Elliot Rodgers & America’s Culture of Money, Violence & Sex
On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old student at the University of California Santa Barbara and son of director Peter Rodger, murdered six people and wounded thirteen others in Isla Vista, California. His killing spree began in his own home when he stabbed to death his three roommates and continued at a nearby sorority house where he shot and killed two young women and wounded an additional two students present at the time. His “day of retribution” ended when shortly after murdering another male student at a delicatessen, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while cornered by police.
This article is not going to focus on the tragic events that ended the lives of seven human beings with decades of promise ahead of them. Instead, I intend to take a comprehensive look into the mind of Elliot Rodger and the common threads that link him to the rest of us - specifically the values perpetuated by hip-hop and popular culture.
What makes this particular event significant is that unlike many of the school shooters before him, Elliot Rodger left behind a series of videos and a detailed 141 page manifesto entitled, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” in which he attempts to provide a bird’s eye view into his diluted perspective. As I read through, and ultimately fell deeper into the spinning abyss of his mind, it became immediately clear to me that not only was he a talented writer, but he was remarkably cognizant of the repeated social miscues and misunderstandings that led to his own insanity.
Quite frequently throughout his writings, and in his videos, he refers to himself as “magnificent,” “beautiful” and “like a god”. While most of the media outlets covering this story have labeled Rodger a narcissist and a sociopath, I believe that although he exhibited symptoms of these personality disorders, he could not be accurately placed in either category. What pushed Elliot Rodger to act in the manner that he did, and the root of his growing madness, stemmed from a lifetime of rejection by his peers and an unstable relationship with his parents. From an early age, according to his own recantations in his manifesto, Rodger always seemed to be a step behind others in his age group and was both physically and emotionally underdeveloped. As a result, he was repeatedly ridiculed and bullied, but lacked the courage and ability to fight back, therefore turning his hatred inwards toward himself. The narcissist who appears in the videos referring to himself as god-like is not the true Elliot Rodger. The image that he projects when he’s alone with his computer or video camera is a delusional fantasy born out of the altruistic vision he has of himself. He doesn't genuinely believe that he is a god. However, he desperately longs to share in the experiences of his peers --who he secretly believes are the gods holding power over him.
Throughout his manifesto and videos he is visibly confused by his inability to attract women that he feels should have a vested interest in him on an intimate level. He speaks from the perspective of an outsider looking in and studying human mating rituals. He references his 3 Series BMW, Armani sunglasses and expensive clothing as reasons why “blonde goddesses” should find him attractive. He describes himself as the supreme gentleman, but never does he give any examples as to why he believes himself to be so. The wording he uses when defining himself is painful to hear as it is strikingly evident he is completely foreign to the idea of intimacy. It’s almost as if you are watching an alien from a distant planet creating a video dating tape after only a few months of exposure to western popular culture. In Rodger’s mind he cannot understand why his physical attributes do not translate into relationships with women. Not once does he take into account that the god he has made himself out to be is a thin layer of delusion that not even he truly believes in. To every other person he came in contact with, Elliot Rodger was very obviously an angry, unglued virgin teetering on the edge of self-destruction.
Although Rodger was unquestionably dealing with some extreme personality disorders, in some ways I can’t help but feel empathy for him as I watch him stand on the side of a winding road slowly building himself into a fit of hatred. He is desperate, lost and declining quickly into madness. What you are watching are the last threads of humanity tearing of off him before he unravels into a vicious murderer. These videos are Elliot Rodger’s futile and quietly horrible cries for help.
What scares me the most about Elliot Rodger are the influences that led him to believe he could artificially trick love and sexual relationships into finding him. As extreme as his case was, I see these same exact traits exhibited across the internet daily - specifically on social media sites like Instagram. Elliot Rodger was not alone in his misunderstanding of human nature. In fact, the more that I look around, the more I believe that he was in line with what the western world is slowly becoming.
When discussing western civilization’s decline into the “selfie” era, it’s impossible to discount mainstream hip-hop’s impact on this wavelength of thinking. As it stands now, hip-hop music is a major influencer in popular culture and the driving force behind the artificial lifestyle we now prioritize over the basic human necessities. The message is astoundingly clear: fuck love, get money, and the younger generations growing up within this cultural bubble are direct reflections of this sentiment. The music perpetuates this message and celebrates human greed and excess with little to no remorse whatsoever. Mainstream hip-hop music is in a state of constant one-upping, with every claim twice as outlandish as the last, and becomes further disconnected from reality with every new song that reaches radio. Women are now increasingly objectified and sexuality has been exploited to the point of numbness. As men we are expected to walk the narrow path between violent and cool, and our “hustle” is just as, if not more important than, our virtues. Money is our ultimate objective and the more we attain, the more access we will have to the half-naked, objectified women gyrating on our Instagram feeds.
You and I both know that on a human level this couldn't be further from the truth, or at least truth in the sense of meaningful relationships, but as hip-hop artists and record labels continue to repeatedly refuse to admit the falsehoods in the messages they share, the young minds they influence adapt to what they believe to be a legitimate frame of thought. As somebody who grew up within hip-hop culture, I can say that as a teenager I was absolutely and completely influenced by hip-hop music and artists. But the difference between my generation and the ones that came after was the level of access we had to the artists. The Internet was still in an infancy stage and was not yet all encompassing, therefore we had no choice but to detach from the music and engage in life as individuals. Now, as technology has progressed, the necessary detachment rarely occurs and the lifestyle it encourages is poisonous.
As much as I doubt that hip-hop had anything to do with the murders Elliot Rodger committed, I also have to admit that hip-hop music is part of the culture that created him. And as purveyors of the culture it is our responsibility to discern between fact and fiction, and do so publicly and precisely. It’s not as easy as saying, “It’s just entertainment” anymore because one look at Twitter, Instagram and Facebook will tell you otherwise. The lines between reality and fantasy are bleeding together. We have to be honest about our approach and stand as a positive influence to the young minds following behind us. To believe that our presence alone is charity is condescending to the highest degree and unforgivably dismissive. There’s more to life than sex, drugs and money and it’s up to us to provide the balance. It’s okay to listen to Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj, just as long as the artists themselves are willing to step out of character long enough to correct the young people emulating them.
What Elliot Rodger did on May 23, 2014 was horrific. But young black men are dying in the same number in Chicago every day, surrounded by a society with the same set of misplaced values. Think about that for a minute.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for DJBooth.net. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo". You can also contact him here and here.]