You may not have expected to find a post about The Isla Vista mass murder on Cup of Whimsy, where my posts typically express the more beautiful and whimsical aspects of life. However, I am a Gaucho, UCSB Class of 2007, who lived in Isla Vista for four years. Isla Vista had its fair share of beauty and whimsy, which have now paled beneath the cold shroud of fear and grief. And my mind is spilling over with so many thoughts and sentiments that I can’t help but siphon them into a more coherent statement to clear a bit of space in my mind.
This horrific tragedy has had an astounding impact on the nation, sparking discussions on a wide range of hotly debated issues ranging from gun control and mental health to Hollywood materialism and the objectification of women. I have my two cents to contribute about these issues, but I would like to begin first and foremost with the place I called home during some of the best times of my life, and the fallen Gauchos who, like myself, considered it a sunny slice of student utopia.
The IV Factor
Isla Vista, known to current, former, and pseudo locals as “IV”, is not just a college town. It is a community. It is an oasis. In IV, I pedaled my bike in my flip flops, a backpack slung across my shoulders, a mocha balanced in one hand, as I threaded through the traffic (of pedestrians, not vehicles) to make my way to class. I walked to the beach and lay on a blanket to do some reading for my Comparative Literature class while surfers rode the waves that swelled before me. My friends and I would head in packs to Freebirds for nachos, to Java Jones for a study group, to the video store to rent a movie. We made our way to Embarcadero Del Mar to hang out at a friend’s apartment, then headed to DP for a dance party. Usually, the closest friend was no more than a block away.
We felt safe. We felt connected. We felt happy.
Now, 7 years after I graduated, I feel shock and deep sadness at the thought of IV being desecrated by tragic and senseless violence. I feel grief for the fallen Gauchos, though I did not know them personally. And all throughout my social media, I notice that one by one, my fellow Gauchos of various classes and generations are also rising up in solidarity, like so many candles being lit. We are drawn like magnets to news of the victims and the campus and the town. Their pain is our pain.
The victims were not strangers to us, not really; they were our classmates, our roommates, our friends, our significant others. They were us. Because though we may be from different generations, we all shared a common experience. UCSB and IV are not just places; they are feelings. They are sunshine and beer and ocean breeze and textbooks and nachos and bicycles all rolled into one.
And so together, we mourn.
The Dark Mind Rises – Mental Health
The killer (whom I shall not deign to name) was clearly a disturbed young man (henceforth referred to in this post as “DYM”). The reason for his violence was not that women rejected him, but that his mind processed his emotions and rationalized his actions in an extreme, abnormal, and unhealthy manner. Women were his particular scapegoat, but other killers have blamed bullies, hypocrisy, religion, and a whole host of other perceived villains. But where those with stronger minds are able to cope with their negative emotions in a healthy and peaceful manner, unstable minds gravitate toward much darker paths.
I have known older male virgins who were late bloomers…yes, they wanted love and sex; yes, they sometimes felt lonely. But no – they did not harbor any violent feelings toward the women who rejected them. They understood that their emotions were in their own control. They focused on doing other things that made them happy and experienced growth in other areas of their lives, all the while continuing to treat women with respect and understanding. And eventually, they found girlfriends…probably better ones than if they had tried too hard to gain the affections of someone who just wasn’t right for them.
The DYM had been receiving psychological treatment for years. Not only that, there were multiple warning signs that he had the potential to be a danger to himself and/or others. And yet, even when his own mother alerted his counselor – who then alerted the police – to the potential threat, the police were convinced by the smooth-talking DYM that he was nothing more than a polite but shy young man who posed no risk.
Why did everyone keep ignoring the red flags? Because they didn’t know better…or if they did (like his mother), they didn’t have the power to do anything about it.
I believe that the public at large, and the authorities in particular, need to have a deeper knowledge of mental health issues. We as a nation need to educate ourselves about the mental illnesses that plague so many of our people. Most of us have very little understanding of such issues unless we personally know someone with a mental illness or are studying psychology. Many people with mental health issues are relatively harmless, but we need to know the best way to care for them as a matter of compassion, just as we need to know how to care for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s. And now that crimes committed by disturbed minds have forced their way into the limelight, it is even more imperative that we learn how to identify those who are potentially dangerous; we need to build a system that will protect others and themselves from…themselves.
Of course there is more than can be done in the field of psychology…more research to be conducted, further refinements to be made to treatments. But change is a force propagated by the public, first through their awareness, and then through their passion to make a difference once they realize that the difference will create a better world for themselves and their loved ones.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Gun Control
Yes, I know – 2nd amendment and all that. We have the right to bear arms. Great. Well guess what? We’re bearing them. We’re bearing them to the tune of nearly two mass shootings per month since 2009, according to a report by a coalition of the nation’s mayors. If you’re a responsible gun-owning citizen who practices gun safety and uses a weapon appropriate to your reasonable needs (e.g. a rifle for hunting, a pistol for defending your property), well, that’s fine by me.
But is it such a ridiculous request to keep guns out of the hands of unstable and violent people, especially semi-automatic weapons no average citizen would have need for in everyday life? Is it so unpatriotic to want to keep our citizens alive so that they may continue their pursuit of happiness? At the very least, perhaps we can establish a system that flags people with serious mental health or criminal history and makes it illegal for them to secure deadly weapons.
The Constitution is in some respects a living document. As society has progressed, we have abolished slavery, allowed African Americans and women to vote, and otherwise amended or interpreted the Constitution in such a manner as to uphold its core principles while shedding the outdated vestiges of the 18th century.
This is how the Constitution begins:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Isn’t it time we insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare? How many must die before we take common-sense measures that help keep weapons out of dangerous hands without impacting the liberty of the masses?
Mr. Misogyny – Objectification of Women
It should be abundantly clear by now that the DYM did not respect women. He did not see women as individuals who have ownership of their own hearts and bodies. He did not try to understand why women would reject him; in fact he viewed their rejections as a crime, because he felt entitled to their bodies and affections by virtue of his appearance, possessions, and cheap charade of “gentlemanly” manners. We’ve already established the fact that the DYM had a mental illness, which likely exacerbated an underlying tendency to objectify women.
I know that there are guys out there who refer to women as pieces of meat or conquests, who think women should dress “femininely” because they believe we exist for the pleasure of men. But what I am astounded to learn is that there are actually guys out there – many of whom presumably do not have mental health issues – who sympathize with the DYM’s highly antagonistic feelings toward women. Guys who not only think of women as sex objects, but that women who fail to fulfill this role are to blame for somebody else’s violent actions!
Guys who said things like “Well, girls, keep that in mind the next time you friendzone somebody!” and “See girls, this is what you get for treating nice guys like shit.”
W.T.F. Even if these statements were made in jest, they are incredibly offensive and reflect an alarming thought process. Rejecting somebody is NOT the equivalent of treating them like shit (unless it was an intentionally cruel and humiliating rejection). You are NOT entitled to someone else’s body or affections.
Everybody experiences rejection at some point in their lives, whether romantically or professionally or otherwise. All rejection means is that there is something about yourself that you need to improve, you’re not right for each other, or the timing is wrong. If you have been rejected, try to understand why…then move on!
Every woman has the right to reject a guy they are not comfortable with. “Friendzoning” may have negative connotations to insecure men who have never been beyond this zone, but for women it is our right to stop intimacy from going past a level we are comfortable with, for whatever reason, and men have this same right (though it’s not our fault that they rarely choose to exercise it).
STOP THE OBJECTIFICATION. We are living, breathing, feeling, thinking humans, dammit.
Celebrity Materialism and Hollywood Sex-sationalism
Let’s face it, materialism is rampant among celebrities. Rappers flaunt their fancy cars, high-end brand-name attire, and luxury lifestyles. Hollywood celebrities stay forever young through expensive beauty regimens, plastic surgeries, and a never-ending wardrobe of perfectly tailored clothing. The lifestyles of the rich and the famous have thoroughly permeated American culture, leaving many impressionable young minds with a craving for fame, riches, and glory. Pop culture is everywhere…and it focuses not on the brilliant scientists and literary authors and generous philanthropists…no, it focuses on musicians and actors and reality stars.
At the same time, pop culture perpetuates the idea that sex is a commodity. Many teen movies portray a frantic race against the dreaded virginity, as though it is something to be ashamed of and quickly disposed of, rather than a respected state of existence maintained until one feels emotionally/physically/mentally ready to have sex and has found a partner that they feel truly comfortable with. 40 Year Old Virgin is one of the few movies that treats virginity with the thoughtfulness it deserves…but my point is still made by the other characters in the movie who try to help Steve Carell’s character to get rid of his virginity as quickly and easily as possible, without considering his emotional state.
Is it necessary for every teen/young adult movie to portray sex in this manner when, in reality, there are plenty of late bloomers in real life who feel there is something wrong with them because their lives don’t match the ones on the screen?
Pop culture has an inordinate amount of power in shaping the consciousness of our youth…why can’t those involved in creating this culture recognize their power and use it for good? What if pop culture broadened its appeal beyond the arts to include other subjects that would promote a more educated and informed society? What if Hollywood became more thoughtful and sensitive in its portrayal of sex, virginity, dating, and relationships instead of just using what works well for entertainment value?
Look, I’m not blaming the materialism and Hollywood sexualization for the IV murders. Many of us are subject to the same influences of pop culture and we don’t go around shooting people…but then again, many of us have been raised with strong values or some sort of moral guidance that helps us navigate the murky waters of pop culture and determine for ourselves what is reflective of real life, what is truly valuable, and what is only used for entertainment purposes. However, if somebody lacks such moral guidance, if somebody loses their way, or if somebody’s mind is twisted by mental health issues…then they become much more susceptible to the dark pull of pop culture.
Wow, I can’t believe I’ve rambled on for so long! Clearly I had a lot of thoughts to get out of my system. The Isla Vista incident was truly an unconscionable tragedy that should never be repeated again in any shape or form. It should not have happened in the first place.
In keeping with the theme of my blog, however, I will try to end on a note of hope. Despite recent horrors, I still have faith in the human spirit. I am distressed that innocent lives were lost or wounded, that my former carefree home of IV no longer feels safe to many, that a disturbed young man’s cries for help (in the form of public videos, posts, and strange behavior) were ignored. But so many voices have risen from the rubble; so many important discussions are springing up as we come together to seek how best to protect our communities and improve our society.
My hope is that these discussions will not fade away as they so often do when the next big news story hits the waves. My hope is that by finding common ground, these discussions will give rise to action, that we will finally begin taking concrete steps toward a better tomorrow. I believe that if we stay committed to our vision of a safe, informed, healthy, and happy society, we can all do our part to make this vision a reality.