The feelings of grief, horror and discomfort that accompany the aftermath of Isla Vista shootings last Friday will be difficult – impossible, for many – to shake. Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old UC Santa Barbara student, stabbed his three flatmates before fatally shooting two more female students, a man inside an IV Deli Mart and then drove around firing at pedestrians before allegedly turning the gun on himself. As if that weren’t unforgettable enough, he also left behind a very distinct and disturbing digital footprint.
Rodger uploaded reams of footage of himself online – usually either sitting in his black BMW 328i or standing in a remote area he used it to drive to – reeling off long, seemingly staged monologues detailing his loneliness and frustrations over never having had a girlfriend, of having to “endure” the beauty of the Californian landscape by himself. He talks frequently of pain, isolation and desperation – feelings that the majority of us can relate to, which only makes his story more terrifying. On many levels, his complaints are very human, but somewhere between his birth and his final video – the prelude to the mass murder he would go on to commit just hours later – Rodger cultivated a worldview devoid of empathy and plagued by a warped perspective of women.
The final video reveals his plans for “retribution” both on the “spoiled, stuck up blonde sluts” who rejected him and the men they chose to “give their love to” instead of him. It is expressive of a perverse sense of entitlement to women that is not only morally reprehensible but completely insane. He also wrote a 141-page manifesto titled My Twisted World and mailed it out to thirty people before carrying out the killings, which Rap Genius uploaded days later.
Rap Genius is primarily used to annotate rap lyrics via user-generated content, but recently extended into news, poetry and fashion as their goal to “annotate the world” continues to grow. The manifesto was published for close reading in an effort to understand “the psychology of people who do horrible things can help us to better understand our society and ourselves.” However, one of three co-founders, Mahbod Moghadam, added some of his own annotations, which were asinine at best and terrifying at worst.
Moghadam, who Fast Company once named as one of the most creative people in business and is buddies enough with Kanye West to get an invite to his engagement party – hailed the manifesto several times as “beautifully written” before going on to make some choice remarks about Rodger’s sister.
“Elliot barely mentions his sister Georgia throughout the book!” Moghadam wrote. “Towards the end, however, he tells us that they did not get along and becomes extremely angry when he hears her having sex with her boyfriend. MY GUESS: his sister is smoking hot.” Gawker called Moghadam’s comments “creepy” and “weird”, but neither of those descriptions even come close to communicating how deeply troubling they actually are. Even if they were typed with tongue firmly in cheek, they are still far from excusable.
Rap Genius’ CEO Tom Lehman said, “Mahbod Moghadam, one of my co-founders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.”
Moghadam has since resigned (most likely because he was forced to – if not by his co-founders then through pressure from investors). But this is not the first time the site, which recently received a $15 million dollar investment from Andreessen Horowitz and counts Nas among its verified users, stepped in a huge pile of misogynistic shit and dragged it through the living room of the world. Chris Weingarten, a music critic for Spin, once took a pop at their annotations of a Three 6 Mafia song via Twitter and the reply that came from the official Rap Genius account was: “Imma rape you in your mouth cuz.” Since multiple people have access to the account, it’s impossible to tell who it came from and Rap Genius declined to explain the matter further, but Moghadam told Gawker it was “a bad thing, obviously” and “we’re not down with anything like this.”
I have seen many comments underneath articles regarding Moghadam’s resignation declaring it an “over-reaction” and I’m calling bullshit on that. It is important that a huge deal was made out of this. It is important that Moghadam stepped down. It is important that he was made an example of. Naturally, he is not alone in his casual insensitivity and flippant enabling of misogynist culture and it’s about time we started genuinely penalising people for contributing to a worldwide fraternity that thrives on rape jokes, humiliation and abuse, whether they mean to or not. I long for the day where the biggest issue in bro world is the pairing of blazers with high tops, but unfortunately the present reality is much more harrowing. Their world is one in which women are targets, not people. Their national anthem is ‘Blurred Lines’. Their personal chants are things like “No means yes! Yes means anal!“.
And, sadly, the more people try to combat it, the more exacerbated things seem to become. The more columnists like Laurie Pennie and Jessica Valenti tried to highlight the role misogyny had to play in the Isla Visa shootings, the more one particular and frustrating phrase reared its ignorant head. For every dangerous quote from Elliot Rodger’s manifesto expressing violence against women, there were innumerable comments claiming: “Not All Men”.
In light of the shootings and as a reaction to the “Not All Men” catchphrase that has become increasingly popular as issues surrounding sexism continue to be at the forefront of media attention (though usually not for the right reasons), the hashtag #YesAllWomen was rolled out for people to share their personal feelings and experiences. I won’t list any here (the hashtag exists for a reason, duh) but they are ubiquitous and they are many. What I will say, for all those who may not understand what they’re doing when they use this phrase, is that when you argue along the lines of “Not All Men”, what you are really doing is hijacking what should be a positive discussion about a women’s issue and turning the focus back on men. That is not progressive. It is an exercise in defense and occasionally denial, but never an excuse. And it is particularly damaging when what we really need to be doing is trying to listen and understand, because feminism needs support. Individuals with mental health issues need support. People need support, and Elliot Rodger simply did not get it.
They way he talked about “annihilating every single girl” he saw was so cold, so calculated, so lacking in basic human empathy that it doesn’t feel real. It’s a monologue from a play that nobody wanted to see yet we all co-signed the rights to. Rodgers is obviously not the victim here, but he is a victim of a society that failed him at every turn. Along with David Attias, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Thomas Lane, Adam Lanza and every other individual who took the lives of others as “retribution” for the perceived dissatisfaction with their own. Regardless of their crimes, let us not forget that these young men are/were people, individuals – cruel, maybe, but complicated – and to reduce every single factor of their lives to a single issue such as “misogyny” would not only miss the point entirely but continue to fail people like them. In Rodger’s case, a deeply engrained culture of misogyny may have validated and encouraged his deeply damaged outlook and sense of entitlement towards women, but he was also failed by a broken mental health system that let a young man literally crying out for help slip through the cracks.
To peg this tragic incident purely on misogyny is both wrong and a gross erasure of the complex psychological issues implicit within the narrative. But when the public discourse surrounding this particular tragedy is focused more on gun rights than it is women’s rights, it is indicative of a serious cultural problem much greater than Elliot Rodger.
“Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species,” were some of Rodger’s last words, and perhaps that’s the one thing he wasn’t so wrong about, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to change it. However small a step, forcing Mahbod Moghadam – one of the most prominent entrepreneurial and creative figures in the current digital climate – to resign is a step towards enforcing a no-tolerance attitude towards casual misogyny and violence that we so desperately need.
Originally published on The 405 here.