Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Blues

I don’t know what has me more gloomy: the rampant hypocrisy of yet another Memorial Day (originally enacted after the Civil War so Americans could decorate the graves of fallen soldiers), or the vicious narcissism and waste of life in Isla Vista at the hands of yet another lunatic with a gun. The latter was a young man, Eliot Rodger, from an affluent family—his father is in the movie business—who advertised on youtube about his plans to kill young women he believed had spurned him all his life. He allegedly died a virgin because women—no, not just women; beautiful women of the kind he seemed to think inhabited sorority houses—wouldn’t give him a tumble. He ranted about this both in his youtube video and in his lengthy manifesto. Poor me; I can’t get laid. And therein lies the key to the whole thing: this was a young narcissist of the type America now specializes in, whose thought process seems keyed to the internet and his fantasy that there are all these beautiful women out there who should want to bed with him, but somehow don’t. Of course, the fact that he apparently had no measurable ability to relate to actual people didn’t seem to enter his calculations. His lack of success was simply due to the misperceptions of women, who didn’t see what a great guy he really was, and instead gave themselves to inferior alpha males who never treated them well. Eliot would have, if only they’d given him a chance. But they didn’t, so now he had to kill as many as he could.
            Actually, I thought that was pretty much the case until I read a piece today by Igor Volsky, originally on Think Progress, reprinted on Reader Supported News: “Behind the Sexist Ideology That Preoccupied a Mass Murderer.” In it, Volsky introduces us (me at least) to some of the websites that Rodger apparently visited, and they are both pathetic and horrifying. The websites are known as PUAs (pick up artists), and they allegedly give guys tips on how to pick up beautiful women. To call such websites misogynistic is to understate the case by eons. I hesitate to even repeat some of the ugly garbage posted on these sites, but just to give one example, a site called, a site we are told Rodger used, advises men what to do
“if you have an average jaw,” and encourages users to “rate Johnny Depp´s eye area on this pic.” Others even upload pictures and elicit tips from the community for how to alter their appearances in order to maximize their chances of meeting and having sex with beautiful women. (Reader Supported News, 25 May 14).
Nor is this the really offensive stuff. But then, we’re talking here about a young man who committed the most offensive act of all: out of his frustration (“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..”), he packs his glock and goes on a rampage, shooting two sorority girls at random and then a couple more random shoppers at a convenience store before he kills himself.
            One hardly knows what to comment on first. Is this how today’s young men actually think they can find women? Apparently. And it’s all about appearance, not in person where other senses besides vision come into play (not to mention qualities of mind or spirit), but on a screen. It’s hard for someone in my generation to believe. Appearance, of course, has always been important initially in the pickup game, but now it appears to be the whole issue. Everything, in our modern version of the late Roman empire, is in the open. How do you get laid? What leads women to the sack? It’s everywhere. Biology courses teach us that strong jaws and broad shoulders attract women, hence the preoccupation with those. And TV sitcoms try to rival each other in the casual vulgarity they portray, constantly dramatizing women ogling men’s asses and openly conveying their constant concern to bed someone, anyone. The internet just multiplies this, as in this quote, in response to the murders, from what is characterized as the “anti-PUA community:” “Nobody gives a shit about some socially deprived, narrow-clavicle twink with a delusional sense of self. He’s a poser.” It’s the language that stuns me. It is blunt and cruel and without even a hint that there are human beings involved. This is because with the internet, we have a medium for expression that provides anonymity to those who wish to insult, ridicule, or linguistically savage anyone who violates their own sense of narcissism.
            And this is not even to point out the other social aspect of this situation: the way law enforcement works in America. The police were apparently tipped off by one of Eliot Rodger’s family who were alarmed that he was giving off dangerous signals (especially the youtube video). They asked the police to look in on him, which they did. But he was such a nice young white boy, well-spoken and obviously from a fine family, that he convinced them he had no problem. They left, reporting that he didn’t seem to be about to harm himself. Yes, this was their sole concern: the white boy might harm himself, never, apparently, even considering that he might be a danger to others. So they left him with his guns until he went out a bit later (after slicing up his two roommates) and killed four more innocent people. Now imagine if this young man had been black or latino. What would the Isla Vista police have done in that instance? Why they’d have had him up against the wall, or perhaps, suspecting a move for a weapon, would’ve shot the poor bastard. But jolly Rodger was polite and well-spoken and white, so he was given a pass, which he used to slaughter those he thought had “dissed” him.
            Memorable. On Memorial Day it’s memorable because the day is about remembering our dead. Our war dead and the wars that killed them. And what I’ve been trying to do all day is remember a war in recent years—anything after World War II—that could possibly have been worth dying for. There was Korea, a set-up job if ever there was one. MASH pretty much put an end to that one. And there was Vietnam (with a bunch of ‘little’ wars in between, against the little brown people in Central America making things difficult for United Fruit and our friendly dictators), a war that couldn’t even come to a proper conclusion. A war in which our soldiers were so disenchanted they began to ‘frag’ the officers supposedly leading them into glorious battle and honorable death which ended up, honorable death, in that ugly but apt word “wasted.” And more recently we’ve had Iraq (I & II, each one cheered on by a President named Bush), and of course Afghanistan, and perhaps soon, Syria and Ukraine. Can anyone cheer for any of those wars, even in retrospect? Truth is, our leaders don’t even try anymore. So what we get is hypocrisy and transparent cant about those who fought them—our presidents dutifully making their trip to Arlington to plant a wreath at the tomb of the Unknowns, and making comforting noises about how much we appreciate the sacrifice of our noble warriors. But do we? Does anyone who hasn’t lost a family member? It’s doubtful. Like Eliot Rodger, we’re all narcissists, concerned only about the beer we’ll drink and the hot dogs or hamburgers or steaks we’ll eat and the music we’ll listen to and the good life we’re convincing ourselves we’re living. And the hope that somehow, the American empire will continue for a little bit longer so our whole world order doesn’t collapse in on us, as it threatens to at every moment. At which point, perhaps, we will begin to realize that it isn’t just Americans whose death deserves the sad sound of the bugle’s taps, but all the deaths in all the wars we’ve perpetrated over the years. The millions displaced in Iraq. The multi-millions slaughtered in Vietnam. All so that our lifestyle—and especially the lifestyles of the rich and famous we admire—can be maintained in the manner to which they and we have become accustomed. And which somehow, while we’ve been looking the other way, have turned into vulgar comedies and ugly websites and nauseating banter that have reduced life to its most vicious and superficial form of exchange. Alas poor America. Alas poor Eliot Rodger. Alas the poor wasted dead.

Lawrence DiStasi

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