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TV review: The Virgin Killer strips the glamour out of murder

'A mass murder of the digital age told by the killer himself.'

Elliot Rodger
Elliot Rodger

This documentary, The Virgin Killer, looked at the Isla Vista shooting spree via the words and videos of the killer, Elliot Rodger. He left behind an online archive of his mangled thoughts in the form of YouTube videos, online messages and a lengthy 'manifesto' entitled My Twisted World.

Rodger stabbed three of his flatmates then went out into the streets with guns and a machete, killing another three people. He then rammed and wounded several others with his car.

He claimed he had never felt accepted by society and had never even kissed a girl. In his manifesto, sent to his parents minutes before he began the killing spree, he swore 'revenge against humanity. Against all of you'.

For a subject so incredible, his manifesto is tiresome reading. It is whining and petulant and streaked with self-pity. The videos are worse. They're almost laughable: he poses in his car, in carefully angled sunlight, speaking in a theatrical manner. He seems to be aping a Bond villain as he slowly and luxuriously describes how he hates humanity and will kill us all.

We can assume he wanted to be viewed as a hero who was taking revenge on a decadent and uncaring society, but the image we get from his archive is that of a petulant, spoiled teenager. 'I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, deraved species' he says, but running through all his grandiloquent philosophy is the whining refrain 'why doesn't anyone like me?' Spoiled brats with YouTube accounts are ten-a-penny, but this one was a spoiled brat with easy access to guns and, worst of all, scant access to mental health care. Therefore, his murders are stripped of any grand gesture and become the terrible acts of a sick person, not a warrior.

With his constant references to sex and porn and 'hot blonde girls' it would be easy to have made a sensationalised documentary. I did fear this would be the case due to the title which put 'virgin'- and therefore 'sex' - in the foreground, but this was a noticeably calm and measured programme. There were interviews with psychiatrists and teachers and bereaved parents and the message was that this was a mental health issue, not just a case of grisly, tabloid fodder.

Any sensationalism surrounding the case was to be found on Twitter where there was a tasteless scramble among various feminists to 'claim' the killings for their own cause. These days, any major event has to be owned, labelled and hashtagged within minutes. The feminists nabbed this one, saying it was a misogynist massacre - despite the fact that Rodger actually killed more men than women.

Labelling it as misogyny is dangerous because it tugs attention away from the central issue which was that he was clearly very sick. The experts in the documentary attest to that fact, and point to the dearth of mental health services in California. This sprawling, abominable illness he was living with cannot, and should not, be shrunk down to 'he hated women.' Elliot Rodger hated more than just women: he hated his little brother and planned his death. He hated his dad for not being richer. He hated having to fly to Morocco for yet another beach holiday. He hated that he spent hundreds of dollars on Hugo Boss shirts and no-one noticed.

The 'hot blonde girls' he coveted symbolised the life of playful Californian decadence he felt alienated from. This exclusion was coupled with an appalling sense of entitlement. Brought up in West Coast wealth, and obscenely spoiled with money and cars and designer clothes, he must have found it puzzling, then irritating, and then plain infuriating that he could have anything he wanted but could never achieve a sexual relationship.

His murders sprang from anger, and that anger, in turn, came from his rich-boy sense of entitlement. Whenever I've been single and sexless I've felt glum that I was missing out on the privilege of a relationship, not angry that I was being denied my right to one.

The grotesque system Rodger lived under promoted this sense of unquestioning entitlement. Mommy and Daddy give you everything and you need never work for it. Couple that with severe mental health problems and easy access to guns and you may just get murder.

But we'll never hope to understand or prevent these horrors if our main concern is a catchy hashtag for an online campaign. Rather, we need to look at the plodding, mundane and wearying subject of mental health care and its patchy provision. Or should that be #patchyprovision?

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