We're learning that Elliot Rodger, the self-pitying 22-year-old who killed six people in Isla Vista, California, on Friday night, was steeped in "pickup artist" culture. Slate's Amanda Hess explains what that means, quoting the most famous of Rodger's YouTube videos:
Rodger calls himself the "perfect guy" and a "supreme gentleman" who's been overlooked by women who prefer "obnoxious brutes." Then he lays out his plans to "enter the hottest sorority house of [the University of California, Santa Barbara], and ... slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut I see inside there." To "all those girls I've desired so much," he says, "you will finally see that I am the superior one, the true alpha male."It's not clear to me whether Rodger felt tricked by the pickup artist culture or just failed by it -- he clearly accepted its analysis of the nature of male-female relations wholeheartedly.
Rodger's language is familiar to anyone who's spent time exploring the Pick-Up Artist or Men's Rights Activist communities. Rodger was a "Nice Guy," a man who feels he is entitled to sex based on positive personality traits known only to him.... He aspired to be an "Alpha," the most attractive, dominant man in his group, but felt he's been wrongly dismissed as an inferior "Beta." Pick-Up Artists, by the way, refer to women they would like to have sex with as their "targets."
Rodger was also allegedly a member of PUAHate.com, a website for men who feel they've been tricked by the Pick-Up Artist pyramid scheme, which takes men's money and promises to teach them how to have sex with women. (And not just any woman, but one who scores at least a 7 on the PUA decimal rating scale of female attractiveness.)
Pickup artist culture describes the way men and women relate to one another the way Fox News depicts the interaction of political forces in America. In each case, Both PUA culture and Fox News tell their followers that there's no place for compromise and negotiation, because the enemy (women for PUA, liberals and Democrats for Fox) are embodiments of pure evil who have all the power because they've rigged the game. In each case, the enemy can't be reasoned with -- it must be conquered. Both cultures attempt to persuade their followers that enlightenment makes ordinary people into superior beings, and the form the enlightenment takes is understanding that a state of war exists, a fact that seems self-evident, but the naive masses insist on denying it, presumably because they're under the enemy's sway.
Fox News and the rest of the angry right-wing media create a larger democratic culture in which the rest of us can't find negotiating partners because the followers of Fox feel they must conquer us or be conquered. The PUA culture is (I hope) less pervasive in the dating sphere (I'm married -- I don't know how bad it really is), but its followers can't be reasoned with, either.
PUA culture is creepy in other ways as well. The pseudo-scientific categorization of both men and women reminds me of the pitiless introduction of "efficiencies" engaged in by "turnaround artists" of the Bain Capital variety -- PUAs don't want to be sexually "inferior" and don't want to pursue the sexually "inferior," as they define the term, just as efficiency-minded takeover executives instantly want to jettison the parts of any company that don't generate significant profit. And yes, in PUA culture both genders are held to high "standards," as Amanda Hess notes:
When news of the shooting broke, PUA Hate members attempted to absolve themselves by critiquing Rodger's sex appeal ("Short lower third and gay midface, with zero brow ridge," one decided), ridiculing his mother's looks, and scrambling to assert authority among themselves. ("Only high-T guys should be allowed to give advice here. Nich, can you add that as a rule?" one poster said). Another poster suggested that Rodger was such a Beta that no one would care if he’d murdered people. "Nobody gives a shit about some socially deprived, narrow-clavicle twink with a delusional sense of self. He's a poser," he said.Rodger himself took this sexual rank-ordering in explicitly racial (and racist) directions, despite his own mixed ancestry:
According to the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center], Rodgers posted comments [at PUA Hate] in January, beginning with "Saw a black guy sitting with 4 white girls," causing him to admit his frustration over white women socializing with minority men:Rodger's love/hate relationship with PUA culture seems like Fox viewers' love/hate relationship with America. Rodgers wholeheartedly believed in the PUA ordering of the sexual universe -- except that his obvious "Alpha" status was being ignored by the gratuitously cruel world of women. Similarly, Fox News rightists love America -- but they hate so many things about America, particularly the Democrats, liberals, non-whites, gay people, feminists, "takers," and so on who (in their eyes) thrive in America while not recognizing the superior morality and patriotism of the right.
Today I drove through the area near my college and saw some things that were extremely rage-inducing.... Rodgers also wrote that Asian men could never date white women, leading a commenter of Asian descent to post a picture of himself with a white woman.
I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good.
Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!!
What rage-inducing sights did you guys see today? Don’t you just hate seeing these things when you go out? It just makes you want to quit life.
Rodger dismissed the photos as fake, writing: "Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You're just butthurt that you were born as an asian piece of shit, so you lash out by linking these fake pictures. You even admit that you wish you were half white. You'll never be half-white and you'll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a bridge."
Rodgers had previously noted, "My father is of British descent, and my mother is of Asian descent, so that makes me a Eurasian."
Ultimately, it seems that these people are lying to themselves about their deprivation. PUAs don't really want sex (much less love) and rightists don't want their idealized America. What they really seem to want is the war.