The League of Supreme Gentlemen
What movie do you live inside of? C'mon, everybody else lives inside one, why not you? The most striking thing about the YouTube video posted by the suspect of a recent drive-by shooting in Isla Vista is that it's so cinematic. He rants in the best movie style: the sunglasses, sunset lighting, three quarters profile view. Maybe he even did a couple of takes before judging it ready for prime time.
"The problem with YouTube," a friend of mine said, "is anyone can imagine himself as the star of his own self-produced movie." And this guy was in his own movie. The suspect, someone remarked on Twitter, was ripping off Ryan Gosling in Drive. The line between the actual and the imagined has never been clear to some. Thirty years ago I had a conversation with a self-confessed killer who told me seriously that he hated movies because in them the action was accompanied by a musical score. What a lie, he said. "Everybody knows," he said, "that you don't hear music in workaday situations." The thing is, he wasn't being facetious or joking. He was -- pardon the pun -- dead serious.
Nobody can do anything any more without a video. It's gotten so the Boko Haram can't even commit a regular atrocity without bragging of their exploits on video. One apologist for the president said of Benghazi that it couldn't have been a terrorist attack, because if it were, then where's the video? He had a point. It is a fact that terrorist organizations rarely blow anything up without a video cameraman to record the proceedings, because believe it or not the real propaganda value of the outrage isn't in the deed. It's in the terrorist release and distribution, possibly the merchandising.
The standard definition of abnormality used to be not knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Today the only ones who are crazy are those who actually believe there's a difference between the two. The facts are no defense any more.
The same is true for the bare necessities. Needs used to be food, shelter and clothing. Today people have entitlements. "Positive rights" to you. Take the Isla Vista suspect. He had a BMW and money to burn. But his Facebook account had zero friends. He was 22 years old and never been laid. And therefore he was aggrieved.
Who can live like that anymore? And in that atmosphere of entitlement, he was filled with rage against the world that denied him Facebook friends and a girlfriend; girls who by rights should have beat a path to a "supreme gentleman" such as himself.
Today our 'needs' are determined by the plotline. It's a McGuffin world where people pursue things that have no actual bearing on anything, which are just props, required by the movie they live in. The girlfriend, iPhone, smart watch, there was already a Beamer ... etc ... were necessary because people in the movies have them. You can't be Ryan Gosling in your own mind without the girl.
But the worst thing about the "supreme gentleman's" video rant is that it's so funny. The rant sounded exactly like what it is: a bad movie, like Plan 9 from Outer Space. The horror notwithstanding, the rant was ridiculous. Yet there was nothing ridiculous about what ensued.
Someone's son had gone out and killed other children for essentially nothing. The greater tragedy is that maybe we as a civilization have forgotten our own humanity. The killer had turned himself into a cartoon; taken his flesh and blood and bone, plus something we once considered imbued with an immortal soul and converted it into a throwaway cardboard cutout character. Glamor has made real life too bland for us. But the price is high; in rejecting life we lose shame and we lose love; and all we have in the end is celebrity.
The Supreme Gentleman had forgotten that real life is actually more interesting than the movies. But there was no way back for him; he had stepped inside the scene and couldn't step out of it.
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I had a chance to read the famous My Twisted World manifesto. My first thoughts were: Adam Lanza lives again. Jason and Freddy, move over. From a literary point of view Elliot Rodger's manifesto is a masterpiece of mad writing. It is a chronicle of a descent into hell. It's also a not entirely unsympathetic look at Hollywood life from the inside out.
It is immediately apparent that Elliot had an enormous sense of entitlement and a paint-by-the-numbers view of the world. He had stuff coming to him. Video games, white collar jobs, peer respect, and girls. Whether he was born this way or the idea was subtly imprinted in childhood by his upbringing I leave to the pros.
But at all events, the way he thought was, push the button, get the banana. Wear "cool" clothes, get the girl. Get the nifty haircut, get the girl. Learn this or that skill, get the girl. And yet everyone but him always got the girl, however many buttons he pushed. Over and over he misses out. The black guy gets the girl. The buck toothed moron gets the girl. He racks his brains and comes up with racist, ableist, and ageist explanations. Why, why, why do these untermensch get the girls. No matter, they get them somehow. But he himself never gets the girl himself and soon enough he was convinced it was conspiracy.
Maybe this was how Hitler thought. Yes, the Jew! It can happen you know.
Rodgers had a shaman's view of reality. Don the green cape and springtime comes. This accounts for his almost hilarious demeanor on YouTube, with his winks and pauses and artful poses. He actually thought you walked up to lady and winked and jiggled like a human pinball machine and that got things rolling. That's what he did. He rolled up to you and did this imitation of a human being. Despite his considerable intelligence, which is evident from his writing, he could never actually see other human beings as free beings and treated them like candy machines with buttons. They were always planets circling his world. He could never empathize with them.
The harder he mashed down on his silly buttons the more he turned people off. He was probably crazy from his mid-teens onward, a kind of walking idiot savant; a sort of wind up parody who must have seemed ludicrous to everyone else, even though his heart and soul were in those misguided malapropisms.
The only places he viewed with wonder were the movies and his video games. They were his refuge and sacred groves and the forges of his hate. They were extraordinarily dangerous places for him. People who are sane can visit fantasy without harm, but a man who has no roots on the earth can be swept away even by a software demon.
From the moment I saw his famous video, I couldn't hate Elliot Rodger. He was too pathetic to hate, like a ventriloquist's dummy. That didn't make him less evil. At some point his rage opened him to cruel thoughts. They flooded into him like the ocean roaring into the funnel of a foundering ship until they filled him to the brim. So that on his last day of rage he was completely consumed by what in former times people called the Devil.
But the Devil doesn't exist you know. Or so we are told. We've purged him from our modern, secular, shrink-ridden world. But by whatever alias he lives under now, Elliot Rodgers is a reminder that the power of the idea walks among us as fiercely as ever. He can materialize, quite suddenly, whether over New York City or in California, you never know when.
In the entirety of Rodger's account the one word never glimpsed was 'God', or an equivalent concept. He lived in a world without the notation. Perhaps the Great Religions had a function we cynical moderns have long forgotten. Those systems of belief kept the darkness away, and whether by rote, ceremony or deep inspiration they provided huddled humanity with a defense against dangers they felt upon the outer edges, dangers whose existence we now deny. Perhaps we are powerless against those forces anyhow, if human history is anything to go by, but we had in old faith a means of exorcism, however slender. We knew the name, at least, of what to fear in the night.
Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific