“Viewed externally, Hamlet’s death may be seen to have been brought about accidentally… but in Hamlet’s soul, we understand that death has lurked from the beginning: the sandbank of finitude cannot suffice his sorrow and tenderness, such grief and nausea at all conditions of life… we feel he is a man whom inner disgust has almost consumed well before death comes upon him from outside.”
Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik
This is the story of how I, Elliot Rodger, came to be. This is the story of my entire life. It is a dark story of sadness, anger, and hatred. It is a story of a war against cruel injustice. In this magnificent story, I will disclose every single detail about my life, every single significant experience that I have pulled from my superior memory, as well as how those experiences have shaped my views of the world. This tragedy did not have to happen. I didn’t want things to turn out this way, but humanity forced my hand, and this story will explain why. My life didn’t start out dark and twisted. I started out as a happy and blissful child, living my life to the fullest in a world I thought was good and pure…
Elliot Rodger, My Twisted World
What makes an incel? Is an incel born or made? Or a bit of both? To understand the incels as a whole we should start in medias res—with Elliot Rodger’s crime—working our way from the particular to the universal, from the single case to the community. But to understand Elliot Rodger, we start where his novelistic narrative starts, at the “blissful” beginning.
My Twisted World is not a manifesto, it is a bildungsroman. It is a novel that tells the story of one’s formative years or spiritual education, a coming-of-age story. It’s the story of how Elliot Rodger came to be an incel. Only at the very end, in the final pages where he lays out his plan to kill people, is there some semblance of a misogynist “political program”—and even then it is only a vague, fantastical outline. That it’s called a manifesto is only a reflection of the surface, the crime itself, the final act. The Unabomber’s Industrial Society and Its Consequences, another text adored by yet another overlapping internet community, is a manifesto: its object is a critique of the industrial revolution and technology, its aim is for a return to wild nature. My Twisted World does no such thing. Elliot Rodger is more interested in telling us how he became who he was.
The text is a bildungsroman with a tragic structure. What he learns—what makes him an incel, what constitutes his moral development—is also what kills him. It is his tragic flaw. And it is apparent from his early childhood.
Elliot Rodger describes his early life as “blissful” because it precedes his awareness of sex’s “cruel hierarchy.” His narrative starts from his earliest memories with incredible detail, but always foreshadows the misery to come. Childhood is a bucolic utopia where the things that he wants are readily available, offering themselves to him. His parents give him the presents he wants. They go on exotic vacations. Boys and girls are equal. Everyone plays together, and everything is fulfilling.
The young Elliot Rodger interacts with things in their immediacy. The world itself unfolds as a gift to him. He “acquires” things—the same term he uses in reference to girls. We aren’t at the absolute existential terror of sex yet—but it’s coming, he tells us.
Gradually, the harsh truth of growing up becomes apparent. In time, he starts to realize that some kids are “cooler” than others. They seem to have this thing about them that gets the attention and respect of others, but he can’t quite identify it. With his “superior memory” he remembers so many minute details about his early life, things that others would have surely long since forgotten. He remembers the cacti around the house when he went to Spain at age three. He remembers what kind of birthday cake he had at every birthday party and the names of everyone else who attended. Of his interactions with others, we hear names of children he plays with. But other than the ominous warning that particular children would later grow up to be “everything he hates,” we learn almost nothing more about them. They are just names. But the social reality behind the names, the truth of the other people, he never learned in the first place. Perhaps that truth contains the secret to being cool?
We read how he tries to make sense of this concept of “coolness.” Skaters are the cool kids, so he asks his parents to give him a skateboard. They do that, and so he has something do to with the other kids. The skateboard is the object through which he plays with the cool kids, the same cool kids he says would later cause him endless torment and suffering. The same goes for Pokémon cards and computer games at the local cyber café. And it works for a little while.
But objects do not retain their allure forever. Eventually he gets tired of skateboarding and Pokémon cards. The other kids get gaming computers of their own, so there’s no reason to go to “Planet Cyber” with him anymore. He abandons the fixations on the particular objects, but never acquires whatever it is he’s supposed to get next. Once he no longer possesses those objects that he shares in common with others, nobody has any reason to hang out with him at all.
But the impenetrable hierarchy of coolness in prepubescent children is just a prelude to the hierarchy that emerges with puberty. The hierarchy of sex that plays out in an oedipal drama.
He introduces his family ominously. His father is first mentioned with clinical, veterinary coldness. “My father, Peter Rodger, was only 26 when he impregnated my mother.” Peter is “of British descent, hailing from the prestigious Rodger family; a family that was once part of the wealthy upper classes before they lost all of their fortune during the Great Depression. My father’s father, George Rodger, was a renowned photojournalist who had taken very famous photographs during the Second World War, though he failed to reacquire the family’s lost fortune.” Elliot is born deprived of his ancestral inheritance. His family possessed something, once upon a time, something that his ancestors enjoyed but is lost to him.
Both Elliot’s father and grandfather are photographers. The family profession is one of creating titillating images. Left unmentioned by Elliot is what specific “very famous photographs” George Rodger had taken in the Second World War—scenes of mass death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. George Rodger swore off working as a war correspondent ever again after realizing that, in documenting the carnage of the camp, he had spent most of the time looking for graphically pleasing compositions of the piles of bodies lying among the trees and buildings. Nothing repressed stays repressed forever: the brutal reality of these images will reoccur in the violent fantasies at the end of Elliot Rodger’s text. Peter Rodger’s photography and filmmaking career took a different trajectory, bringing the family to Hollywood, where they would schmooze with the entertainment industry elite.
Elliot himself is “an accident.” His mother, “of Chinese descent” (but born in Malaysia), got sick while working as a nurse on one of his father’s film sets and the medication she took for her illness cancelled the effect of birth control pills—“their lovemaking during this period resulted in my life.”
Against the backdrop of a great aristocratic family’s epic decline he describes the whimsies of his infancy. He was born in London but moved out to the countryside. A pastoral life in a red brick house in Sussex, with fields of grass. “The Old Rectory.” They vacation in France. His mother leaves her job as a nurse to care for him. His grandma moves in to help. He calls her “Ah Mah” and they take walks in the fields picking berries. “She would always warn me not to touch the stinging nettles that sometimes grew in our fields, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I got stung a few times.” He remembers his third birthday party and the helicopter cake and the tantrum he throws when he doesn’t get the first piece. They vacation in Malaysia to visit his mother’s family. They vacation in Spain. He goes to pre-school and gets lost during a field trip to a park. The pre-school is strict and makes him wear a uniform. He plays with George and David in the sandpit. He rides a toy tractor and runs through fields. They vacation in Greece. The hot Mediterranean climate is not like the England he’s used to. In Greece his father learns of his grandfather’s death. It is his 4th birthday and the first time he sees his father cry.
Soon they’re off to America. Father buys a new house in LA. It has a pool, which makes Elliot happy. But father passes up the opportunity to buy the “Old Rectory,” which they had only been renting. It’s a decision he would later regret, as “it would have been a fine investment”—one of many instances Elliot feels his father squanders his wealth or passes up financial opportunity. His father always appears as a provider, both financially and romantically, but it always appears to Elliot that there is never anything left over for him.
So the Rodger family moves to Los Angeles. We hear more names: of children, of schools, of parks, of toys. His memory is a cascade of mundane details. He gives us a map of his world: Topanga Valley, Calabasas, West Hills. On the other side of the mountains is Malibu, Santa Monica, the ocean. Valley View Drive. Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Dumetz Road. Ventura Boulevard. Frequent moves—both in residence and in school—make his attachment to the specific places fleeting. This sense of rootlessness only intensifies further when his parents get a divorce.
Elliot Rodger is, of course, not alone. People travel from all over the world to have their dreams broken here. Southern California: sun, warmth, dry Mediterranean air. A desert, essentially, buried under suburban sprawl as far as the eye can see, sustained by water stolen from the faraway Colorado River, all concealing the fundamental inhumanity of the terrain itself. A sprawl inhabited by people equally superficial and lost. An industry town and its industry is beauty. Equal parts paradise and hell. We could imagine Elliot Rodger inhabiting the uncanny fever dream of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
Divorces are traumatic for children, and Elliot Rodger was no exception. The stability of the nuclear family is broken, and Elliot has his first lesson in the art of love:
After only a couple of months since my seventh birthday, a new and very important person would come into my life. After father picked us up from school one day and took us to his house, I saw a woman with dark hair and fair skin standing in the kitchen, and she introduced herself as Soumaya. She would become my stepmother. Father told me she would be living with us from now on. At first I thought she was just another friend who was temporarily staying with father, similar to what Uncle Dan was doing. My father having a girlfriend so shortly after divorcing my mother didn’t even occur to me. I couldn’t understand it. Soon enough, though, I realized that Soumaya was, in fact, his “girlfriend”, and they were together just like how my father and mother were together. It was the first time I learned the concept of a “girlfriend”, and it was hard to grasp. Before that, I always thought a man and a woman had to be married before living together in such a manner, and that it would take a long time for such a union to happen. Father finding a new girlfriend in such a short amount of time baffled me. I was completely taken aback.
Because of my father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend, my little mind got the impression that my father was a man that women found attractive, as he was able to find a new girlfriend in such a short period of time from divorcing my mother. I subconsciously held him in higher regard because of this. It is very interesting how this phenomenon works… that males who can easily find female mates garner more respect from their fellow men, even children. How ironic is it that my father, one of those men who could easily find a girlfriend, has a son who would struggle all his life to find a girlfriend.
Elliot’s father has what it takes to effortlessly “acquire” women. The term governs his relations to things and people.
To “acquire.” The Latinate word sticks out wherever it appears. It suggests a certain passivity—as opposed to the forceful “seize” or the simple Anglo-Saxon “get.” To acquire is to be given something, something formal enough to be legally-recognized property. Grandfather “failed to reacquire the family’s lost fortune.” Acquisition suggests a diplomatic manner that conceals the naked brutality of a conquest—acquisitions are the spoils of war, the agreements worked out between parties in the negotiations of a peace treaty. Applied to all objects and contexts, it reveals an awkward disjunction of meaning.
“I went to James’s house soon after I acquired my new hair color, and the look of surprise on his face when he saw me gave me a good laugh.”
“The only pets I’ve had previously were my turtle and iguana, who both died within a year of acquiring them.”
“The upside of moving to the apartment was that my mother acquired high speed internet.”
“James Ellis also acquired Xbox Live with Halo 2.”
“I acquired a very nice piece of armor for my character.”
Elliot’s use of the word expands to mean a more abstract object of desire, barely concealing an aggressive desperation under its stately aura as his romantic situation grows ever more dire:
“I had absolutely no idea or plan of how to acquire any sort of power.”
“I imagined buying a beautiful, opulent mansion with an extravagant view, and acquiring a collection of supercars which I would use specifically to attract beautiful girls into my life.”
“I had no talents, so it was impossible for me to become a professional actor, musician, or athlete; and those were usually the ways that young people acquired such money.”
Like the parapraxis in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, finding a new girl is for Peter Rodger a matter of “mergers and acquisitions”—for Elliot it is one of “murders and acquisitions.” Elliot’s resemblance to Ellis is uncanny. Both are rich, spoiled brats raised in the San Fernando Valley, both experienced “idyllic” California childhoods torn apart by divorce, both describe their cartoonishly materialistic enjoyment with an affectless nihilism. Both are writers. But whereas Ellis succeeds in sublimating his own “incel” tendencies into art that is recognized as such, Elliot is so concerned with the immediate payoff of writing a blockbuster “epic fantasy” novel for the literal, sole sake of getting rich and attracting women, that the genuine sublimation of his anxieties—realizing oneself in art—can never get off the ground.
Pondering the question of how his father “acquires” women is something that would take up his entire life. His mother could be discarded, and a new mother, one that he would quickly come to hate, acquired. Ex girl to the next girl.
Elliot’s father is Jupiterian. He is conspicuously absent but has total sovereignty from distant Olympus. Elliot writes of his father’s career taking off: “the only downside of this was my fathers’ absence from my life. In spite of this, I always looked up to him as a powerful and successful man.” Unlike Elliot, his father has an art form that does seemingly enable him to realize himself: he goes away to do his work for long periods of time, and when he is present, he oozes sexual power. His true form is manifest at a dinner party. With a wink and a lax nod between conversations with grown-ups, against the arid Mediterranean backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains, father, the giver-of-laws, allows Elliot a taste of the ecstasy of Bacchus.
“I celebrated my birthday again at father’s house on the night we returned to America. I was allowed to have my very first glass of beer for this celebration. I always thought of alcoholic drinks, such as beer and wine, as mysterious drinks that were forbidden to children like myself. Father would let me have only a small sip of wine from time to time. Having my first glass of beer felt like a big honor.”
Mother, by contrast, is tender and loving:
Despite father’s move to a much larger house and all the benefits that came with it, I still preferred my time at mother’s house, just because of her gentle and fun attitude and the energy of her household. My mother indulged in me more than my father and Soumaya ever did. She knew what I liked and what I didn’t like, and she would go out of her way to make my life pleasant and enjoyable.
Whereas father is the powerful white man Elliot wants to be, the man that has whatever it takes to get the adoration of women, Elliot is stuck with the “effeminate” Asian characteristics of his mother.
“This revelation about the world, and about myself, really decreased my self-esteem. On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.”
Mother doesn’t have the secret to unlocking the secret world of sexual delight contained within objects—rather, she is the sexual object. His mother’s value is acknowledged in the men she dated: celebrities like George Lucas. But even with access to the glamor of Hollywood, his mother just doesn’t have the same effect:
Finally having something to brag about, I told everyone at school the next day that I went to the [Star Wars] premiere because my mother is friends with George Lucas. The problem was that most Eighth Graders thought of Star Wars as being a “nerdy” interest, and they didn’t really care. I was left frustrated and disappointed by their reaction.
Elliot perceives his mother as poor and is ashamed:
“My father cut off a portion of the child support he had been paying my mother, which forced my mother to move house. We moved to a small blue house on Glade Avenue in Canoga Park. I didn’t like Canoga Park at all. It was a very ugly and low-class area to the north or Woodland Hills, and I felt it demeaning that we would have to live there during mother’s week.”
“When I stayed back after school one day, my mother saw me with Connor when she came to pick me up. She has been concerned about me not making any new friends at Pinecrest, and I suppose she was relieved to see me with a “friend”. She invited Connor to come over to my house, which he accepted. I was a bit hesitant to invite anyone from Pinecrest to my mother’s house, because it was located in Canoga Park, a bad area, and most of the kids at Pinecrest were upper-middle class who would look down on me for living there. But I couldn’t back out of this once my mother invited Connor. He came over and all went well, we played a few video games for a couple of hours. But after that playdate, he would always rip on me for living in a “poor” house. He would also tell other kids at Pinecrest about it. This infuriated me to no end, and I would keep proclaiming that my father lives in a prestigious three-story house in the Woodland Hills Heights. I became vehemently obsessed with proving to Connor and everyone else that I wasn’t poor. I went so far as to bring pictures of my father’s house to school.”
Elliot Rodger is the human personification of the McMansion ideology—the mass-produced dwellings characterized by an oversized, disharmonious mix of architectural symbols to suggest wealth or taste. The McMansion of Woodland Hills views its spiritual brother, the slightly-more-modest suburban tract home of Canoga Park, with disgust. The McMansion’s size and gaudy assemblage of architectural styles barely conceals its awkward, uncomfortable interior. Elliot Rodger is a child of the McMansion, his psyche is mapped out by its tasteless contours. Its tensions and contradictions are endlessly reproduced in his perspective of the world: one could say he is a McMansion McManson. The McMansion wants to see itself as “old money,” but it has a “new money” susceptibility to boom-and-bust cycles. Elliot is even more contemptuous of his mother when she moves yet again:
“My mother decided to move to an apartment in Woodland Hills. I reacted indignantly. An apartment! I had never lived in an apartment before, and I always thought of apartments as being poor and low-class. I would be embarrassed to admit it to anyone.”
Much later in the text, when Elliot is in college:
I was glad that she moved to a better place, but I would have much rather she got married to a wealthy man and moved into his mansion. Even though she was no longer seeing Jack, she dated other men of high class. She had a special way of charming them. I continued to pester her to get married so that I can be part of an upper class family and enjoy all the benefits that would come with that, but she always refused, claiming that she never wants to get married due to her unpleasant experiences with my father. I told her that she should suffer through any negative aspects of marriage just for my sake, because it would completely save my life, but she still refused.
It is the men who possess the money that attracts women. Elliot’s mother is not as independently wealthy as his father, and thus she has little of value to offer him. Elliot himself is no more than the “accidental” leftover of their sexual intercourse, the heavenly sex that father experiences but he never will.
Elliot directs his racist self-loathing toward his mother because he contains the effeminate mark of her exoticism, the intolerable, excessive mark that prevents him from realizing his “true” white self, the wholesome masculinity that was promised to him, owed to him by his Anglo-aristocratic ancestry. Paradoxically, one could say that Elliot Rodger is a colonized subject: his indignant racism plays out the tension between the western-patriarchal master and the oriental-feminine subject. The empty, pathological enjoyment derived from his fixation on his own Asian ancestry conceals its own meaninglessness. In other words, when faced with the fact that it is not his “Asian-ness” that alienates him, but rather something simultaneously more simple and more inscrutable, the truth is too horrific and cruel for him to accept.
“As my frustration grew, so did my anger. I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl!”
It’s not that girls won’t talk to him because he’s half-Asian. He is just awkward. How much simpler things would be if all his troubles were the direct consequence of his mixed race!
The irony in Elliot’s intersectional contempt of his mother is that she is the one who facilitates social interaction by scheduling playdates with other children—these would be the only “dates” he’d ever know.
“I always had a pleasant experience during mother’s week. She always arranged playdates for me, because she knew I was too shy to initiate them myself.”
Playdates mediate Elliot’s childhood friendships. Most playdates are with his mother’s friends’ children. By contrast, playdates never occur under his father’s watch, where domestic sovereignty is handed over to the illegitimate judicial authority of his stepmother:
“I once had a playdate with Philip at father’s house, and when I yelled at my sister because she was annoying us, Soumaya punished me by sending me to my room for an hour, embarrassing me in front of Philip. After this incident, I never had a playdate at father’s house ever again.”
Mother facilitates playdates. Elliot’s skateboard offers the promise of replacing his mother as the gateway to social life, but the transformation is never fully completed. Although the skateboard gives him a ticket to interacting with the cool kids, he never fits in with them on his own. His “playdates” never evolve into the more adolescent “hanging out” with friends. Mother is always there in the background, buying him things, driving him to the skatepark, “indulging” his interest.
“On mother’s week, I spent more and more time practicing skateboarding, and I had lots of playdates with James where we would skateboard together.”
“I needed a skateboard for mother’s house too, and so my mother took me to Val Surf and bought me a gray Val Surf skateboard. I would use this skateboard much more than the red skateboard I had at father’s house, since I had all of my playdates during mother’s week, and mother would make more of an effort to indulge in my new interest, eventually taking me to skateparks every weekend.”
“For the first few weeks of summer, mother arranged playdates with various friends and acquaintances I made from Topanga Elementary, including Trevor Bourget, Matt Bordier, Charlie Converse, John Jo Glen, and Philip Bloeser. It was interesting to have Trevor and Matt over. I never thought I would have playdates with them. Matt was one of the coolest kids in the school; he was a skateboarder and a baseball player who seemed to garner respect from everyone. I envied him during Elementary School even when we were friends, and I would deeply envy and hate him later on in life, when I find out how much success he would have with girls.”
Elliot is very clear on the symbolic meaning of the skateboard. It is an object that promises some tangible social reward. The skateboard is coolness crystallized into a tangible object.
In the public imagination, the skateboard is associated with danger, carelessness, and laziness. Skaters themselves are a subculture that value creativity, risk, and freedom. It is not a sport run by adults. The authenticity of skateboarding is ensured not through the organization of a “little league” but through the spontaneous creativity and danger that makes it “cool.” This democratic social organization contributes to a relative lack of emphasis on competition. Being too competitive can even be a sign of inauthenticity as a skater. The genuine skater is a carefree slacker whose mastery of the dance is expressed in effortless cool.
Although skaters can practice skating in constructed spaces such as skateparks, real skate culture also occurs in “found spaces” in an urban or suburban environment. Skaters often seek out found spaces where skating is specifically prohibited—grinding on benches, jumping staircases, doing tricks over garbage cans—which contributes to the public perception of the skater as a “deviant.” Skating is distinctly Californian, originating in the late 1950s to mimic surfing on land. Skate culture is inextricably embedded in its surrounding environment, and Los Angeles is its epicenter. Skaters occupy an almost-mythic point of resistance against the formal suburban sprawl and alienation of Southern California.
“For the first week of Fifth Grade, I was at mother’s house. I considered myself to be very “cool” by now. I had gotten better at skateboarding, I had blonde hair, and I dressed like a skateboarder. I felt great anticipation for what the cool kids would think of me once they saw my transformation. To my disappointment, no one really cared. They were all in their own worlds. I don’t remember any kids showing recognition of my new “coolness.””…
“Once again, I used skateboarding as a way to increase my standing, telling the skateboarder kids that I knew how to skateboard and that I could do some tricks. This got them to treat me more cordially. I even talked to Robert Morgan a few times, who I hated and yet subconsciously revered for being so popular. Whenever a so-called popular kid would say a word to me or give me a high five, I felt immense satisfaction.”
A skateboard can be acquired by a transaction mediated by mother, but the phantom coolness that lurks beneath it is not so simple. While the skateboard provides a semblance of coolness, it can never deliver on the promise of truly earning the respect of the cool kids. Elliot is always an impostor around the skaters because he is categorically incapable of internalizing the social structure of the subculture. His relationship to the culture is stuck to his motherNo matter how well one dresses the part, the cool skater kids don’t have “playdates.”
On multiple occasions he decides to abandon skateboarding for a while…
“I had been trying very hard to get better at skateboarding, but when I saw that there were boys a lot younger than me who could do more tricks, I realized that I sucked. I was never good at sports or any physical activity, and when I discovered skateboarding, I thought that finally here was a sport that I could excel in and even became a professional at. It crushed me a little inside to see that I was a failure at skateboarding after more than a year of practicing it. I could never master the kickflip or heelflip. All I could do was the ollie jump and ride down a few ramps. I saw eight-year-old boys at the skatepark who could do a kickflip with ease, and it made me so angry. Why did I fail at everything I tried? I asked myself. My dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder were over. I felt so defeated.
Because of this, my interest in skateboarding slowly faded away during this summer. James had recently told me that he was no longer interested in the sport, so I no longer had him to skateboard with anyway. I just decided to forget about it for the moment.”
…but his discouragement is initially only temporary. Elliot does not yet gives up on skateboarding because he continues to be reminded of how the skateboard seems to function successfully as a gateway to social acceptance for others. The skateboard comes to embody everything that Elliot lacks:
“Alfred was just getting good at skateboarding, and he was starting to become popular with the skateboarders. He once brought his skateboard to school and landed a kickflip, the move I was never able to master in the past. I was secretly jealous, even though I insisted to everyone that I was no longer interested in skateboarding.”
But by the time he is in high school he has finally disavowed skateboarding:
My life at Crespi got even worse. Alfred and Brice apparently told everyone how weird I was at Pinecrest, and people in my own grade started to tease me. They found out that I didn’t like being called a skateboarder, and it was true. Because I failed to become good at skateboarding, I developed a hatred for the sport, and whenever someone called me a skateboarder, it reminded me of my failure and I got very angry. The whole school started calling me it just to anger me, along with other insulting names. They teased me because I was scared of girls, calling me names like “faggot”. People also liked to steal my belongings and run away in an attempt to get me to chase after them. And I did chase after them in a furious rage, but I was so little and weak that they thought it was comical. I hated everyone at that school so much.
The sign of the “skater” has run its full course in the Elliot Rodger story, finally twisting back to a complete inversion of its original cool. In this new context, to be called a skater is to be called out on one’s fraud, to be outed as a poser. Having failed at the sport that values fitting in more than winning, the very mention of skating exposes the ever-widening chasm between Elliot and the unattainable object of his desire.
The skateboard no longer stands for coolness, and coolness no longer stands for itself. As Elliot becomes older and enters puberty he comes to the awareness that coolness is merely a placeholder for sexual appeal. Coolness is a precursor to sexiness—it reveals itself to be and to always have been meaningful not in and of itself, but in the service of sex. This is confusing and unsettling:
“Even through watching movies and T.V. shows I got a glimpse of what was in store for a Middle Schooler. There was talk of girls, and how it would soon be “cool” to be popular with the girls.”
Introduction to sex is the dark closure to his idyllic youth. Sex is a looming menace…
“I heard stories of how boys are expected to start kissing girls in Middle School! Such things overwhelmed me. I tried to dismiss it as much as I could and enjoy my life in the present moment.”
…but it can only be ignored for so long. A traumatic experience at Planet Cyber:
One time while I was alone at Planet Cyber, I saw an older teenager watching pornography. I saw in detail a video of a man having sex with a hot girl. The video showed him stick his penis inside a girl’s vagina. I didn’t know anything about sex at the time. I barely even knew what sex was. I was slowly starting to develop sexual feelings for hot girls, but I didn’t know what to do with them. To see this video really traumatized me. I had no idea what I was seeing… I couldn’t imagine human beings doing such things with each other. The sight was shocking, traumatizing, and arousing. All of these feelings mixed together took a great toll on me. I walked home and cried by myself for a bit. I felt too guilty about what I saw to talk to my parents about it. I was quite shaken for a few days.
This was among the very first glimpses I had of sex. Finding out about sex is one of the things that truly destroyed my entire life. Sex… the very word fills me with hate. Once I hit puberty, I would always want it, like any other boy. I would always hunger for it, I would always covet it, I would always fantasize about it. But I would never get it. Not getting any sex is what will shape the very foundation of my miserable youth. This was a very dark day.
Soon enough, I would inevitably find out about what sex was, whether I saw that foul video or not. Boys at my school started talking about it. Connor Hanrahan and his friend Jordan Carlton one day told me exactly what happens when a man and a woman have sex. Finding out about sex was just the beginning of my horrific downfall.
Sex sets the tragedy in motion. Sex disrupts the harmony of his youthful body. Sex introduces a conflict between his desire and what is possible, an impossible impasse. A gaping chasm separates the two, the chasm of the woman. Sex—the beginning of the horrific downfall! He will always want this, but it will never be there. The skateboard, Father with his new girlfriend, the hierarchy of coolness, all just innuendos that barely conceal the truth, the “shocking, traumatizing, and arousing” video in the Planet Cyber, now sprawled out in the open, naked, plain as day. The brutal, grotesque contortions of animal flesh—why would humans want this? And then the shameful question: Why does Elliot want this for himself?
There is, for now, one way out of the relentless onslaught of unwelcome sexual awareness, one that promises total control and customization of his own “body:”
“One day, I was looking up things on the internet about Warcraft 3. That is when I found out about a new, revolutionary Warcraft game coming out, called World of Warcraft. I didn’t think much of it at the time, ignorant of the effect it would have on me in my later life.”
I made a WoW account with my father, and then I created my first character, a night elf druid. It really blew my mind. My first experience with WoW was like stepping into another world of excitement and adventure. It was a video game world, but they made it so realistic that it was like living another life, a more exciting life. My life was getting more and more depressing at that point, and WoW would fill in the void. It felt refreshing and relieving. I was only able to play it for a few hours for my first session. It was all I would think about when I wasn’t able to play it.
To avoid the looming reality of sex, Elliot retreats into video games. WoW is “revolutionary;” it is a disembodied object of obsessive fixation, a virtual world he can entirely submerge himself in that affirms him, detached from his own awkward teen body and real-life social inelegance. Video games offer anyone a sense of power and immediate gratification that completely bypasses the difficulties inherent in real-life communication. WoW fills the void left by the skateboard. Video game culture welcomes someone like Elliot in a way that skate culture never could. Wow!
Elliot himself sees this new fixation as demarcating a major transition in his life—he writes the story of his own life as the succession of phases of object-fixation. The final paragraph of “Part 3: The Last Period of Contentment, Age 9–13” sums it up:
This was the point when my social life ended completely. I would never have a satisfying social life ever again. It was the beginning of a very lonely period of my life, in which my only social interactions would be online through video games, with the sole exception being my friendship with James. The ability to play video games with people online temporarily filled in the social void. I got caught up in it, and I was too young and naïve to realize the severity of how far I had fallen. I was too scared to accept it. This loss of a social life, coupled with the advent of puberty, caused me to die a little inside. It was too much for me to handle, and I stopped caring about my life and my future. I even stopped caring about what people thought of me. I hid myself away in the online World of Warcraft, a place where I felt comfortable and secure.
So goes Elliot Rodger’s sexual awakening. Sex—the unattainable, utopian, heavenly sort—then presents itself as something sinister, an evil tease lurking around every corner. For Elliot Rodger, every object in the world either reminds him of the thing that he lacks—or offers him the promise that the object could be the thing that finally makes him “cool.” Everything Rodger interacts with is recruited into the task of attaining this unattainable thing. And there is no shortage of things to recruit. He asks his parents for gifts, whether they are, as at this point in the narrative, video games, or later, new designer clothes and accessories, a fancy BMW, or first-class tickets to exotic European vacations. Every one seemingly offers the opportunity for Rodger to reinvent himself, to finally make him cool and desired by others. But they never fulfill their promise.
For Elliot Rodger, and for other incels, attempts to reach the unattainable object of desire take the form of extensive inventories. Incel forums are filled with analyses of the particular ways the incel subjects (the forum posters themselves) are deficient and how that means they will never be able to possess the thing. This is not only encoded in luxurious objects that can be bought, but in the body itself: bone structure, jawlines, height, shoulders, penis size, and so on. The incels fixate not only on their alienation from the world around them, but also on their alienation from their own bodies.
Celebrities, of course, apparently possess the elusive thing. They have both the wealth and the physical characteristics that deliver on the promise of fulfillment. They check off all the boxes in the inventory. On incel forums we see an endless kaleidoscopic k-hole of side-by-side comparisons of shrimpy incels with chiseled A-list superstars, all to drive home the nihilistic “blackpill” message: “this is what you aren’t.” Elliot Rodger would know—he was surrounded by celebrities. And increasingly, with Instagram and Twitter and everything else, the rest of us are too.
Could the difference be that he broke down? That he just snapped? That he was unable to navigate the codes and cues of dealing with women, couldn’t conceal his desires and expectations under the mask that well-mannered men can? Or did the logic that produced his desire also produce his breakdown?
This post is an excerpt from a broader work that is intended to cover the entirety of the Elliot Rodger text. Here, only the first parts of the manifesto are covered. To be continued…
4 thoughts on “Blissful Beginnings: Elliot Rodger’s Sexual Awakening”
Interesting breakdown, mcrumps. It’s a chore to read between the lines of stuff like this but someone has to do it.
One thing that strikes me here is how perfectly the incel subject fits into Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” philosophy of I-Thou vs. I-It. From the sections you’ve highligted, it looks like ER’s condition is one of being chronically, terminally caught up in the I-It relation with everything.
This applies to women, of course, but even objects themselves can be objectified; the skateboard, as you mentioned, is not just a skateboard, but a means to something else. Real skills and artistic endeavors are seldom developed this way (if you want to get good at skateboarding, it helps if you actually love skateboarding for its own sake).
The same goes for relationships; true love is only possible in an I-Thou, subject-to-subject relation. This condition doesn’t preclude the sex act, though. Imagine if he had fucked! It’s not hard to. But would that be a cure?
Amazing work. Thanks for sharing.
I credit Slavoj Zizek for introducing me to your work, and I am very thankful for it. I appreciate this analysis, along with others of the same vein.
Man I don’t know.
Isn’t it being read in bad faith?
Like obviously he ER is a murderer, but at least we could be sympathetic to him. To me it looks like it is being read in a hic rhodus hic salta way.
“Mcrumps is ultimately not what ER is, a dirty incel. The difference is that ER has those ridicoulous ideas, of coolness and women, whereas Mcrumps has Lacan-O-Vision etc…”