Alongside American Psycho and “My Twisted World,” the killer’s autobiography, we could place Hamlet, another story about a hyper-privileged young man whose fury, fear and confusion around sex and manliness sent him into a postmodern spiral of self-obsession and carnage.
In today’s culture, where we sometimes seem to want everyone to be recognized as a hero, we can fail to see that heroism often comes at a great price. Hamlet refused to accept that heroism was his destiny, because of the behavior it required. One tradition of masculinity crashed against another. The result was tragedy.
For too many young men today, something similar seems poised to happen again and again. One tradition of manliness points them toward the worship of wealth, sex, and power—and toward crushing depression if all those things elude their grasp. Another tradition of manliness would point them toward discipline, sacrifice, and self-denial.
The first tradition, in fairy-tale terms, is the villain tradition. The second is for heroes. But in today’s world, the worst of traditionalism is being aggrandized, and the best is being lost in the noise.