Amidst all of the chaos surrounding Elliot Rodger’s attack, there’s one question not enough people are asking, and that’s whether Elliot Rodgers slept at all during the couple days leading up to his shooting.
We’re not wasting any time studying his YouTube videos and pointing out his clear, misogynistic inclinations. Nor are we hesitating to read and dissect his 137-page manifesto, from which we’ve thus far gleaned: that he was definitely, irrefutably driven by misogyny; that there’s one particular girl from middle school who Elliot singled out as the dominant instigator in all of this (she didn’t return his love and apparently teased him); and that his parents could have been more present in his life.
But if we’re looking for the real, ultimate, underlying answer for this carnage, we shouldn’t look to his videos. And we shouldn’t pore over his manifesto like it’s a new healthcare bill either. We mustn’t even look past the surface to realize the answer lies in the fact that he made these videos and wrote this manifesto in the first place.
It only takes a quick look at the symptoms of a manic episode to realize that they’re eerily in line with Elliot’s behavior leading up to his heinous attack. According to Psych Central, “A Manic Episode is defined by a distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood.” Symptoms include “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity,” “increased sexual drive, fantasies and behavior,” “pressure of speech, [and] flight of ideas.” With regards to manic speech, “if the person’s mood is more irritable than expansive, speech may be marked by complaints, hostile comments, or angry tirades.” And finally, it’s also a widely known fact that psychotic symptoms usually emerge for the first time between the ages of 18 and 24.
When I first heard about the UCSB tragedy, one of my first thoughts was, “I wonder if he was running on no sleep?” Because another, very common symptom of a manic episode is “decreased need for sleep,” and I have personally seen, firsthand, and many times, what lack of sleep can do to an already-manic (or bipolar) person. I’ve seen brilliant, witty, levelheaded people transform, before my eyes, into people I no longer recognized, with an acute self-centeredness that seemed almost staged and grandiose, and absurdly far-fetched plans for the future. And I’ve seen people with distinctly grandiose ideas and self-worth plunge, from lack of sleep, into otherworldly, psychotic states in which they play the antihero and those closest to them play the targets to extreme violence and rage.
Jessica Valenti in The Guardian blames Rodger’s actions on his blatant misogyny, one that’s been fostered by our sexist society. Of course to say that his misogyny played a major role in this isn’t wrong. But it’s also true — and she argues this too — that our culture’s fundamentally skewed perception of women had a considerable hand in this. As did the overabundance of horror movies, which are, incidentally, concocted by the industry in which Elliot’s father is immersed.
Yes, these were all motivating factors in his killing spree, but I would argue that Elliot was neither fundamentally a misogynist, nor was he fundamentally a nerd, victim or fan of horror movies. He was, first and foremost, mentally ill. And, combined with his upbringing, seclusion, and participation in online forums centered on men’s rights, his illness turned lethal.
I don’t intend to gloss over the barefaced misogyny laced throughout this tragic event, which is inspiring numerous, pivotal discussions like this one from The Daily Beast. My point isn’t to belittle points like this one, which I wholeheartedly agree with:
But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.
What I’m arguing is that, in this case, these issues are peripheral to the central point at hand: Elliot’s mental illness.
One thing I do disagree with is Jessica Valenti’s argument against the possibility that mental illness had anything to do with the killing spree. “After all,” she says, “while it is unclear what role Rodger’s reportedly poor mental health played in the alleged crime, the role of misogyny is obvious.” True, Elliot makes clear in his videos and manifesto his deep-seated misogyny. And true, Elliot doesn’t say “Hey everyone! A little secret: this is my mania talking.” But who does? I recently read somewhere a very prescient fact – the source to which I unfortunately can’t recall – which stated that we are our own brain’s worst judge; that, out of everyone in the world, we are the worst at detecting the nature of our own mental state. No wonder Elliot didn’t explicitly explain the role his “reportedly poor mental health” played in his crime.
Call me romantic, but I don’t think misogyny was enough to motivate Elliot to do what he did. I still think someone has to really lose sight of him or herself and reality – that someone has to truly “lose it” – to be able to go on a killing spree, murdering one person directly after another, and with a smile no less.