Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The 49th Law of Power: A Dystopian Reality Event Game


Isla Vista shooting

Police investigate a scene after a series of shootings in Isla Vista, California: photo by Associated Press / KEYT-TV / Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2014

A Killer Story: An Interview with Suzanne Collins, Author of ‘The Hunger Games’

What inspired you to write it?

One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know [what]; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.

Why did those programs speak to you so deeply?

When I was a kid, my dad fought in Vietnam. He was gone for a year. Even though my mom tried to protect us -- I’m the youngest of four -- sometimes the TV would be on, and I would see footage from the war zone. I was little, but I would hear them say “Vietnam,” and I knew my dad was there, and it was very frightening. I’m sure that a lot of people today experience that same thing. But there is so much programming, and I worry that we’re all getting a little desensitized to the images on our televisions. If you’re watching a sitcom, that’s fine. But if there’s a real-life tragedy unfolding, you should not be thinking of yourself as an audience member. Because those are real people on the screen, and they’re not going away when the commercials start to roll.

What was the most difficult part of writing the story?

When you’re going to write a story like The Hunger Games, you have to accept from the beginning that you’re going to kill characters. It’s a horrible thing to do, and it’s a horrible thing to write, particularly when you have to take out a character that is vulnerable or young or someone you’ve grown to love when you were writing them.

from A Killer Story: An Interview with Suzanne Collins, Author of ‘The Hunger Games’: Rick Margolis, School Library Journal, 1 September 2008

 Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate, via New York Times, 22 March 2012

At 'Hunger Games' camp, children want to fight to the 'death'

Largo, Florida

The first day of camp brought girls with lunchbags and suntans and swimsuit strings hanging down the backs of their shirts. They smiled and jumped up and down, excited to see each other; many were classmates at Country Day School, the host of the summer camp. It was this friendship that made Rylee Miller, 12, feel a little conflicted. "I don't want to kill you," she told Julianna Pettey. Julianna, also 12, looked her in the eye. "I will probably kill you first," she said. She put her hands on Rylee's shoulders. "I might stab you."

The boys had gathered away from the girls, across the room. Eli Hunter cocked an elbow and pointed the fingers on his other hand, explaining that he was a sniper in a tree. He gunned down Liam Cadzow, a tiny blond boy in a bucket hat.

"What are we going to do first?" shouted 14-year-old Sidney Martenfeld. "Are we going to kill each other first?"


"If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow," Joey Royals mused to no one in particular. "Don't kill me with a sword. I'd rather be shot."

The Hunger Games trilogy is wildly popular: The first movie grossed nearly $700 million worldwide. More than 36 million copies of the books have been sold in the United States. 
One of the girls at the camp can recite the first chapter by memory.

While it's difficult to think of a children's phenomenon that doesn't involve violence, The Hunger Games might take the prize. As punishment for a failed rebellion, 12 districts have to send a boy and girl to fight to the death in a televised tournament.

"What's your specialty? Ours is primarily weapons," said Frances Pool-Crane, the youngest camper at 10 years old.

"Ours is, like, half weapons," said Briana Craig, 12. "Alliance?"

"Sure," Frances said. The girls were decorating posters for the Games. "LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH," Frances wrote.

Next door to the Hunger Games camp, about two dozen kids in another camp played a computer game where they built structures to protect their lives from monsters. Kids can fake-die in nearly any game these days, counselor Simon Bosés said.

"But if you actually sit down and talk to them and they say, 'I'm going to kill you,' they don't understand what they're saying. Death for this age isn't a final thing. It's a reset."

Susan Toler, a clinical psychologist specializing in children's issues and an assistant dean at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, called the camp idea "unthinkable."
When children read books or watch movies, they're observers, removed from the killing. "But when they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them," Toler said. "The violence becomes less egregious."

-- from At 'Hunger Games' camp, children want to fight to the 'death': Lisa Gartner, Tampa Bay Times, 2 August 2013

At least one bicyclist was struck by a car driven by the alleged gunman who killed six people in a Friday night rampage in Isla Vista. (Urban Hikers photo)

At least one bicyclist was struck by a car driven by the alleged gunman who killed six people in a Friday night rampage in Isla Vista: photo by Urban Hikers via Noozhawk, 23 May 2014)

Elliot Rodger, left, on the red carpet for The Hunger Games, is believed to be the son of assistant director Peter Rodger: photographer unknown, via The Telegraph,  24 May 2014

The 48 Laws of Power. DNF. Machiavelli on steroids: photo by Mark Larson, 24 March 2012

(On his Facebook page, Elliot Rodger "favorites" four books, with The 48 Laws of Power at the top of the list, followed by Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Success Principles)

Third eyed spy [from Robert Greene: The 48 Laws of Power]: photo by Jamel Alatise, 21 November 2012

Isla VIsta shooting

A body is covered on the street next to a BMW sedan crashed on an Isla Vista, California sidewalk. The driver is suspected in a shooting rampage that killed six people Friday night in Isla Vista: photo by Urban Hikers / Noozhawk via Los Angeles Times, 24 May 2014
Cover Photo

Elliot Rodger in his BMW: photo from Elliot Rodger's Facebook page, as posted at the time of his death


TC said...

For better or worse, it's a fact that no one can ever enter the mind of another. In the case of someone whose acts seem unintelligible on the surface, this is particularly true. Mystification and bewilderment are our response.

With this story of a troubled kid on a killing spree in a place many might consider the closest thing on earth to paradise, the puzzlement is compounded by familiarity with the site of the events in question.

I lived in Santa Barbara for four years in the 1980s and worked as a part time instructor at the community college this young man attended (Santa Barbara City College). During the same period, I assisted in the making of two of my books by small "cottage" publishers in Isla Vista, just round the corner from the young man's last dwelling place.

All of us, meanwhile, again for better or worse, have now been living for some time "on location" -- that is, under the spell of the virtual-world fantasy images created for profit by media industries.

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Grotesque Americana... the never-been-kissed, deranged-by-privilege killer in a faux Garden of Eden... drives a rather expensive car (after filming a Preview for YouTube) to the Hell he makes for those he perceived as having euchered him out of the American Dream. Who to blame? Can we start, says the ghost of Freud, with the killer's parents, particularly the father?

Hazen said...

Periodically, human beings run amok on this star-crossed planet. They take out their frustrations by taking out other people. The Second Amendment, that malevolent idea, is our secret warrant to go mad and shoot up the place and all the people in it. We're obsessed with sex and death and guns, a lurid trinity that has always been an innate part of our culture. That this latest massacre takes place at a time when we memorialize the slaughter of war (while generally ignoring the cultural damage resulting from this worship) should not be ignored.

TC said...

The killer's paternal grandfather, George Rodger (1908-1985) was a distinguished photojournalist who became one of the founding members of the Magnum agency. He photographed the Blitz for Life, and was one of the first photographers to follow the Brutish Army Film and Photographic Unit into Bergen-Belsen

George Rodger, Magnum Photo biography

George Rodger photo for Life: Liberation of Buchenwald, 1945

George Rodger's photographs of the survivors and piles of corpses "... were highly influential in showing the reality of the death camps. Rodger later recalled how, after spending several hours at the camp, he was appalled to realise that he had spent most of the time looking for graphically pleasing compositions of the piles of bodies lying among the trees and buildings.

"This traumatic experience led [him] to conclude that he could not work as a war correspondent again. Leaving Life, he travelled throughout Africa and the Middle East, continuing to document these areas' wildlife and people."

The killer's father, Peter Rodger, offers this capsule vita on his official website:

"Peter Rodger grew up looking through a camera lens. As a teenager, the award-winning British director and photographer honed his skills by assisting his father, George Rodger, the renowned photojournalist and co-founder of Magnum Photos. After completing his education at England’s Maidstone College of Art, his skill with the lens has made him one of the most sought-after talents in both the European and United States advertising markets.

"Peter has shot print and commercial campaigns in over forty countries, for such diverse clients as Mercedes, Save the Children Fund, City National Bank, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Microsoft, Infiniti, Lexus, Buick, Acura, Honda, Volvo, Land Rover, Fendi, Xavier Laurent Perfume, Apple Computers, University of Houston, Kodak, Freixenet Champagne, General Electric, Audi, Ecolab and Canon Cameras.

"He is repped by Untitled Inc. in Los Angeles, and has developed a deeply visual style of shooting that has become increasingly popular. Visceral cinematic imagery captures the soul of performance in a non-contrived, yet observational way that makes his filmmaking epic to watch but at the same time engaging with a natural, yet energetic execution.

"His ever-evolving style has yielded over 35 awards as best director from The Houston International Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, The Telly Awards, The Mobius Awards and the US International Film and Video Festival. During his illustrious commercial career, Peter produced and directed the epic non-fiction film entitled “Oh My God” – which explores peoples’ diverse opinions and perceptions of God, released in 2009.

"And in 2012, Peter collaborated with Gary Ross as second unit director on the motion picture blockbuster “The Hunger Games,” creating the propaganda film for the fictional “Capitol” in the story.

"He has written eight screenplays and is attached to direct three of them. In 2009, his first book “The OMG Chronicles” was released, published by Hayhouse.

"Peter lives in Los Angeles with his family."

TC said...

To say that research into this particular American family story has been troubling would be an understatement.

For sociological purposes, a descent into the baffling catacombs of the vernacular is sometimes required.

It's essential to have at least some shadow of cognizance of the signification of terms like TRP douchebag, red piller, PUA Hater, gaytard, MRA, und so weiter -- the lexical equivalent of a tour of a polluted swamp in a glass-bottom boat.

The killer's twenty-odd You Tube videos, "visceral cinematic" texts of Impending Doom shot on location beneath the Golf Course Palms, with their enormous posthumous comment chains accumulated in the twenty-four hour period preceding their sudden evanishment, shall weigh upon the mind forever, much as a great black stone.

Perhaps more terrifying still, as raw document of the mass consciousness, are the various copious chatroom threads.

Of these, none is weirder and wilder than:

[cringe] /u/crazydave333 makes chilling comment on spree killer Elliot Rodger's video

ACravan said...

If you've never read The Hunger Games books (which seem to apply here, albeit in an abstract way), you should give them a miss. We read them when Jane did a couple of years ago. They were part of the discretionary reading list that complemented her school's mandatory summer reading assignments. I only saw the first movie and it was sickening. I'm up-to-date on the news, videos, and some of the threads, but would be inclined to give the family a break. The first two paragraphs of your first comment speak my mind also. Curtis

TC said...


Agh, for me too the exposure was discretionary, bred entirely out of an anachronistic sense of responsibility -- I thought it necessary to poke into the HG franchised stuff a bit. A little goes a long way... in nudging one toward the virtual reality mortuary.

That Facebook-"favorited" reading list of the killer's is one supposes merely standard garden-variety self-empowerment nonsense.

(That virtue of making oneself strong always seemed a bit more.... what's the word? noble, perhaps? -- when it was still called courage, and actually came from the heart and not the national bestseller list.)

I too would be inclined to give the family, as well as everybody, a break.

Not that having a dad who's a champ at pimping for grand corporations would in any way give rise in the child to alienation, cynicism, or primping in the rearview on-camera in the parking lot.

(I think possibly there's a culture factor here.)

And by the way, about that optional summer reading list -- what's the world come to?

When I taught an introductory literature class to some 300 unsorted, no-future students at that school the killer attended -- they were almost all Latin kids, the few white stragglers rejects or washouts from UCSB -- the kids in fact did show an avid interest in some pretty good books, if the subject seemed to have some relation with their own lives. They particularly liked John Fante's Ask the Dust, a novel about the struggles and aspirations of a son of Italian immigrants in America. What they liked in it was the sense of reality.

Those private schools ought to find some teachers who've actually read something, instead of this cartoon trash.

TC said...

The release by the LA Times of the killer's "manifesto" complicates and elaborates the story, deepening the pain and pathos, much as one would have had to suspect it was going to.

Though its author has been called "autistic", there is a remarkable degree and detail of self-consciousness in this document.

(Was it Descartes who suggested that in self-consciousness lie the beginnings of objectivity?)

Issues of race -- the writer's problematic position as "half white" -- and class -- "descended from the British aristocracy" -- are woven into a sort of Dickensian narrative of a privileged California upbringing, seen from the inside... way inside.

His diminutive size obsesses him. His dissatisfaction with his appearance is a steady theme. He laments a particular bad hair salon decision -- "I was furious".

"Jealousy and envy... those are the two feelings that would dominate my entire life, and bring me intense pain."

He writes better English than 90% of my erstwhile MFA candidates.

Most telling bit of the document is the lad's account of his parents' divorce, when he was seven, and his reaction to his father's subsequent acquaintance with other women. "My little mind got the impression that my father was a man other women found attractive." Uh-oh.

Elliot Rodger: Document

TC said...

(But as to the race issue -- considering what we know was going to happen, he's a bit hard on those poor Chinese room-mates; and one is left to assume the third entry in the home innings of Phase One was a friend of theirs, in effect a glorified bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time -- 9:00 on a Friday night on the last weekend of "the school year" in IV.)

ACravan said...

To be fair to the school (not something I'm always inclined to be), the optional reading list (prepared in order to give the kids some self-determined reading choices while bringing the number of books read up to the mandatory minimum) did have some excellent selections. Including the Hunger Games books was lazy and pandering. I remember purchasing the last volume in the series for Jane at Borders at opening time on a day we were leaving early for a beach excursion and finding myself in unbelievably long line. The cashier -- a woman in her 30s -- had already purchased her own copy. Frankly, at the time I was just glad Jane wanted to read something because reading literature for pleasure isn't a priority for her. (She draws, sculpts, designs and reads about machines and how things are engineered and constructed.) The Hunger Games books are ghastly, though. What struck me about Elliot Rodgers were the technical virtues of his videos, various of his turns of phrase and his flawless delivery. As far as his father's line of work, without knowing more, I think it's probably unfair to associate his worldview with The Hunger Games. I assume this was a very good professional opportunity and that assistant director jobs on big features are difficult to come by. As a lawyer, I've represented many clients whose interests and approaches to life were significantly different than my own and I've only had occasion to "fire" one of them. (He stole property from his employer and wouldn't return it, which made it impossible for me to achieve any kind of good result for him.) What a horrible, horrible story. Reading some of the Elliot Rodgers "fan reactions" makes me never want to leave the house again. Curtis

TC said...


Well, you're right, he knew how to make videos. Evidently that ran in the blood.

While watching his, I was struck by the similarities to Flula Borg's.

With the difference that Flula is funny.

The continuing release of further excerpts from that grim farewell document suggests that if we are seeking a single word solution to the mystery of why this kid did these horrific things, the word might be "America".

He describes an idyllic early childhood in England, surrounded by loving family and lovely countryside.

"We moved to a large house made of red brick in the county of Sussex, with vast grass fields surrounding it. The house even had a name: The Old Rectory. This was where I spent my early childhood, the first five years of my life, and it was beautiful.

"The memories I have of this period are only memories of happiness and bliss. My father was a professional photographer at the time, just in the stage of becoming a director. My mother gave up her nursing career to stay at home and look after me. My grandma on my mother's side, who I would call Ah Mah, moved in with us to help out my mother.

"I would spend a lot of time with Ah Mah during these years. This was a time of discovery, excitement, and fun. I had just entered this new world, and I knew nothing of the pain it would bring me later on.

"I enjoyed life with innocent bliss. I can remember playing in the fields and going on long walks with Ah Mah to pick berries. She would always warn me not to touch the stinging nettles that sometimes grew in our fields, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I got stung a few times. There was a swing in the back of our yard, which I had many good times on."

But a less blissful note is struck later on, at private school, Dorset House.

"I was forced to wear a uniform, which I hated because I had to wear uncomfortable socks up to my knees. I was very nervous and I cried on my first day there. I can remember two friends I made by name, George and David. I would always play in the sandpit with them.

"I didn't like school at Dorsett [sic] House very much. I found the rules to be too strict. My least favourite part of it was the football sessions. I never understood the game and I could never keep up with the other boys in the field, so I always stood by the goal-keeper and pretended to be the 'second goalkeeper'."

And the first hints of pure terror come when he recalls getting lost on a school outing in the park.

"As my class was eating lunch, I ventured off to another area of the park, and when I returned, my class had moved on. I remember panicking and asking strangers for help. It was a terrifying experience for me."


ACravan said...

I've also been reading My Twisted World and I think that two words that might be more appropriate than "America" (although I think that aspects of LA materialistic-commercial culture do come into play as aggravating factors) might be "divorce" and simply "insanity." Curtis

TC said...

The sick media culture "we" invented is a disease that affects the planet, now. Still, it's difficult to imagine that this sensitive, hyper-reactive child, growing to young manhood in the UK, would have wound up arming himself to the teeth and storming through a town of drunken college kids, wiping out as many as possible before killing himself as well. There's got to be another factor in there. It's the culture factor.

The divorce and insanity occurred in, as it happens, America.

Barry Taylor said...

''s difficult to imagine that this sensitive, hyper-reactive child, growing to young manhood in the UK, would have wound up arming himself to the teeth....' Yes - and I hate to be so bloody obvious - because he wouldn't have been able to pop out and buy a garage-full of guns. That's the essential difference between the US and the UK here. Guns.

And I absolutely agree that the parents should be given a break - they now have to live with the death of their son, and with what he did. That's a pretty heavy price to pay for being one of the thousands making a living filming promos - or the millions getting divorced - or the blameless multitudes hoovering up the endless varieties of pulp nonsense. Very tricky thing, causality.

TC said...


Of course that's right about the easy gun availability -- just don't say it too loud anywhere near a Gun Lobby type.

Not that they wield much power in this country, but... shhhh. Mind who might be listening.

And no, I don't think anyone's "to blame", really, unless it's that first chimp who figured out the advantages of weapon-using.

Sure, advertising's just another industry. Like the petrochemical industry, say. Talking of which...

Obviously it's possible to direct a massively dishonest piece of video designed for maximum "cinematic, visceral" effect while concealing anything like useful information about the product being advertised, and at the same time have a perfectly "normal" family life.

It's a brave new world.

By the by, this appears to be the director's signature work of commercial film making, used as wallpaper on his official website:

Ecolab: Epic -- directed by Peter Rodger (2012)

Can anyone tell us, without looking it up, just what product is being purveyed in that epic work?

My own father was a traveling salesman. Unlike the desperate traveling salesman, who, after too many hours of staring at filthy hotel room carpets, came up with a cleaning product called Absorbit, he never let the failure of his early dreams challenge him onward to the building of a better sanitary mousetrap. But then, some do, some do not, when it comes to that famous making of a living in the sales trades.

That the rug cleaning fixation should morph into the Epic must be just another of the Forbes Five Hundred Happy Little Success Stories.

Doubtless every Freudian Celebrity World Drama has its confrontational moments. I would never have had the temerity to ask for one of these.