Literature of the Cursed: “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger”
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, which seems to be about every other week at this point, the question that invariably arises is “Why?” Why did some young man decide to vent his rage against the world in an attention-grabbing blizzard of bullets and dead bodies? What could have possibly motivated him?
That was the question on my mind, and the minds of much of the general public, when news broke about the latest school shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. While I waited for more information, I decided that it would be the perfect time to do a deep-dive into My Twisted World, the 140-page, 107,000-word manifesto of Elliot Rodger, the creepy, racist misogynist who murdered six and injured 13 more in Isla Vista, California in 2014.
As his declaration of intent would have us understand, he did so pretty much solely out of rage over his inability to get laid.
When a shooting of this magnitude occurs, controversy invariably arises about how much attention to pay the killer’s ideas. There is an argument to be made that publicizing a mass murderer’s ideas gives him a power and cultural significance that he does not deserve, and that the best way to handle these tragedies is to honor the victims and survivors while minimizing those responsible as much as possible.
But at the same time, there’s undeniably something to be gained from exploring the psychology of someone who has transgressed our cultural taboos in the most violent, destructive manner imaginable. Trying to understand why people commit horrible crimes can be edifying, ethically questionable as such a practice may be.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no subtext to Rodger’s manifesto. He doesn’t suggest that sex and women are evil and that he is powered by a toxic combination of jealousy, rage and hate; he flat out says, repeatedly, that sex and women are evil and that he’s fueled by a desire to punish everyone who has what he wants but cannot get. Rodger lays out every point as clearly and explicitly as possible, and then repeats those points over and over again.
In Rodger’s telling, childhood was a time of boundless innocence, wonder, and joy for him. He played Pokémon with his friends, rode skateboards, went exploring, and bonded with peers over video games. Life was wonderful until sex entered the equation and transformed Rodger’s carefree existence from a heaven of dewy innocence to an unrelenting hell of unfulfilled sexual desire.
Like so many teenagers that came before him, Rodger labors under the delusion that the greatest problem, not just in his own life but in the history of mankind, is his inability to lose his virginity.
He subscribes to a ridiculous dichotomy wherein the sexually active lead lives of bliss while the virgins like himself are doomed to despair. In Rodger’s reductive mathematics, sex equals happiness while celibacy equates to unrelenting despair; in a similarly Manichean construction, Rodgers equates childhood with innocence while puberty and incipient adulthood represent unfathomable spiritual corruption.
He is the boy with the thorn in his side, and behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire not for love, but for sex:
The move to Santa Barbara is the endgame, the ultimate climax of everything. I saw it as a new chance that was given to me to finally have the things I want in life: love, sex, friends, fun, acceptance, a sense of belonging. But I could never forgive the world for denying me such things in the past. I was already turning twenty soon. I had already lost many years of my life. I deserve better than that.
He thought the world owed him everything, including a life of wealth and privilege where he would never have to work for a living.
Rodger is obsessed with money, yet never seems remotely interested in doing things that might plausibly make him some cash. He is convinced that the only way he’ll ever be able to lose his virginity is by becoming so wealthy and accomplished that women will flock to him. Yet Rodger doesn’t seem to understand money any more than a small child might.
When his mother buys her own house, Rodger writes without any irony:
The house had a swimming pool and was located in a nice enough area, though I would have still preferred it if my mother had gotten married to a wealthy man and moved into a mansion. I still continued to pester her to do this, and she still stubbornly refused. I will always resent my mother for refusing to do this. If not for her sake, she should have done it for mine. Joining a family of great wealth would have truly saved my life. I would have a high enough status to attract beautiful girlfriends and live above all of my enemies. All of my horrific troubles would have been eased instantly. It is very selfish of my mother to not consider this.
Throughout the manifesto, Rodger angrily demands that his needs not only be met, but be met with “excellent precision”; any delay between Rodger demanding something and receiving it is simply unacceptable.
But Rodger is operating at cross purposes.
He wants people to feel sorry for him, to view his unpopularity and virginity as horrible injustices sadistically perpetrated on him by a cruel world, but he also wants to impress readers as someone utterly deserving of every good thing in the world, most notably a beautiful girlfriend with whom he can have mind-blowing sex in a giant mansion funded either by his lottery winnings, his mother’s generous financial gifts, or the proceeds from one of his fantasy novels.
It would be funny if it weren’t so terribly, terribly bleak.
In his writing, he alternates between fantasies of power and greatness and epic bouts of self-pity.
Rodger refers to himself as a god on multiple occasions and continuously boasts of his superiority over other people — especially the frat boy apes and sexy sorority girls whose active sex lives he considers an insult to his virginity — but he also weeps.
And weeps. And weeps.
It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that Rodger writes about crying on every single page of his manifesto. Yet, these constant references to his ever-flowing tears don’t reek of vulnerability so much as arrogance; he seems to view his complete inability to control his emotions as proof of his authenticity and realness.
He just feels things more deeply than everyone else, and he clearly views his copious, non-stop tears as proof of his emotional depth.
That night, I threw a wild tantrum, screaming and crying for hours on end. I had the whole apartment to myself, so there was no one there to hear me. I raged at the entire world, thrashing at my bed with my wooden practice sword and slashing at the air with my pocket knife. I even downed an entire bottle of wine, and got so drunk that I spilled my wine all over my laptop, permanently destroying it. I soaked my pillow with tears as I drifted off to sleep in my lonely bed.
In addition to ruminating on his tears and cultivating his rage at the sexually active, Rodger is also an unabashed, unrepentant snob.
He fancies himself a superior, intellectual gentleman of taste and refinement for whom the very idea of working a service job or living in an apartment in a non-wealthy neighborhood is an inconceivable insult.
Rodger devotes most of his manifesto to screeching shrilly about the bottomless evil of attractive blonde women, but he also spends a lot of it bragging. For a manifesto by a misogynistic mass murderer, My Twisted Life is shockingly full of food porn. When not whining about how brutally unfair the world is, Rodger also favor readers with an exhaustive rundown of the delicious food he consumed in exquisite, expensive restaurants in mass quantities, secure that his incredibly high metabolism will allow him to eat as much as he wants and never gain weight.
Since I had no access to sex, food was my only vice. As with all buffets that I had attended, I stuffed myself tremendously, trying to sample every single thing they offered. There was pork sausage, bacon, smoked salmon, sushi, filet mignon, roast chicken, roast potatoes… And I took pleasure in eating as much as I could. I filled my plate three times and devoured all of them. As I enjoyed my exquisite meal, I took in the scenery all around me; the perfectly built architecture of the building, the pretty flowers in the gardens, the luxurious furniture and décor, the cascading fountains. It truly made me feel good, a welcome respite from all of my suffering in Santa Barbara.
We’re similarly treated to a lengthy rundown of all the luxury hotels Rodger has stayed in, the many countries he’s visited, often while flying first class or at the very least business class, the glamorous movie premieres he attended (the three Star Wars prequels and The Hunger Games, on which his father worked on as a second-unit director) and even the spectacular views he enjoyed while globe-trotting. And Rodger has a dandy’s regard for fashion and a fanciful, hyperbolic vocabulary.
Much like Donald Trump, Rodger is keen on superlatives. He describes events and meals as “magnificent”, “superior”, “brilliant” and “exquisite.” Rodger refers to himself a “beautiful, magnificent gentleman” and promises early in his missive, “In this magnificent story, I will disclose every single detail about my life, every single significant experience that I have pulled from my superior memory, as well as how those experiences have shaped my views of the world.”#
One of the many heartbreaking aspects of the manifesto is that a lot of people desperately tried to help Rodger. His parents hired multiple “social skills counsellors” for him, friends-for-pay who would help Rodger communicate with other human beings outside of his beloved World Of Warcraft. Rodger bitterly attacks his father for not teaching him to be irresistible to women, but when his dad’s friend Dale Launer (the screenwriter of My Cousin Vinny, Ruthless People and Dead Poets Society) tries to help him be more confident, Rodger grouses that he’s only doing so out of ego and self-interest.
Rodger had loving and concerned parents, involved grandparents, and a life full of advantages. He even had friends who somehow tolerated his never-ending self-pity, tantrums, childishness and misogynistic rages — though a close friend named James eventually had to distance himself from Rodger when the killer-to-be couldn’t stop talking about his desire to torture and murder women for the unforgivable crime of not wanting to have sex with them.
James became deeply disturbed by my anger. I wished that he wasn’t disturbed. I wished he could be a friend that felt the same way about the world that I did. But he wasn’t that kind of person. He was a weakling.
As his manifesto anticipates the brutal endgame that ended Rodger’s life and the lives of others, the mask of sanity comes off completely and the author luxuriates in his own evil and madness. After hinting throughout about his philosophy and political beliefs, Rodger finally lets them all spill out in a grotesque display of moral ugliness.
In fully realizing these truths about the world, I have created the ultimate and perfect ideology of how a fair and pure world would work. In an ideal world, sexuality would not exist. It must be outlawed. In a world without sex, humanity will be pure and civilized. Men will grow up healthily, without having to worry about such a barbaric act. All men will grow up fair and equal, because no man will be able to experience the pleasures of sex while others are denied it. The human race will evolve to an entirely new level of civilization, completely devoid of all the impurity and degeneracy that exists today.
In order to completely abolish sex, women themselves would have to be abolished. All women must be quarantined like the plague they are, so that they can be used in a manner that actually benefits a civilized society. In order carry this out, there must exist a new and powerful type of government, under the control of one divine ruler, such as myself.
Rodger proposes that since women and sexuality are the cause of all ugliness, evil, and unhappiness in the world, the entire gender should be eliminated. Rodger proposes starving women to death, herding them into concentration camps and saving a few for breeding purposes before scientific advances render it possible for men to reproduce without women. Despite being an effeminate man obsessed with sex, Rodger doesn’t even seem to know homosexuality exists, and seems to imagine that if women were eliminated from the world, sexuality would be completely eliminated as well, instead of taking on another form.
The sad husk of a man who spends the book weeping over his status as an unkissed virgin proposes himself as the dictator and unchallenged God of this future world; if he cannot score even a single smooch, Rodger will destroy the entire world in revenge.
Rodger’s manifesto is an exploration of runaway privilege grown monstrous and deranged.
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