Was Elliot Rodger Asian American?

Shooter Elliot Rodger in an undated photo.
Shooter Elliot Rodger in an undated photo.

For weeks following the Isla Vista shooting, killer Elliot Rodger was described in mainstream media as a young White man. This was a convenient narrative: Rodger was seen as yet another example of the maligned young vengeance-seeking White male outcast (like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza): so twisted by violent first-person shooters and sexual-social frustration that he resorted to unthinkable violence.

Yet, for Elliot Rodger, this narrative is complicated by Rodger’s own tangled and confusing relationship with his racial identity: one that defies simple categorization as Rodger being straightforwardly White, or otherwise.

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The Misogyny of Pick-Up Artistry: Why we shouldn’t stop at Julien Blanc

Julien Blanc, self-described dating coach.
Julien Blanc, self-described dating coach.

The internet is in an uproar this week over Julien Blanc, an American and self-described “dating expert” who travels the globe giving workshops to men who are seeking to become so-called pick-up artists.

For those who aren’t familiar, pick-up artistry is basically what would happen if a self-help motivational speaker had a love-child with a mens’ rights advocate. Pick-up artistry is a system of taught social interactions designed to seduce women. Associated with the self-described seduction community, pick-up artists charge between $2000-$3000 for a multi-day workshop targeted towards single men, and promises to train men to improve their sexual and romantic success. To gauge the degree to which men are improving their seductive abilities, workshop attendees are taught to treat women as targets, and to rank us on an “objective” (not to mention objectifying, and often racialized) scale of attractiveness. Men are taught to value their own self-worth based on the ranking of the women they are able to target (sound familiar?), and the workshops promise to improve the “caliber” of woman they can seduce by several points on this scale: the expert claims to be able to easily seduce women of ranking 9 or 10 under any situation, and this is proposed to be the eventual goal of anyone who adopts the “pick-up artist lifestyle”.

Supporters of the pick-up artist system (which include some of my personal friends), claim that pick-up artistry isn’t about sex; it’s really intended to be about bolstering male self-confidence through bravado. When a (heterosexual) man is able to “pull” hotter women, so the thinking goes, their own self-image improves. Furthermore, pick-up artistry claims that its skillset is applicable to business and other platonic relationships by teaching language and self-awareness, not to mention grooming and eye contact. And, to be clear, a self-help program for socially awkward men and women that teaches a few basics of social interactions like eye contact and how to hold a conversation doesn’t bother me.

The problem is that pick-up artistry isn’t just that. Pick-up artistry is, at its core, about manipulating and objectifying women for the purposes of sexual and/or social exploitation. Period.

Julien Blanc isn’t the exception in the pick-up artist community. He’s the rule.

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South Asian American man wanted to kill women at UW in emulation of Elliot Rodger

FBI report of threats published by Keshav Bhide under the screen-name "Foss Dark", declaring his intent to engage in a mass shooting like Elliot Rodger.
FBI report of threats published by Keshav Bhide under the screen-name “Foss Dark”, declaring his intent to engage in a mass shooting and then kill himself, like Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger.

(H/T Jeff Yang (@originalspin))

Less than a month ago, Elliot Rodger stabbed to death his three Asian American housemates and then went on a shooting spree in the residential college town of Isla Vista, randomly targeting women and their boyfriends as alleged punishment for society’s emasculation of him. I wrote about how Rodger’s actions were symptomatic of society’s larger definition of masculinity; I coined the term “misogylinity” to describe hegemonic masculinity’s toxic and misguided assertion that men should pursue and covet a masculinity defined relative to the sexual commodification of women.  I further discussed how issues of masculinity are of particular interest to the Asian American community, where the racial pain arising from stereotypes of emasculation is explicitly political, and which has rationalized the pursuit — often uncritically, and sometimes outright problematically — of misogylinistic notions of manhood.

I concluded that while misogyny, masculinity and misogylinity is America’s problem at-large, it is Asian America’s problem, too. In some corners of Asian America, radical misogyny incubates virtually unchecked.

Yesterday, a 23-year-old South Asian American man by the name of Keshav Mukund Bhide was arrested and held on $150,001 bail after posting numerous online comments idolizing Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger through YouTube and Google+, the latter through his account name “Foss Dark”. Bhide is a student at the University of Washington.

Bhide posted several comments calling Rodger’s “Day of Retribution” “perfectly justified”, and threatening to follow in Rodger’s footsteps. On May 30, Bhide wrote a comment on his own sharing of a YouTube video, saying that he “would have done exactly the same shit” but that he “would have killed only women”.

In explanation for his misogyny, Bhide cited a trope that again is all-too-familiar within the Asian American community: he rationalized his anger against women for society’s rejection of men who are “short” and who have an “ugly face”.

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Masculinity vs. “Misogylinity”: what Asian Americans can learn from #UCSB shooting | #YesAllWomen

The wreckage of Elliot Rodger's black BMW sedan after his deadly shooting rampage Friday evening. (Photo credit: Jae C. Hong / AP)
The wreckage of Elliot Rodger’s black BMW coupe after his deadly shooting rampage Friday evening. (Photo credit: Jae C. Hong / AP)

On Friday evening in the residential neighbourhood of Isla Vista in Santa Barbara, California, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger stabbed his three young Asian American housemates – George Chen, 19 , Weihan “David” Wang, 20, and Chen Yuan “James” Hong, 20 – to death while they slept. Rodger then drove his luxury BMW coupe to the Alpha Phi sorority where he opened fire with two legally purchased handguns on three female passersby; two – Katherine Cooper, 22 and Veronica Weiss, 19 – were killed, while a third is recovering in hospital. Rodger proceeded to the nearby I.V. Deli Mart and fired randomly into the store, killing Christopher Michael-Martinez, 20. He then drove through the streets of Isla Vista, shooting randomly at pedestrians and striking two cyclists with his car; by the end of the night, he had wounded 13. A brief firefight ensued between him and sheriff deputies, which ended when Rodger crashed his car into another vehicle. Rodger was found dead in the drivers’ seat of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

By Saturday, several YouTube videos created by Rodger – including one uploaded just hours before the attack that appeared to offer a motive for the deadly shooting – were discovered, along with a 140-page autobiography-turned-hate-fueled-manifesto. These items, along with Rodger’s frequent posts on BodyBuilding.com and PUAHate.com forum boards paint a disturbing – and disturbingly detailed – portrait of a narcissistic, mentally disturbed, lonely, woman-hating man-child so deeply twisted by American racism, classism, and sexism that he found a way to rationalize mass murder. Sparked by an abundance of macabre primary source material, over two hundred thousand news articles and think-pieces have now been written about Rodger (according to Google’s latest count) and the feminist hashtag #YesAllWomen – initiated in response to Rodger’s documented misogynistic motives – remains one of the top 5 trending topics on Twitter.

I have over the last four days stayed silent on the UCSB shooting as I tried to parse my own thoughts on Friday’s violent attack. I watched some of the YouTube videos and read Rodger’s manifesto.

In the end, I couldn’t shake the same chilling reaction I felt when I first read about Friday night’s violence: I had seen Elliot Rodger’s brand of radical hatred before. I had seen it within the comments section of my own site for a decade. I had seen it from members of my own community.

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