Human relationships sometimes don't make a lot of sense. But there's nothing that says they have to be "fair." All of us have dreams and desires for the lives we would like to experience and who we think we might want to experience those lives with. Society has a way of making value judgments about a person if they're a virgin in their 20s or unmarried in their 30s. But the whims of the fates don't always give us what we want or who we want. Most people don't go on a shooting spree when they get turned down. However, some do.
As more details about the mass murders committed by Elliot Rodger near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara last Friday come to light, it's renewed debates over gun access and whether or not Rodger's is a symptom of a rape culture within the United States. Given the views expressed in Rodger's manifesto and videos, the cup of blame has come around, as it often does, to wondering about the effects of pop-culture in this incident.
There have been various armchair psychiatrist explanations floated over the past 96 or so hours. Is this a reflection of a misogynistic male-dominated media that devalues women and results in shooting sprees and daily violence? To that end, is there an aspect to this where popular media has fostered a culture in which people have an unrealistic image of what love, relationships, masculinity and sex are supposed to be? Or is it just a situation where someone was in need of psychological help, didn't get it, shouldn't have had a gun and a calamity ensued?
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I only have a minor in sociology and I'm not the type of "Doctor" that's going to psychoanalyze someone based on YouTube videos, nor am I going to play that kind of doctor on the internet. However, I do think the broader issue is an interesting one.
From Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post
As Rodger bemoaned his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire” and arrogantly announced that he would now prove his own status as “the true alpha male,” he unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA. For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.
How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
Hornaday's column basically argues movies sell a myth that people believe the same way commercials sell toothpaste and fast food. And similar to critiques made by Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency
and others, the stereotypes and tropes in those movies condition people to expect certain behaviors in the real world. Much has been made of Rodger's connections
to the "men's rights movement" and the pick-up artist (PUA) community. And many see in those connections a culture of violence against women
influenced by media stereotypes.
The entertainment industry is male-dominated, and the majority of fiction created today is from the focus of a male character (see the Bechdel Test). In most movies and television programs, we are taught that "love conquers all." In most love stories, persistence and patience eventually opens people's eyes to the love of others that they couldn't see. Even if they at first reject you, if you just stand outside their window playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" they'll eventually see that you're destined to be together. If that seems dangerously close to the mentality of most stalkers, that's because it is.
Movies are also full of attractive female models, cute pseudo-nerd women and Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Usually those female characters exist to fulfill the male character's journey in some way. The problem is those kind of characters have no goals themselves, and it leads to an expectation that women and relationships with women exist to complete a quest for sexual satisfaction or help a man toward peace of mind.
However, the flip-side of this argument is that a movie is a work of fiction and fantasy. If we're going to say unrealistic depictions of romance are contributing to homicides, then I wince to think of all the damage the Cinderella
story has done in its more than two-thousand-years of existence. The line of reasoning put forward by Hornaday and others is along the same lines of past debates over the effects of video games.
The problem with that sort of explanation is that it constructs white, middle-class killers as victims of the power of media, rather than fully culpable criminals.
Ultimately, if a person has a problem differentiating between how things work in a romantic-comedy and how relationships work in the here and now, or they think getting someone to have sex works the same way as in the movies, the problem isn't film. The problem is the mental health of the person. Furthermore, men have been treating women like crap long, long before widespread modern media. And men have been killing people over wounded pride and a sense of entitlement long before the development of the movie camera or celluloid.
It's interesting that Hornaday chose Judd Apatow as an example for her column. Say what you want about Apatow's films, but they're usually about how the "shlubby arrested adolescent" characters have to grow up, be honest and face their faults to be happy and get the girl.
Unless you're the luckiest dude on the face of the Earth, at some point or another most men on this planet have faced rejection in love. Men can either accept the rejection, be introspective and move on. Or they stew, blame others and wallow in pity. The latter choice leads to people saying "hey, I'm a nice guy, I'm being rejected because I'm too nice, and these bitches and sluts only like assholes!" The problem with that sort of pick-up artist thinking of Alpha and Beta males is that it's based on some iffy evolutionary psychology and it's predicated on a sexist notion that women owe a man sex, companionship or a relationship for being "nice." Part of equality is that women can be just as vain and shallow as men when it comes to picking a sex partner. And beyond that, most guys who fall back into "I'm not getting a partner because I'm too nice" have issues they don't want to deal with, and blame rejection on women and being nice instead of making an honest assessment.
Some conservatives have even taken up the torch of buying into the "women like bad boys over nice guys" argument after the Isla Vista killings. Jack Cashill at the conservative magazine American Thinker blames feminism for Rodger’s “sickness.”
A generation or so ago a woman might have looked for a man who was kind, loving, pious, generous, faithful, hard working. The women in Rodger’s circle, as he saw it, looked for men who were hot, hunky and/or rich, none of which he was.
Yes, there is a sickness afoot in the land, but feminists have no more hope of curing it with sexual harassment laws or enforced sensitivity training than Rodger did with his “day of retribution.”
The "sickness" was Rodger thinking because he drove a $40,000 BMW and wore $300 Giorgio Armani sunglasses it meant he automatically deserved to get laid because of it. And as much as Rodger railed against the cruelty of humanity and his rejection, I would bet dollars to donuts his anger didn't come from a rejection by all women. It was that he was rejected by the women he thought he deserved.
That sort of thinking didn't come from feminists. And that sort of male privilege may very well be societal, but I don't think its source was a movie.