• Isla Vista: Two Essays From Avidly

    With today’s post from Avidly, the LARB Blog begins featuring content from its new Channels Project. The LARB Channels — which include Avidly, Marginalia and Boom — are a community of independent online magazines specializing in literary criticism, politics, science, and the arts and culture, supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books. 

    Yesterday, Avidly posted two of the best essays we’ve read about the recent shootings in Isla Vista. They focus on “the challenge of reading Isla Vista” (our italics), and thus place the shootings within an intertextual history, from Mein Kampf to the seduction plots of pre-1800 American novels. Brief excerpts from each are below.

    From “The Mein Kampf of Isla Vista” by Kirsten Silva Gruesz

     I couldn’t watch the Santa Barbara shooter’s videos, but I read the 141-page source text, My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot RodgerSlate labels it a manifesto, and that might have sufficed if he’d dispatched the last forty pages to the world at large as his ranting murder-suicide note. But we shouldn’t overlook the author’s own genre tag: story. Along with its toxic brew of intersecting beliefs in the inferiority of women, “ugly Mexicans,” and “the descendants of slaves,” the document testifies to the author’s faith in the power of narrative itself. Ironically, it responds to the liberal nostrum that everyone has a story to tell. It’s a memoir: the Mein Kampf of today’s psychopath, the American mass shooter.

    I’m opposed to glib comparisons to Nazism, but let me try to earn this one. The similarities arise from the queasiness one feels in touching it even virtually; from the genuinely vexed ethical question about whether one should read it at all. I didn’t read it expecting to gain unfettered access to the criminal mind or formulate a theory about What Went Wrong—and that isn’t a good way to approach Mein Kampf, either. Like all memoirs, MTW collocates remembered scenes that are artfully arranged to take on retrospective significance.

    From “Guns ‘N’ Rakes” by Jonathan Beecher Field

    The young man in California who hated women so much he killed several of them, not to mention some men who got in his way, and then himself, was linked to “online MRA and PUA communities.” Thanks to Google, I learned that MRA is “Men’s Rights activists, and PUA are “Pickup Artists.” You can go as far as you want down any number of rabbit holes to learn more, but basically (dismayingly) “MRAs” believe that feminism is a conspiracy to constrain and disenfranchise men, and feel that any move to improve legal/civil rights for women is an encroachment on their rights. This community, evidently, shares strong misogynist bonds with the PUA community. As the name suggests, “Pickup Artists” treat women — in the words of one XKCD commenter — As hack-able sex dispensers. In this view, there are tricks men can teach other men to “get” women to have sex with them, in the same way that one might learn a trick to get free candy from a vending machine. To be honest, my knowledge of this community is not very deep, and I’m happy to keep it that way. Amanda Marcotte’s American Prospect piece was plenty.

    What did surprise me was how familiar some of the PUA language was. Familiar, because I’ve assigned novels with versions of it in many of the early American literature classes I teach. Many, if not most, pre-1800 American novels revolve around a seduction plot. 

    Those are just the beginnings of each – read the full versions over on Avidly.