefer that they remain asexual buddies or comic relief).
In his manifesto, Rodgers railed against the women who rejected him, saying “Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you. For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me” He also positioned himself as a victim: “It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.” He also mentioned a “War on Women” and promised to “attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of UCSB.”
His privilege didn’t only come from being a man, but also from being half-white as well as having British ancestry (his dad, film director Peter Rodger is British-American). His opinion of interracial dating, Asians and black men are just as disturbing: “Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly.” and “How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves.”
Obviously this goes deeper than a Judd Apatow movie. But Rodgers’ views didn’t pop up in a vacuum. He’s the latest in a line of young men who feel frustrated and thwarted, and angry that they aren’t being given what they think they deserve. In this twisted mentality the issue lies in the women who reject them – it’s their fault that these guys are lonely, it’s their fault that these guys aren’t getting laid, and it’s implied that it’s their fault when these guys snap.
So while I understand Rogen and Apatow, and I agree that it’s not as simple as “their movies inspired Rodgers” it’s equally simplistic to just say, “they didn’t.” Those movies – and again, I hate that Rogen and Apatow feature so largely in this debate, because they aren’t the worst offenders in this issue, nor are they the only ones – come out of a feeling of entitlement where men feel they’re not given their due if women don’t fall at their feet.
Just as we have to examine our gun culture and its complicity in this tragedy, we also have to look at our gender politics, too – what messages are we projecting and reflecting?