Shakespeare and the Mass Killing at Santa Barbara

“... hie thee from this slaughter-house, Lest thou increase the number of the dead” quote from Richard III to underscore the massacre in California by a student frustrated for not havong status“… hie thee from this slaughter-house,
Lest thou increase the number of the dead”

King Richard III, act 4, sc. 1

Mass killings have become almost habitual news. To the point that if the slaughter affects less than five people, it barely reaches the pages of the corporate media.

In sheer numbers, the killing spree by 22-year old Eliot Rodger in Southern California, (7 victims), does not compare, for example, with the massacre at Virginia Tech, that resulted in the death of 32 people and the wounding of 17 – or the massacre at Sandy Hook with 26 victims.

There are some sociologically noteworthy components of this last tragedy – namely that the perpetrator had actually written a 140-page manifesto. In it he declared his murderous intentions, while also describing his views on life, his view of society and his frame of mind. Specifically, Rodger announced his plan to declare “war on women”, which  ominously rings like the endlessly-repeated mantra of the “war on terror”.

That Rodger was mad requires no elucidation, “… mad I call it, for to define true madness, what is it but to be nothing else but mad?”

His parents had alerted police weeks before about his alarming online videos, in which he discussed the ideas of suicide and of killing other people. In fact, the police recently had gone to Rodger’s apartment for what they call a “wellness check”. They reported that Rodger appeared to be “shy” and “polite” and claimed he was simply having difficulty with student life. Which only show how easily madness can disguise itself.

In his manifesto, Rodger says he told police that his videos were a misunderstanding and added that “If they had demanded to search my room… That would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over.” Police found in his car three guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Authorities and government officials issued the now familiar and perfunctory statements about the tragedy. Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security, and now secure in the cushy job as president of the University of Southern California, said that, “This is almost the kind of event that’s impossible to prevent and almost impossible to predict.”  Gov. Brown was saddened by the “senseless tragedy”, while Obama and his wife’s “thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends who lost a loved one as a result of the horrific shooting.”

As in previous similar or identical events, the voice of the spectacle, which people prefer to call “media” will talk about everything but the social environment in which these tragedies are born, grow and explode. The liberal pundits will call for gun control to prevent such “inexplicable” crimes,  along with the strengthening of  “mental health” services. The right-wingers will call for more police power. Then all will return quiet on the American front, until the next “senseless” and “inexplicable” episode.

Referring to the content of Rodger’s “manifesto”, the media called it “ranting”, to imply meaninglessness or lack of coherence. The manifesto was anything but meaningless or incoherent. It is a case where, unbeknown to the user, the etymology redresses the balance of significance. The Ranters were a sect in the time of the English Commonwealth (1649–1660), which was considered heretical by the established Church of that period. Heretical, but not incoherent.

Rodger complained against “alpha males” and women who supposedly ignored and mistreated him, despite his good looks and his money. He had money, had attended college, but apparently did not learn anything that could have nourished his mind.

That American culture promotes the idea that man’s worth is a function of money and status is no discovery. It is sufficient to read Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy”, written in 1925, to find background material explaining Rodger’s ideas of life, and even motives, as expressed in the manifesto.

The propaganda about money and status is so pervasive, direct, indirect and subliminal – to the point that for some (I wonder how many) – it has the effect of a religious belief.

Most telling in the manifesto is the following statement, “To make me feel more confident, my mother provided me with a better car to drive in Santa Barbara, a BMW 3 series Coupe. I had always wanted this, since I cared a lot about my appearance. I had been asking my parents for a more upper-class car ever since I found out that there was a car hierarchy, and that some students at my college drove better cars than others. Now I was one of the students with a better, high-class car.”

Clearly, the “better, high-class car” made him a “better” person. And equally, it is not who you are, but who you appear to be.

Rodger was a video games addict. He grew up while his country waged and has been waging a “war on terror” against other people and nations, resulting in the assassination of millions.

The killing machine has been perfected to the point where the actual killing is conducted by following a “kill list”, signedby the president, much as if it were a shopping list. The  set-up is frighteningly similar to a video-game. One keyboard click commands an actual drone to erase dozens from the face of the earth, in one shot– including women, children and civilians attending weddings or funerals. And while the video-game operator watches the slaughter in real-time.

Rodger’s manifesto shows he had understood that callousness and selfishness are the honorable, official virtues of the state, as evident in its foreign policy, in the popular culture, in the contempt of the poor and in dealing with the disenfranchised.

The Rodgers of this world, insofar as they give vent to their accumulated hatred, are still the exception, though these events have almost become routine. The episode in California was not the only US mass shooting of the same weekend. Three people were killed in front of a hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina during a fight, along a popular boardwalk, in the middle of the day.

In the play. Widowed Queen Elizabeth warns Stanley to flee from England and to reach Richmond (later Henry VII), in France, to escape the plots of Richard III. ‘Hie thee’=’Move, make haste’

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  • voltaire1964

    The mass killing in California & the killer’s related manifesto

    Hi Jimmie,

    Human beings have never learnt the lessons. The USA has more casualties
    on the roads and in shooting incidents than by military campaigns.

    By Franz Kratschmer