We’re about two weeks out from the Isla Vista massacre, and salacious round-ups of available social media information have given way to thoughtful columns about what it all means.
One of the most striking things about Elliot Rodger’s mental state, in his manifesto and elsewhere, is his insistence that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he was “a drop-dead gorgeous, fabulous, stylish, exotic gem among thousands of rocks.”
As many have noted, this and other details seem to indicate a privileged cast of mind taken to the extreme, which is why his rampage made for the perfect ‘teachable moment’ to a media increasingly devoted to narratives about patriarchy and white supremacy — Rodger was simply a malignant version of the latent biases within all of us; his violence an individualized form of the structural oppression embedded in all corners of our society, and so on.
The truth seems somewhat more complicated — the boy really did have a pedigree; one that, like so many others, decayed. The image above is one of Elliot Rodger’s grandfather’s many famous photographs.
George Rodger’s definitive posthumous collection is called Humanity or Inhumanity, covering his many years of work, including most famously his photographs of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. If his work resides in the tension between those things, it seems to have been resolved in his grandson’s only artistic creation two generations later, with Elliot’s realization of “just how brutal and twisted humanity is as a species.”
Chaser: Shocking video shows how members of the public intervene when they see man attacking his girlfriend… but stand by and LAUGH when the roles are reversed
As an artist, I take it as read that traditional forms of art presuppose reactionary ideas and most easily transmit them. Poetry with traditional structures (rhyme, meter, fixed forms) is included here. It is not impossible for revolutionary forms to be bootstrapped in, but it is always with difficulty and feels forced. Lyricists who move beyond the Ke$ha level of rhythmic innuendo spiced with imperfect rhyme will run into the essential problem that revolutionary ideas sound silly, trite, or ironic if presented in ballad form. A proper tragedy however almost begs for verse, even a highly structured and stylized verse. The amusing part about a musician such as Mozart or Beethoven is that inasmuch as they were trying to push revolutionary ideas, their art form worked against them; despite their feeling for revolutionary ideas (consider The Marriage of Figaro or The Magic Flute) their works have become inextricably conservative, existing in a tension between the reactionary harshness inherent in the formal style and the liberalism of their intellectual ideals.