Once again, we are reeling with revulsion over the umpteenth mass murder in our violence-crazed world. The latest “spree killing” happened to be committed in my own fair state of California, just up the coast from Bonoboville in idyllic Isla Vista near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, which isn’t really so idyllic, having been the scene of another high-profile mass-murder when Hollywood kid David Attias ran over four pedestrians back in 2001, but that’s another movie—er, story.
The now-infamous perpetrator of this latest horror, one Elliot Roger, another lonely child of Tinseltown with what the family lawyer called “high-functioning Asperger’s,” is the eldest son of award-winning British-American filmmaker, Peter Rodger, best-known for his work as assistant director of The Hunger Games, a popular dystopian-futuristic film series about attractive young people who, in a nationally televised action spectacle, desperately try to kill each other.
The younger Rodger’s internationally broadcast spectacle includes a series of videos, writings and, of course, murders, that reveal him to have been a deeply disturbed, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, sexually frustrated, creepily-metrosexual, utterly alienated, self-confessed 22-year-old virgin who really, truly defies analysis. That doesn’t stop lots of us, from feminists and psychiatrists to gun nuts and “game” players, from trying to analyze him. None of us knew Elliot Rodger (the folks that did are lying low), so we’re primarily speaking from our own understanding of what we’ve heard and seen in a kind of whisper-down-the-lane outpouring of emotional horror, intellectual posturing and general human hysteria.
“It’s obviously the work of a madman,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, regarding the younger Rodger’s spectacle, in an apparent effort to say something without saying much of anything to the violence-hungry, quote-needy media. Of course, killing seven people, including yourself, would seem to be the quintessential definition of “madness.” At least, everyone (besides other crazies) can agree on that point. And yet, in his chilling, now viral “Retribution” video, he does not act like a wild-eyed, drooling “madman,” but more like a well-spoken (if scripted) actor delivering his soliloquy, detailing his self-obsessed misery as if to future journalists, screenwriters and bloggers whom he imagines will write his story, pouting, preening and adjusting his designer sunglasses as he announces he will soon “take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.”
His pronouncements might seem ridiculous, and certainly pathetic, if they weren’t followed by a real-life rampage that took the lives of six innocent people and wounded several others: “Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge… You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.”
The terrible truth is that he really did “punish (us) all” by doing something so heinous he got his smug little mug in front of almost as many eyeballs as his dad got with The Hunger Games, maybe more. And now here we all are, wringing our hands over him and his ilk. Those of us who happen to be blonde, female or a male whom females like are looking over our shoulders with a bit more fear and suspicion. The little creep is punishing us all. The most effective thing we can do is hashtag #YesAllWomen until our fingers hurt. At least we’re reaching out to each other. That’s positive.
Because “madman” that he was, Rodger is part of a terrible trend of very mad men in line to go on the next “spree,” spraying bullets at innocent women, men and children like the ultimate evil ejaculation, each “copycatting” the others, each adding their own twists, a manifesto, a shock of Joker red hair, a religious tract, a homemade reality show… and who knows what the next lunatic will choose as his motif? Maybe it’s because I’m a sex therapist but I often feel that, suicide bomber or mad gunman, frustrated sexuality lurks at the heart of the problem. Whether these sexless young men are looking forward to 72 virgins in heaven or revenge on all the girls they couldn’t have (or, in some cases, the girls they couldn’t be) or a frighteningly perverse, posthumous glory (there have already been attempts to post Elliot Rodger “hero” pages), sexual repression and denigration is pulling the trigger on many innocent lives.
Of course, the vast majority of these moaning sexual frustratos don’t kill anybody, and sexual frustration is no excuse for any kind of bad behavior. But could part of our society’s problem be that we don’t give young men better answers as to what to do about sexual frustration if, for instance, the objects of their desire don’t desire them? Not to minimize Rodger’s personal madness, misogyny and bloated sense of privilege… but could it be that our culture gives killing and gaming far more honor, glamour, glory and respect than we give sex and loving?
Though some of the crazed violence in our world spews from the shaking hands of bitter loners like Rodger, let us not forget that most of it is organized and sanctified by our Military-Industrial Complex, Prison-Industrial Complex and generally gun-crazed police. They are the kings of far larger killing fields, all of it glorified and gory-fied by mass entertainment, from Red Dawn to The Hunger Games to the slick advertisements that entice aimless young frustratos to join the military and become professional killers (or get killed). It’s all part of America’s passionate fetish for guns. And yes, it is a fetish. Large numbers of Americans, including a disproportionate amount in power, love guns, bombs and violence better than regular sex in essentially the same way that a nylon fetishist loves pantyhose, stockings and garter belts better than regular sex. Of course, a nylon fetish is pretty harmless. But a gun fetish? Look forward to more blood in the streets and in the media.
Stuck in a waiting room the night before Rodger’s spree, my husband Max and I were forced to watch “regular” TV, which meant a non-stop barrage of killing, from comic-book-style, razzle-dazzle mass-murders to balletic, operatic homicides to slow, gory immolations. It still amazes me that you can show a woman’s blood and guts spilling out on prime-time American TV, but can you show her healthy naked breasts? Of course not! That’s considered obscene.
Not that I’m for any kind of censorship, not at all. I just wish there could be more rewards for artists doing work that encourages peaceful, erotic solutions to conflicts instead of the sexploitative violent stuff that always gets the green-light. What about gun control? Yes indeed, America needs more gun control, especially to keep semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of children and “polite” nutcases like Rodger. But gun control is no panacea. Rodger used a hammer and knives to murder his first three victims. The Boston Marathon massacre exploded from homemade bombs created from pressure-cookers. We should pay better attention to violent threats posted on YouTube. And yes we should take a few bucks from the war chest and invest in a better social system for addressing chronic mental-health issues in angry, mentally ill individuals like Rodger. Then again, there is also the great and grave danger of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest “combine” of well-meaning mental health professionals over-medicating and confining people unnecessarily.
The only “solution” to human society’s violence plague that I can hang my hat on is following the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure. The Make-Love-Not-War bonobo apes who share almost 99% of our DNA have created a society where sexual pleasure and empathetic communication are paramount, and war and murder do not exist, where the females gently dominate or share power in most spheres of life, even though the males are physically stronger. Of course, humans aren’t and can’t be just like bonobos, but we can and should learn from them, as well as help save them from extinction, because they will help us save ourselves.
As a sex therapist, I can’t help but wonder, if Elliot Rodger had been my client, could I have helped him? Could I have stopped him? That’s one reason he’s gotten under my skin, because his grievances remind me of some of my clients’ complaints. The Rodger family lawyer says Elliot was seeing “multiple therapists,” but were any of them specifically addressing his sexual problems? Of course, Rodger was an extremely tough case, but sex therapy has helped countless sexual frustratos grapple with their perceived inadequacies, their overblown sense of entitlement and their disturbingly high levels of misogyny. One of the most rewarding aspects of sex therapy is helping guys who, like Rodger, find themselves reluctant virgins (a.k.a. “incels”—involuntary celibates) well into adulthood, and there’s no one with whom they can discuss and evaluate their options. Many of them are profoundly angry with the women inside and outside their lives who haven’t “given them a chance,” from those goddess-like “popular girls” to their mothers and step-mothers. I try to help these men stop blaming women and fussing over their virginity and just lose it already. I’m not sure if it would have worked for Rodger, but I’ve sent many a shy virgin to my friend Dennis Hof’s legal brothels for their first-time sex experience, and that often really does make a “new man” of them. I’ve sent a few of the more fearful or touch-averse to IPSA-certified sex surrogates, and I’ve encouraged others to take up activities ladies love like ballroom dancing so they can meet women on their own, but with the odds well-stacked in their favor. This is not about being a “pick-up artist;” it’s about coming “out of isolation,” as my old friend performance artist Frank Moore would say.
Of course, some men have problems with women because they’re actually more attracted to men, and I try to help such men accept their homo- or bisexuality and find a nice guy. Some rage at females because they really wish they could be women, but they’re profoundly afraid to admit this “sin” against masculinity, even to themselves. I wonder if Rodger might have felt such feelings, since he “never even kissed a girl,” and reports so far indicate that he didn’t try to ask out any of the women he claims to have lusted after. I try to help such individuals to acknowledge and explore their deepest desires as well as their shame, and then decide what action to take, if any. As for the very few who genuinely want to stay virgins, I just try to help them enjoy the everyday wonders of solo sex, and not just in the merry Masturbation Month of May.
Fortunately, there are very few individuals as disturbed as Elliot Rodger, and even fewer that would carry out their vicious fantasies as he did. But many angry adult virgin men, like Rodger, are confused by the mixed messages about sex and violence that our society sends out to them and all of us. They hear that virginity is something we should “save” and then effortlessly “lose” to someone special—whether someone we love or the most popular kid in school—when it is really just one of many steps we take on the road of our sexual evolution. They get the message that sex is bad enough to keep off of prime time TV while brutal violence and murderous “games,” where the losers die and the winner takes all, are perfectly acceptable family entertainment. Then they watch the news and see “real life” where a “spree killer” like Rodger becomes more famous than his own award-winning dad literally overnight. And we wonder why so many “madmen” stalk our sororities, our streets and our psyches.
On that note, I’d like to personally thank Richard Martinez, whose son, 20-year-old Chris Martinez, was shot and killed while standing in a deli, for having the courage and fortitude to speak out in the midst of his anguish and remind us, “people need to understand that real people died here… because it could be them,” and ask us to reach out to each other across the aisle of politics, that “rudderless bunch of idiots in government” and across the rivers of blood, Hollywood glitz, military brass and NRA cash and “do something” about America’s out-of-control fetish for guns, violence and killing-as-conflict-resolution.
Far be it for me to lay this horror at the feet of Elliot Rodger’s poor mother, who seems to have tried her best to get help for her crazy son and then stop him once she got the news. But I can’t help but think of the advice Max’s mother gave to him when he was a little boy. Quite the Neopolitan princess, she didn’t give him much advice about anything, but she did tell him this, “Always be nice to girls.” If only more of us—from the streets to the Pentagon—could get and follow that simple message. Be nice to girls… and boys. It’s the Bonobo Way.
Dr. Susan Block is an internationally renowned LA sex therapist, author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure and the forthcoming Bonobo Way, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. Visit her at http://DrSusanBlock.com. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzy. Email your comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will get a reply.
© May 27, 2012.