As anyone who follows this blog would tell you, I have a keen interest in the loneliness of the American male. Being that loneliness is the primary theme of my novel, I’ve studied its presence in movies such as Taxi Driver (1972), Falling Down (1993), One Hour Photo (2002), The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004), and in the novel The Catcher In The Rye. It’s startling to see the similarities between Elliot Rodger’s descent into violence and American cinema’s narrative of the American man’s loneliness.
In each of those films, we have an American man who suffers rejection and social alienation. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle declares himself as “God’s lonely man” and is rejected by Betsy. William Foster in Falling Down becomes a seething mass of rage and goes on a rampage because he lost his job and was rejected by his wife. Similarly, in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Sam Bicke is a struggling salesman who can’t provide for his family, whose wife has rejected him on account of his inability to hold a stable job. It appears, then, that job and family are paramount to a man’s identity. But what can each of these characters tell us about the anxieties of being a man in America?
Sam Bicke from was worried about money. He was was disenfranchised, emasculated. His wife had left him and taken away his children. At his job, he was forced to shave off his mustache, which is to say that they forced him to alter his identity. Being that he had no other economic prospects, no way to obtain resources with which to take care of his family, he had no recourse but to suffer the will of another man. Without money, Sam Bicke was powerless. And the man in the Cadillac—a man who has money—is the one who is replacing him, giving his wife creature comforts and befriending his children. Rodger sought out wealth because he saw the ugly truth that women will not likely stay with a man who cannot provide her with resources. Though he was perhaps a little immature in the expression of his views, he was right to be concerned about money. To him, finding a mate was not a viable option unless he had wealth. And why would he not believe this? After all, American culture fetishizes materialism. A man without wealth is a man without power, which is to say that he is not a man at all. Rodger knew the stakes: women will not give poor men their love and affection, and richer men are always a threat to his chances retaining a mate.
William Foster was similarly disenfranchised and emasculated in Falling Down. He was a man who was “just trying to get home” to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Sy Parrish of One Hour Photo shares in this desire for family. Like William Foster, it is the loss of his job that sends him into a violent descent. When Sy loses his job, he also loses his access to the only family he can be a part of—the Yorkin family. Thus, we can see that the loss of a job destabilizes a man, and that the loss of a family can put a man’s mind in a dangerous place. But what exactly is a home, what is a family? A family is comprised of a loving partner and one’s progeny, and they must reside in a home. A home is a safe place for a man, a haven in which he can share his love with his family, a place of acceptance. Family is the core of a man’s existence: a man without a family is nothing. A man with neither job nor family is a man who has nothing to lose. The mind of such a man is a scary thing. Elliot Rodger had an unstable home, and he had no sense of social acceptance.
Much like Travis Bickle, Rodger was seeking to become “a person like other people.” Rodger spent his youth trying to fit in with the cool kids, which is to say that he was trying to find social acceptance. In an attempt to be like a normal person, he, like Travis Bickle, sought the love of a woman. Unfortunately, we don’t ever see that Rodger ever actually tried. It’s like Mr Antolini said in The Catcher In The Rye said: [he] “gave it up before [he] even really got started.” Can we really blame him for not trying though? Without the safety of a home that he can use as a springboard, and without a father to show him the ropes, how is a young man expected to have the courage to make his way in the world? How can we expect anything else from him?
Of course, these attitudes exist in a sort of hellish vacuum. These attitudes may be borne from and reflected in American cinema, but I believe that the real world must reflect these views in at least some small way. Hypothetically speaking, if there is an entire cultural vein that states that pigs can fly, but one does not ever see a pig fly, it stands to reason that one might not consider it to be true. From movies, television shows, and books, we take their messages with us into the world and see if those messages bear any semblance to the truths we observe in the real world. If Rodger’s world didn’t even remotely resemble the harsh truths that were burdened on his young soul, would he be so troubled? Perhaps, but I think not. The ugly truths he held may have been forged in the dark narrow canals of the seduction community and American media, but they were sharpened in the real world.
We can see the terrifying ugliness of humankind around us all the time. The infidelity, the injustice—it’s all there in plain sight. Rodger was sensitive to the dirty nature of the world. His descent into the world of pick-up artists showed him the ugly truth of how women choose their mates. Much of his so-called hatred is, on the surface, directed towards women. However, if one digs deeper, he is merely frustrated at the fact that he has never had the love of a woman. In all the aforementioned films, the loneliness these American men experience culminates in an act of terrible violence. All these men descended into a hell created by alienation and rejection from women, much in the same way that Elliot Rodger did. And, arguably, they all sought the love of a woman.
THE LOVE OF a woman is a powerful thing. Once, in a psychiatric ward, I observed a hefty Dominican patient who the staff called Fuaqua. Hunched over, he stood over six-foot tall and his skin was ashen. Rubbing his thick fingers through his Rastafarian hair, he was moping around and moaning as though he were in intense pain. Within the walls of the observation room, he plodded around on the speckled tile floor for ten minutes before an orderly dressed in jeans and a bowling shirt went to fetch the doctor.
When the overworked elderly Russian psychiatrist came, he questioned Fuaqua. The doctor was trying to ascertain the most efficient course of treatment by evaluating his symptoms. But after a few incoherent mumbles, Fuaqua got frustrated and put a heavy hand to his face. “I just need her love…” he said pleadingly. “She had the prettiest smile, man, I can’t live widdout her smile. Please, man, I just wanna see her smile.”
Beyond his tired demeanor and his purported psychiatric disorder, I could see something in this golem what nobody else cared to look for. Or, rather, I recognized something in his soul: loneliness. I saw that he felt the dull ache of constant alienation, and the sharp stabbing pain of loneliness that swells in your wounded heart. It was clear to me that he was deprived of compassion and affection.
So lonely and starved of female affection was he that he approached a female police officer who was seated on a bench, waiting to transport a different patient to a jail. A plain-looking blonde, she retained her femininity in uniform by using eye shadow. When Fuaqua approached her and started mumbling, her partner took on an aggressive stance, planting his feet firmly on the floor and hiking up his pants by the cargo pockets at the side of his thighs. Fuaqua continued getting closer and continued mumbling. She rose from the bench and told him firmly to back away. “You need to step away, okay?” she said.
Fuaqua’s face drooped sadly. “I just wanna talk to you,” he said, “why you gotta be like this.” He leaned forward gently, as if to speak to her in softer tones.
The female officer stayed her ground and bladed her torso away from Fuaqua, her right hand drifting towards the OC spray on her belt. The male officer stepped in between her and bared his teeth up at Fuaqua. “I said back the fuck up!” he yelled, his black eyes fierce.
Fuaqua thought for a moment before he sulked off into a corner, giving the officer sidelong glares of angry frustration from across the room. It wasn’t long until he rounded back to the female officer though. The officers warned him a few times, but he kept inching closer. The male officer prepared himself for a physical altercation and smiled as he pulled on a pair of tactical gloves. When he placed a hand on Fuaqua’s chest, Fuaqua’s face twisted in enraged pain. “Don’t touch me!” he yelled out as he pushed the officer’s hand away.
And that was all the excuse the officer needed. He shoved Fuaqua, who barely stumbled backwards. A scuffle ensued: the officer grappled with Fuaqua’s thick heavy limbs that were flailing about, trying to restrain him. The female officer jumped into the fray and tried to control his right arm. The orderlies watched for a few moments. They saw that the officers were having difficulty taking control of Fuaqua, so they scrambled to assist before the male officer was able to extend the metal baton he was reaching for.
After a lot of grunting and thumping, they finally took Fuaqua to the ground and cuffed him. And when they hoisted him up with his hands behind his back, the male officer slammed him against a wall with a delighted sneer. Out of breath, his nostrils flared as he tried to take in more oxygen through his nostrils. “You fucking asked for this shit, you asshole,” he said to Fuaqua.
Fuaqua’s eyes were shut, his cheeks raised tight in agony. With the full weight of his massive body pressing his face against a glass window looking into an interview room, it was hard for him to say anything. “I just need a woman, man! I just need her love, man!” he wailed. He cried out in anguish as they dragged him into an adjacent room. Dark, it contained a thin mattress on a hard steel frame. The only light came from the fluorescent bulbs from the outside of the room, and in the shadows, I could see the orderlies peel the jeans off of his buttocks before inserting a long steel needle into him.
When the lot of them exited the room, the orderlies asked the officers what the whole ordeal was about. If they only listened to the pained Dominican man to whom they had just subjected all of this brutality and violence, they would’ve had their answer: the love of a woman.
HOW MANY MEN have descended into the hellish depths of a lonely existence devoid of compassion and affection from a nurturing figure? Perhaps it is the romantic in me saying this, but a woman’s love can be the driving force for a man’s existence. In evolutionary terms, there really is no reason to live a life in which there are no mating opportunities. A man with no prospects of starting his own family is a man with no purpose in life. Elliot Rodger’s killings are a tragic reminder of the intense strain that American society’s concept of masculinity applies to a young man’s psyche. Beyond all the popular accusations of misogyny and the gun control activists’ finger-pointing, Rodger’s story is one that revolves around loneliness and the misanthropy that infected his once-happy soul.
For decades now, American cinema has tracked this movement. It predicts that when a man is deprived of the love of a woman, when he becomes alienated from society, and when loneliness festers in his soul, he will fall into darkness and misery that results in a violent outburst because he sees no way out. Loneliness is one of the most severe existential threats we can experience, and it begs the question: What is it about the way that American masculinity and loneliness come together that causes such violent outbursts?