How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison, Free for CAPC Members
David Powlison dispels the myth that there is a “key to sanctification” and then lays the biblical groundwork for spiritual growth.
Each week, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I‘m imagining a parallel universe — one where the UCSB shooting that killed six people (seven if you include the killer) didn’t happen. One where somebody — anybody (a friend, an enemy, a stranger) — saw shooter Elliot Rodger’s angry, threatening YouTube videos, notified the authorities, and prevented the atrocity from occurring.
But obviously, that’s not the universe we live in.
The mind-numbing dullness of Elliot Rodger’s videos is a reminder that evil is indeed a mundane thing, a relatively uninteresting disposition pushed a bit too far in the wrong direction.Last Friday, Elliot Rodger went for a drive around the University of California at Santa Barbara, shooting people at various locations; in the process, he injured thirteen and killed six before ultimately taking his own life. By now, mass shootings are pretty much the American National Pastime, so the event in itself is not terribly remarkable. What is remarkable, though — or at least remarkable enough to merit its own Twitter hashtag — was his reason for doing so.
It turns out that Rodgers was really (really, really, really) mad about his inability to get laid. He posted a long, rambling tirade against “sorority sluts” — who evidently aren’t quite slutty enough for his tastes, I guess? — to his YouTube account just hours before embarking on his killing spree. You can watch the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined, but be warned that it might be the most miserable seven minutes of your life. It’s 420 seconds of a narcissist congratulating himself on being (imperceptibly) awesome, whining that blond girls haven’t noticed how awesome he is, threatening to kill them all, and occasionally pausing to remind you that, oh yeah, he owns a BMW. I doubt I would have made it through the first 30 seconds, if I hadn’t been aware of its importance to recent events.
It’s so ridiculously over-the-top, in fact, that the first time I saw it I swore it must have been satire. It plays more like an insane spoof of the Why-Won’t-She-Date-Me-I’m-Such-a-Nice-Guy trope than the genuine thoughts of an actual human being. I immediately poked around, though, and found that not only is the video genuine, but that by the time of the attack Rodger had actually had a YouTube channel for several months, and had posted numerous similar threats to it.
According to the embedded analytics, though, his videos had received almost no views at all until his rampage made him famous. And the reason for that is simple and obvious: by any standard, they’re terrible, terrible videos. They’re stupid, they’re boring, they’re painfully self-congratulatory and badly in need of an editor, and they take almost their entire running time to get to any sort of point across (that point being “I’m going to kill you”). If he hadn’t distinguished himself by becoming a mass-murderer, Rodger would have eternally remained one of countless cluelessly privileged kids shouting emo rants at a YouTube page no one had ever even heard of.
Now we can all watch his videos and see what a monster he was, but it’s too late to do anything about it.
I confess that before this video manifesto came to light, I hadn’t paid any attention at all to the news reports of Rodger’s shooting spree. Incidents of American gun violence are a lot like Israeli-Palestinian skirmishes: they never change anything, and the aftermath always plays out the exact same way. The news media uses the word “tragedy” until it loses all meaning; they claim they’re “shocked” by the violence (still?); half the country asks, “Okay now can we talk about gun control?”; the NRA tells them, “Yeah, no, sorry, you can’t”; we wring our hands for a while about how we’re doing nothing to care for the mentally ill; and then we all go back to our normal lives like nothing happened. It’s all so predictable that it barely even qualifies as news.
In other words, it’s boring.
That’s not to say that I’m proud of the fact that I ignore these news reports, or that I’m deliberately making the choice to do so. It’s an involuntary reaction. When they pop up in my Facebook or Twitter news feeds, my eyes flit over them like so much visual background noise, and for a really terrible reason: they’re not entertaining. Every time I pick up my laptop or smartphone, there are a million free, instantaneously available things competing for my attention, and my natural reaction is to go with whatever will amuse me immediately, which usually means a hilarious cat video. In the age of the Web, immediate entertainment value is currency.
According to YouTube, there are thousands of content creators on their site making six figures from advertising revenue. For every one of them, though, there are hundreds of thousands more users yelling into a void, unable to get a message to a single viewer, because they’re boring. Much has been made of the Internet’s ability to connect people to each other, but Rodger’s YouTube channel is a reminder that for the vast majority of people, there’s still nobody listening when they talk.
At this point, much ink has already been spilled over the dehumanizing Pick-Up Artist culture that taught Rodger to view women as objects who owe him their bodies. In fact I coincidentally went after that sort of bro thinking last week, and I’ll gladly condemn it again. Nor am I saying that Rodger deserved an audience, or that I feel bad for him (though there but for the grace of God go I, etc.). All I’m saying is that it’s interesting that for so many, the Web only serves to amplify their isolation. The mind-numbing dullness of Rodger’s videos is a reminder that evil is indeed a mundane thing, a relatively uninteresting disposition pushed a bit too far in the wrong direction.
I wonder: if we dug into the dark recesses of YouTube — into the bland videos that nobody ever watches — how many more budding murderers would we find?
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