It takes a nearly impenetrable obtuseness to conclude that the most salient thing to know about University of California Santa Barbara killer Elliot Rodger is that he was a white male who didn’t like women.
Yet many liberal commentators have managed it in the painful festival of stupidity that has followed his horrific act of mass murder. The reaction has featured rants about sexism, white privilege and Hollywood, all of which are absurdly detached from the reality of what happened at UCSB.
It is usually only the details of these sorts of rampage killings that differ, not the central element: a sick young man not getting proper treatment for his severe mental illness. Rodger’s mother had been so frightened by his YouTube videos that she alerted his counselor, and the police visited his apartment. According to The New York Times, Rodger had been prescribed risperidone, an anti-psychotic, but evidently refused to take it.
Even without any of that background, it is obvious that Rodger’s final YouTube video and his 140-page manifesto promising to exact vengeance upon the women who spurned him are the ravings of a deranged person; as such, it is the derangement itself, not the content of the ravings, that is most important. Nonetheless, some commentators have plumbed his lunacy for meaning as if they were reading “The Bell Jar.”
Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday led the way with a piece asserting that it is “clear that his delusions were inflated, if not created, by the entertainment industry he grew up in” (his father works in Hollywood). According to Hornaday, “a sexist movie monoculture” -- captured by Judd Apatow comedies that often star Seth Rogen -- dangerously misled Rodger into believing that he could always get the girl in the end.
It is certainly true that our pop culture is coarse and coarsening. But Judd Apatow movies don’t make people criminally insane. If lovable schlubs like Seth Rogen are partly responsible for Rodger’s rampage, let’s go all the way and blame Jonah Hill, too.
Salon ran a piece by Brittney Cooper arguing that “white male privilege kills.” Cooper seems to believe that severe psychiatric disorders are something that rich white kids are prone to because they consider themselves so entitled.
The other interpretation is that, as Jessica Valenti put it in a piece for The Guardian, “misogyny kills.” There is no doubt that Rodger hated women. But who watches Rodger’s final video promising to annihilate all of unworthy humanity like a god and thinks: You know what’s wrong with that guy? The sexism. If only he were cool with women, he would want to spare humanity from his wrath.
Nonetheless, the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen got started as a rebuke to Rodger’s toxic attitude to women. It cataloged all that women suffer from sexism. I don’t doubt that it’s hurtful, to sample some of the tweets, to be a female shark biologist told that the public isn’t ready to see you on camera, or to go to a school where a visible bra strap violates the dress code but a “Cool story, babe, now make me a sandwich” T-shirt doesn’t. It just has nothing to do with Elliot Rodger’s condition or his crime.
The reaction to the UCSB killings is sadly typical. Our political and media culture has proven impervious to serious discussion of severe mental illness and how it is treated in this country, despite repeated, heartbreaking occasions for it. Usually, the diversion is gun control. Since Rodger stabbed his first victims, and didn’t use an “assault rifle” but a handgun to kill the rest, the gun debate didn’t take off. Instead, another hobbyhorse took up all the space.
Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, actually has a proposal to make it easier to treat the severely mentally ill. Alas, his bill won’t get a viral Twitter campaign because it focuses on the real problem rather than exploiting the latest horror for cheap ideological points.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org