Masculine insecurity and entitlement are a big, tangled-up mess
I don’t generally shout out stock photographers by name, but Gilles DeCruyenaere deserves special note for this work of art.
This horrible UCSB shooting has, I think, been something of a wake-up call to the country. Elliot Rodger was clearly out of his head in some ways, but his copious amount of writing and video-blogging made it nigh-impossible—excepting the usual denialist suspects, of course—to ignore the bizarre but strong link between entitlement and insecurity. I think most of us, even those of us inclined to deny the realities of racism and sexism, understand quite well that being targeted routinely with messages that your gender or race makes you inferior can negatively impact self-esteem. (Indeed, that concern was a critical turning point in the decision Brown v the Board of Education.) Less well-understood is the negative impact that being told you’re entitled to certain privileges because of your race or gender can also breed insecurity. It’s an insecurity that manifests differently, but it is nonetheless an insecurity.
Obviously, this isn’t true across the board. We’ve all had plenty of experiences with white dudes of the Donald Trump sort, who are so puffed up artificially that they have no idea what blithering idiots they actually are. We’ve all met men who actually believe that the obligatory tittering at their lame jokes that women provide means they are actually funny. It’s sad, but kind of comical.
But being constantly told that, by virtue of being a white dude, you are supposed to be smarter, more sexually powerful, funnier, etc. than everyone else can have a totally different effect, and I think the Rodger situation makes that really clear. A lot of white guys look around and realize that they really aren’t all that smart/sexually masterful/whatever, and they are hit with a profound insecurity. They aren’t what white guys are “supposed” to be!
Of course, where this kind of insecurity is very different than more run-of-the-mill insecurity, where the insecure person just wallows in shame, many men suffering from anxious masculinity react by indulging grotesque power fantasies, hoping by acting like giant assholes—or, worse, actually committing violence—they can become the big men they are secretly afraid they are not. Rodger was direct about this: Murder would make him an “alpha”, with is MRA/PUA terminology for the fantasy of the powerful man. But this sort of thinking crops up in lesser forms all the time.
Take those Open Carry Texas idiots, who I wrote about for Alternet. But I wish to reiterate here that I find their behavior both repulsive and so obviously insecure that I can’t help but laugh at it. There’s no way around it: They’re a bunch of soft, suburban types who know in their hearts that they are soft, suburban types and not the conquering warriors they feel they should be. So they literally walk around suburban Dallas shopping centers and fast food joints with giant guns specifically designed to look scary and intimidating. They claim it’s to be “safe”, but it’s painfully obvious that they want everyone to gaze at them and be awed and intimidated by how big their guns are. They may not be Clint Eastwood, but dammit, they will pathetically strive to look powerful. The problem is, of course, that this behavior makes their insecurities screamingly obvious to the rest of us, having exactly the opposite of the intended effect. They want us to look upon them and tremble. And, in a sense, we are. Trembling with laughter, though.
But, anyway, dudes who show up to fast food restaurants open carrying automatic weapons (yes, gun nerds, they probably weren’t technically automatic weapons or maybe they were but I don’t care because big scary gun that can fire multiple rounds quickly is automatic enough for me, so stop being such a damn nerd about it) are nerds. They’re mad that their little hobby of showing their external death penises to the world doesn’t get quite the respect that it deserves, or more importantly they’re mad that they don’t get quite the respect that they of course deserve and are confused that their giant external death penis waving isn’t giving them that respect. They want more adulation than they’re getting, and don’t get that their hilariously deadly hobby occasionally inspires a few eye rolls. Also, too, fear, but so what, nerd, any of us can buy an external death penis, because USA. It doesn’t make you special.
A lot of the response to Open Carry has been to ban them from restaurants and point out that, in an era where random guys occasionally shoot up a public place, people are right to freak out when they see a guy brandishing a gun enter a Jack in the Box, it’s reasonable for people to freak out. But I think Atrios might be onto something here with the pointing and laughing. These guys want to feel scary and powerful, and so noting that they are actually defeating themselves and instead drawing attention to the qualities they most wish to hide—their soft, paranoid, suburban silliness—might help defeat this behavior.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being a suburban dad with an office job instead of Clint Eastwood. Even Clint Eastwood is not “Clint Eastwood”. He’s a movie actor who lives in the lap of luxury, not a hardened cowboy who sleeps on the ground with his trusty weapon by his side. Masculine fantasies aren’t really the problem. I enjoy a good action movie as much as the next person. The issue here is a lot of men don’t get that they are just fantasies. They see them as ideals to live up to, and are bound to fall short.
Of course, all this would be something to write off as “pathetic”, if people didn’t get killed regularly by men whose very identity is dependent on imagining themselves to be powerful and scary. Or, as is common with our gun culture, people weren’t regularly shot by accident because there are so many guns just being stockpiled by men with major insecurity issues.