During the Isla Vista killer Elliot Rodger’s 15 minutes of posthumous infamy, I have pondered that he might be – to my mind at least – one of the most infuriatingly throttleable mass-murderers of modern times. His petulant YouTube warblings on “sluts” who won’t have sex with him, his hammy theatrics, the way he drips with pompous self-entitlement and snub-nosed self-indulgence. Those duckfaced selfies in his BMW.
Obviously competition for most loathsome mass-murderer is pretty stiff. Take the piggy-faced cod-academic righteousness of Norway’s Anders Breivik during his court appearances. Or the despicable thick-as-mince bigotry of British neo-Nazi David Copeland, who bombed The Admiral Duncan on Old Compton Street. I carry the memory of how quickly the pub was rebuilt – bigger, pinker, more raffish than ever – as human tenacity writ large. The bleak agenda of Copeland thwarted by stubborn, stalwart gays, quick builders and 100 tins of emulsion.
Breivik, Copeland and Rodger were all vile in their own way, but perhaps Rodger is the more nauseating as his cause appeared to simply be self-pity. Isla Vista was the most thoroughly modern of massacres. A slaying for the selfie generation. Rodger wasn’t fuelled by a twisted political plight, or by scoring points to impress his god. Instead, Rodger was an affluent youth enjoying all the luxuries of the western world. His higher power, if any, was social media. He was privileged, educated, lonely and angry. His “cause” was purely himself.
Rodger – who had been treated by several therapists – watched his contemporaries’ lives play out online and found his own sorely lacking. I don’t empathise with Rodger but I see how his mind spiralled. He was furious because no one “liked” his “selfies”. No one “swiped right” for him on Tinder. He was left off group party invites. All these “sluts” from his college were flirting online with boys and no one wanted to sleep with him.
Rodger remained a virgin at 22, which not that long ago was something young people quietly swept under the carpet while waiting for that special – willing – someone. But in his modern mega-sexualised world, Rodger felt utterly out of place. He recorded hours of self-obsessed whining about the pains of his existence, then broadcasted them on YouTube – actions that aren’t even considered remotely weird by today’s standards. The videos bore titles such as “Why Do Girls Hate Me So Much.” There is no mystery as to “why” Rodger took the actions he did. He had a history of mental illness and left an electronic trail of youthful, social media-exacerbated angst.
Clearly those of an older generation, such as myself, might have said, “Elliot, girls avoid you as you are broadcasting your anger and loneliness on social media. You don’t like women, and women don’t like you. It’s a vicious circle. Turn the computer off now. More fresh air. Less monitoring Twitter over which party you weren’t invited to and what a great time was had.” A little less “me, me, me, life should be perfect”, a little more of the Buddhist mantra, “life is suffering, with the odd nice bit, get on with it”. Clearly these remarks would set one out as a Luddite and be largely scoffed at.
And of course, “the damned internet” did not kill the Isla Vista victims in the end. That was down to the guns and knives that were accessible to Rodger, despite a record of mental illness. With other mass shootings still fresh in the memory, we’re all aware that any fury over gun laws inevitably splutters into nothing. “Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” said victim Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s father. “They talk about gun rights, what about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop?” The answer being: absolutely no time soon.
Instead, the Isla Vista killings will cause a minor rumpus on the internet, temporarily taking the place of those 300 missing Nigerian schoolgirls Twitter was upset about the week previously, which in turn distracted us from vanished flight MH370 that a hashtag didn’t solve either. Perhaps we all share a trait of Elliot Rodger – dead before he could enjoy his inflated YouTube viewer hits, or even apply for a Twitter blue tick – in visiting the internet frequently to assure us that the world revolves around us.