Theory of the Leisure Class

Another Internet celebrity checks out:

On Friday night, a 22-year-old drove through a popular night spot in the college town of Santa Barbara and started shooting. Six people were killed and seven more were injured. The gunman did not survive the evening, though he lives on in digital form due to online postings and videos, including a YouTube video titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” in which he explains that he is wreaking vengeance on the hot girls of Santa Barbara because women had rejected him for 8 years, since he hit puberty.

Rodger was rather concerned about his online record, although apparently he also got anxious that it might cause people to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. I do think that the Internet form of “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers”, wherein sensitive types feel the need to author a memoir before going out with a bang, has yet to peak in popularity. It’s a sign of a depraved Enlightenment-style obsession over the condition of the self, lacking sufficiently tightly bound social constraints to reassure the infantile soul.

Rodger, who was a student at Santa Barbara City College, had uploaded a number of videos in recent months about his loneliness and frustration over women not wanting him despite his BMW, $300 sunglasses and nice clothing.

Sounds like a typical upper middle class dork, relying on an expensive car and designer clothing to signal his awesomeness. Usually they enter a fraternity and get sloshed enough to forget how useless they really are. Later, dad’s connections and money would have helped him drift through a series of pseudo-accomplishments that would not even be noticed if not for his privileged position, and perhaps a little provocative, outré rhetoric that only a financially smug bright young man can get away with, since he has no risk in his boring life.

But finally we get to the social influence question:

He had expressed similar sentiments on forums for bodybuilders and anti-pick-up-artists. The latter led a Daily Kos writer to blame the “men’s rights movement” for influencing Rodgers into psychopathy and murder, pointing to the fact that Rodgers had subscribed to three different YouTube channels that gave advice on how to pick up women and be an “alpha male.” “Rather than seeking mental help for some obvious issues, he sought out the Men’s Rights Movement,” writes OllieGarkey. “He internalized their hatred of women.”

This is severe oversimplification, and an overly rapid rush to judgment. Rodger’s hatred — of both men and women — seemed tied instead to narcissism, jealousy, feelings of privilege and the world owing him. His mental disturbance seems as much about class as gender warfare.

Yeah, the Daily Kos writer got it backwards: the pathology was already there, and it lead him to join a community of like-minded men, AKA The Men’s Mythopoetic Mutual Massage Movement. The “hatred of women” came about from the failure of the PUA technology to change Rodger, as promised: this could only arise in an evo-psych fetishist who believed that acquiring status markers would magically compel females to drool over him.

The pathological narcissism, however, was carefully inculcated by the kid’s family as a status marker. Ironically, that narcissism would have been broadly accepted, even roundly praised and redistributed thinly on the fertile ground of the web, if only he had been more forcefully arrogant in his writing and in his interactions with women.

The lesson to be gained here is that Internet celebrity is pathetic, yet becoming more necessary in certain parts of US society. Correspondingly, it becomes necessary for desperate losers as well. Rodger would not have ended up as a footnote in the “lone shooter creepy ASD Internet celebrity” history if only he had been more arrogant; more comfortable in his role as UMC trust fund aristocrat; more disdainfully manipulative of women and of less privileged men; more willing to buy his way into a college fraternity; and more willing to use dad’s connections and money to create a pseudo-career to bolster his arrogance.

I also think that he would have been better off had he not held to a naive faith in Facebook and YouTube as venues for journaling his feelings. It’s possible that his postings were cries for help, so to speak, but really the problem was that he seemed to believe that there was some therapeutic value just in doing them. There may have been therapeutic value in doing something clever or fantastic or horrific or poetic with them, but just spewing out his worthless feelings did nothing but exacerbate his appearance as a pathetic victim.

And that is how the web will seem to archaeologists in 100 years: a treasure trove of mountains of detritus and dung, piled atop the works of a few nascent geniuses, who of course will not have been recognized as such until decades afterward.

The Disturbing Internet Footprint Of Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger



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