Matthew Parris

Elliot Rodger and the Hollywood ending

Americans do mass murder on a grand scale, choreographed, with fast cars and guns

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

I’ve found myself strangely drawn to the videos made by the 22-year-old assassin Elliot Rodger just before he went on his killing spree in his university town of Santa Barbara, California, last week. In a series of stabbings and drive-by shootings Rodger killed seven people, including finally himself, and wounded 13 more. The son of a film director, he had spent the first few years of his life in England, moving to America at the age of four.

Rodger had been preparing for his murderous spree and made a series of videos, many of which are accessible on the internet as I write. The last was recorded by himself the day before his attack. He sits parked in his car, arranged so that the sun, low in the sky, spotlights his face in an orange glow.

The video is about six minutes long and shot with a single fixed camera (presumably lodged somewhere in his BMW); the focus is stable and good; and the ‘piece to camera’ appears to have been completed in a single take. His lines are delivered in a relaxed and unhurried manner, with hardly a single um or er, with effective pauses for dramatic effect, with theatrical chuckles thrown in, and without the frozen or ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ impression which usually afflicts amateurs. He sometimes moves in a little closer to the camera, to emphasise a point. He never stumbles and. apart from repetition and the misuse of the word ‘tortuous’ (he means ‘tortured’), it’s a pretty decent little video essay. Rodger is the kind of speaker to camera whom producers call a ‘one-take wonder’. He’s better than I am at it.

But that’s to ignore its content, which in the light of what was to occur on the following day — in the light, that is, of our ex-post-facto discovery that Rodger really meant it — the video is obscene. In it, he repeatedly blames the world, women, and blond women in particular, for his loneliness; he tells us that he’s still a virgin at 22, that he cannot understand why no women want to love or sleep with him, and that he’s going to exact his retribution by killing them.

While watching this and another roadside video Rodger made, I could not banish from my mind a comparison with another American mass murderer, Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 killed 168 people with a bomb in Oklahoma City. McVeigh was a right-wing hater of government, which he wished to punish. Before his execution, he chose William Ernest Henley’s poem ‘Invictus’ (‘I am the master of my ship, I am the captain of my soul’) as his final statement.

I watched an interview with McVeigh after the atrocity. He was asked what he now thought about it at the time. His reply was quite extraordinary. ‘I think, like everyone else, I thought it was a tragic event,’ he said.

Both these men, Timothy McVeigh and Elliot Rodger, seem to have seen themselves as starring in their own movies. Their lives had turned into out-of-body experiences.

Rodger, as it happened, seems to have had some experience of making a film, and made his own quite professionally. McVeigh let others make the film: he just directed, script-wrote and starred. McVeigh chose a poem for the final credits; both men — you can tell — would have been comfortable with a motion picture musical soundtrack for their interviews and for their act of violence itself. Both spoke almost movingly (if it is possible for a man who takes the lives of others to attract sympathy for his own) about youth, isolation and loneliness. Both are anxious to impose upon events a narrative with a back-story: a plot, almost.

Is there something about 21st-century American culture which causes Americans to think — on some weird, subterranean level — that their own lives are films in which they are playing the central role? I ask because I do think there are very big differences between the way we British and the rest of Europe — the ‘Old World’ — see life, and the way Americans seem to. I realise that in saying so I have suddenly jumped from two obvious psychopaths, which any society can produce, to an entire nation, and this may seem unwarranted; but there are some recurring patterns in the way Americans, when they go crazy, choose to go crazy. They seem to choose a big screen, a big event, a manufactured theatricality, incredible violence — and always, always, guns. Often, too, there will be a chase. Usually there are automobiles involved.

As a British occasional watcher of American movies and TV series, I have become sick of the near inevitability of extreme violence, extended gun battles, and careering motorcars. It is almost as though such episodes have become part of the form a movie takes. Greek tragedy requires the unities of place, time and action. A Hollywood blockbuster requires gunfights, gratuitous violence and fast driving. And a kind of glory, too. Glory breathes through Rodger’s video.

I wonder if continual exposure to such cinematic fantasy has conditioned a national culture in which a really good story calls for these elements: and in which, if a man’s own personal story runs out of road, he will choose a denouement in which many die violently, and he himself dies either as part of the action, or after dramatic courtroom scenes lead to his (violent) execution.

We British tend quietly to take a lot of pills, or throw ourselves under trains. And of course most American suicides are of this nature too. But the regularity with which these awful stories do emerge, where an American death has been organised as a film director would organise it — and the rarity of such orgies of destruction in our own country — invites a question about our comparative national cultures.

It invites a question, too, about a civilisation in which so much of an individual’s own life story is spent watching fictional accounts of other people’s life stories that individuals begin to live on a meta-level — as it were — where they become the audience for a movie about themselves.

No doubt I over-interpret. But watch Rodger’s video, and ask yourself how likely it would be that a British boy would even dream of doing it like that. Perhaps if Elliot had been raised here rather than born here he might have departed with a whimper, rather than that awful, vainglorious bang.

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Show comments
  • Kennybhoy

    “.. a comparison with another American mass murderer, Timothy McVeigh..”

    Roger was a mentally disturbed spree killer. McVeigh a politically motivated terrorist. No comparison.

    “I realise that in saying so I have suddenly jumped from two obvious psychopaths, which any society can produce, to an entire nation, and this may seem unwarranted..”


    “No doubt I over-interpret.”

    And yup again.

    “…how likely it would be that a British boy would even dream of doing it like that.”

    • Liz

      Most mentally disturbed people do not perpetrate violence. It’s a cop out.

      His motive was misogynist terrorism, he said so in great detail in his online manifesto and numerous videos. He is now being hailed as a hero across the thousands of “men’s rights” and PUA forums. There are others in those forums right now threatening to do the same.

  • The guy was under psychiatric care since he was 8. Many of
    the mass killers were under the care of a psychiatrist. Why aren’t people
    asking what is wrong with the profession that it can’t help a few of these

    • Grey Wolf

      Good point. You are on to something. Somebody should find out whether this mass murderer was also on prescribed psychiatric medication.

    • Randy McDonald

      Failure in one case by no means demonstrates failure in all cases. We only learn about the failures, after all.

      It’s at least as likely that psychiatrists are highly capable in treating the vast majority of like people.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I got the impression that young Elliot Rodger had been repeatedly “blanked” by white women. We`re all been there, right guys? You make an intelligent, sensitive approach and suddenly she`s gone deaf and you`re invisible. Well, there is a downside, ladies.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Kaine

      He was a not-unattractive guy with his own very nice car at 22. If he couldn’t get a woman to talk to him it is unlikely he was making an “intelligent, sensitive approach” and more likely acted in a way that set alarm bells off in anyone who spoke to him.

      It seems the women of his college town in Cali had a damn site better judgement than the police officers and shrinks about what sort of man he was.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Women have this amazing ability to spot the nutter at 30 paces.

        • Kennybhoy

          Jesus wept. A sensible comment from the troll…

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Damned with faint praise.

          • Kennybhoy

            I love you too Jacky me lad! 🙂 Now be a good wee tsuri and crawl back under your big snowy rocks! 🙂

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            I really didn`t think any Internet correspondent could be more perverse, illogical and downright stupid than Mad Jock McNutter. But you`ve proved me wrong.

          • Kennybhoy

            PS I note that your response is heavily revised. Spend a lot of time working on it wee man? 🙂

      • Cheradenine

        He wasn’t making any approaches at all, because he was too shy to make approaches.

        • Randy McDonald

          He was attacking them. Did that count?

    • Randy McDonald

      Towards the end of his life, his interactions with women were limited to throwing drinks at passing women who didn’t acknowledge him and trying to push women off of walls.

      Rodger was an entitled monster.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        If only he`s had a table-tennis club,

  • BMW’s are the car of choice for psychopaths

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Clearly intended in jest, but this comment may in fact contain a grain of truth. Which is why as a general principle the heretic should not just be heard, but afforded special protection.
      I had this conversation, albeit from a slightly different perspective with a German executive of BMW when I was deviling in Oxford. I was expounding the point that for BMW, the customer was the weak link in the image chain, making the obvious comparison with Mercedes Benz. And like a good German executive he agreed to take this opinion on board. Seems this was a problem with no obvious solution.
      Jack, the Japan Alps Brits

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    Lives could have been saved if Elliot had learned ‘Game,’ or how to pick up and seduce women.

    Instead, his hatred of men who sleep with girls–and of the girls who sleep with them– only grew until it exploded in violence. He even joined an anti-pick-up artist website,

    He had far more in common with the feminist Left than people are willing to admit. That this incident is attracting so much passionate attention, especially from females, indicates it has struck a chord.

    It is a bloody indictment of the modern sexual marketplace.

    • Liz

      You are unspeakably offensively moronic.

    • Randy McDonald

      “It is a bloody indictment of the modern sexual marketplace.”

      How? Women refusing to have sex with a man who is incapable of talking to them, never mind treating them nicely, is actually proof that the modern sexual marketplace works.

      • Cheradenine

        So very shy guys should just accept lives of desperate loneliness, while very shy girls get to be happy? How is that fair?

        • Randy McDonald

          _Do_ very shy girls get to be happy?

          At any rate, no one owes another person sex, least not people they’ve no contact with or no interest in.

          Certainly Elliot Rodgers wasn’t owed sex, considering that his last interactions with women involved attacking them (throwing coffee at them, trying to push them off walls, et cetera).

          • Cheradenine

            Yes, very shy girls do get to be happy, because they will be approached by members of the opposite sex who aren’t shy. They will enjoy romance and affection and sex. Their shyness won’t be a significant impediment to them in life. If Elliot Rodgers had been a girl with the same personality and general appearance, he would probably have had a fairly normal and happy life. Our mating culture, as currently configured, however, requires a certain amount of confidence, assertiveness and social skill from males, otherwise they are doomed to lives of misery and loneliness, as Elliot Rodgers was.

            In a balanced, healthy, mating culture, based on the much-heralded equality, girls would make overtures to guys as well as the other way around. Hence, the shy people on each side would be picked up by the confident people on the other. But that’s not the world we live in. The feminists show no interest in achieving that kind of equality. Why would they want to give up the immensely privileged position in the mating game that women currently enjoy?

          • Randy McDonald

            “Yes, very shy girls do get to be happy, because they will be approached by members of the opposite sex who aren’t shy.”

            Will they? Will they necessarily be desirable?

            In any case, Elliot Rodgers would not be a person who could benefit from even a traditional setting. Friends, acquaintances, and people who knew him emphasized the extent to which he was simply unable to talk to people. Even as a grade school student with friends, he was barely capable of exchanging more than one-word phrases. He would have been incapable of meeting the minimum requirements for interacting with women.

  • Ricky Strong

    That was quite an enjoyable read.

    I guess you could draw a parallel with young (and older it would seem) kids who listen to gangster rap. You only need look at how many of these kids turn out, they are mirror images of the people in the videos; they look like them, speak like them, act like them and worst of all, aspire to be them.

    I am in no doubt that aspects of modern society are a huge influence on many of the societal wrongs we are now seeing. Just a curious glance at modern western society will leave you with images of power, money, sex, gadgets, drugs etc. We vilify a middle aged man for playing a sing with the ‘n’ word in it (I feel like a child having to say that), yet we allow some of the vilest rap music grace our TV’s and radio airwaves. If I wrote down one verse of this music my comment wouldn’t pass the moderators, yet we willingly allow children to digest it and wonder why they turn out the way they do.

  • IainRMuir

    Maybe we imitate our movies on both sides of the Atlantic. American nutters choose to die in gunfights and car chases. We think of ourselves as players in Ken Loach movies, suffer from untreatable depression, and quietly kill ourselves.

  • Liz

    Was Mehdi Nemmouche seeking a Hollywood Ending too? Or was that spree shooting an altogether more serious and political affair because he wasn’t targeting women?

  • “Americans do mass murder on a grand scale, choreographed, with fast cars and guns”

    That’s because these mass murders are false flag operation! How is it you didn’t figure that out already?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Face it guy, what Elliot was crying out for was a good whore house.