Mass shooting sends us messages on gun control, misogyny and the pick-up culture

Opinion: Supporters of the National Rifle Association were quick to offer the usual useless rebuttals

‘As the days progressed, attention became focused on the breathtakingly misogynistic screed and the troublingly focused video that Rodger created before reaching for his arsenal.’ Above, students mourn the victims of Rodger’s killing rampage. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

‘As the days progressed, attention became focused on the breathtakingly misogynistic screed and the troublingly focused video that Rodger created before reaching for his arsenal.’ Above, students mourn the victims of Rodger’s killing rampage. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images


The appalling mass shooting by Elliot Rodger in California last week should be remembered first as a personal tragedy for the families whose loved ones were needlessly slaughtered. But it also demonstrated a miserable truth about contemporary discourse: too many ill-tempered reactionaries are incapable of grasping that a news story may be about more than one thing.

Within hours of the shooting, Richard Martinez, father to one of the victims, turned up to make a desperate – though still reasoned – plea for meaningful gun control. “Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” he said. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop?”

The National Rifle Association initially kept its silence, but supporters of that unlovely body were quick to offer the usual useless rebuttals. We sympathise with Mr Martinez, they said. We understand his pain. But why are we blaming the gun laws rather than the young man who actually pulled the trigger? Isn’t this really about mental health?

One doesn’t need a PhD in advanced logic to negotiate a route around this empty argument. It is possible to hold Rodger responsible – or bemoan the sorry state of his addled brain – while still bemoaning the absurdly lax legislation that allowed him to wreak such appalling mayhem on the streets of Santa Barbara. This is not a zero-sum game.

As the days progressed, attention focused on the breathtakingly misogynistic screed and the video that Rodger created before reaching for his arsenal. “You girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” his vast “manifesto” explained. “I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one.”

Casual misogyny

More than a few writers got stuck into the cultural poisons that surely fuelled Rodger’s psychotic antagonism to women. The casual misogyny that characterises so much contemporary chatter finds formal expression in the ludicrous, whiny, pathetic “Men’s Rights Movement” (if ever an association deserved inverted commas it is that mob). Followers of this loosely defined mass-whinge claim that poor wee men have had their masculinity gutted by feminism and that an epidemic of false rape claims threatens what little sexual freedom they (“we”, I suppose) retain. Rodger addressed much of this gibberish in his 140-page self-justification.

Women move through environments where sexually licentious comments – online and in real life – are flung around with a promiscuity that threatens to deaden their impact. In a witty response to the argument that “not all men” are like that, a hashtag on Twitter, #yesallwomen, invited females to detail everyday examples of casual (and not so casual) misogyny.

Again, the counter-response pretended to read the articles and the campaign in simplistic fashion. Oh, what has become of us? It’s all down to lads’ mags, you tell us. It’s the fault of men who admire ladies’ bottoms. It’s to do with filthy lyrics in rap songs. Can you really draw a single, unbroken line from these outrages to the murder of seven people in California?

That particular debate reached greatest exposure in an exchange between Seth Rogen, star of the passable comedy Bad Neighbours (titled Neighbors in the US), and Ann Hornaday, film critic of the Washington Post. In a sober, well-reasoned article, Hornaday attempted to position Rodger’s misogyny within the context of an entertainment industry driven by unreconstructed masculine attitudes. “How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like Neighbors and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of ‘sex and fun and pleasure’?” she wrote.

One can, to be fair, understand why Rogen might be upset to find his name in an article about a mass murder, but the actor’s response demonstrated an inability to grasp the wider, more nuanced arguments being made. “How dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on the rampage,” he tweeted.

Frat-house culture

Hornaday went on to explain that, as should have been obvious, she was not making any direct causal connection between Bad Neighbours and the killing. She was merely using that film as an example of the fetid frat-house culture that may have “inflated” his delusions.

All these things are true. The case presses the need for gun control. It emphasises the insidiousness of the “pick-up” culture. It speaks of the unstoppable misogyny in western society. We can hold all these ideas in our heads without withdrawing responsibility from the perpetrator of the crime. To do otherwise would be to discredit the dead and (let’s face awful truths) those still to die.

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