Portrait of a Monster

Portrait of a Monster
Lisa Pulitzer and Cole Thompson

One of the most overused pop-psychological labels of our day is that of the “alpha male.” Mass murderer Elliot Rodger wanted to be one, and his frustration at not being able to live this dream had disastrous results. For Rodger, and indeed for many, being alpha meant getting a lot of girls. But for people who study these things it means something a bit different. The alpha male is a selfish egotist given to excessive thrill-seeking and risk-taking (the dark side of which is usually substance abuse or some form of criminal behaviour). The popular conception of the alpha male is that of a top athlete or CEO, but this is a fantasy. I’ve known a few such types and they have been, to a man, the biggest losers I’ve ever met: alcoholics stuck in dead-end jobs or downwardly mobile, unable to stay in relationships for much longer than a year, and inevitably friendless. Joran van der Sloot fancied himself, and was regarded by some of his mates, as one of Aruba’s alpha males (leader of a group that dubbed itself the “Pimpology Crew”). He was tall, good-looking, and could pick up girls. But his alpha nature began asserting itself in predictable ways as a teenager. He started to drink and gamble. He was a pathological liar. He couldn’t stay focused on anything, and was a failure at school and at work. He could meet girls, but when they didn’t go along with what he wanted them to do he killed them. That, at least, is what is widely assumed happened to Natalee Holloway and Stephany Flores. For the murder of Flores he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. A Peruvian woman married him in prison and had his child. And so the dream lives on.