Rap Genius is a website that allows for “crowd sourced annotation” of everything from rap lyrics and rock music to news, literature and poetry. Although it was with some trepidation, the site recently posted the entire horrific manifesto of California killer Elliot Rodger having decided that an “internal debate” on the manifesto was warranted. Rodger recently went on a maniacal shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, California that left seven dead including himself. Shortly after the manifesto was posted, Co-founder Mahbod Moghadam was fired, or as has now been stated, “resigned” under pressure. Moghadam did not “resign” simply because he annotated the manifesto but because the comments he made were inappropriate beyond the pale. His crude remarks have been described as “gleeful” and “misogynistic” but frankly, less lofty adjectives might include immature, hurtful, twisted and sick.
Rap Genius CEO Tom Lehman decided to include Rodger’s disturbing manifesto on his Rap Genius site, which although it is primarily known for its entertainment sections on music and lyrics also has a “News Genius” category. Lehman made the decision that the manifesto was “worthy of a close reading” and to allow his Rap Genius community the opportunity to annotate the text. He explained his decision based on his perception of the value of examining the psychology of people, even those who have committed horrific violence, and that this examination might help people better “understand society” and understand themselves. However, he reacted promptly and strongly to the crude annotations made by his co-founder Moghadam. Not only were the offensive annotations removed, but also Lehman has acknowledged that Moghadam compromised the mission of Rap Genius.
Moghadam annotated Elliot Rodger’s killing manifesto with lewd comments about Rodger’s expressed sexual frustration after hearing his sister engaging in sexual activity. Moghadam crudely wrote that Rodger’s sister must be “Smokin’ hot.” Rodger’s clearly tormented comments about the only girl he had ever seen naked, “Maddie” were annotated by Moghadam to include a projection that “Maddie” had gone on to attend college and had become a “spoiled hottie.”
These twisted and remarkably insensitive annotations in the face of the violent loss of life and the enduring pain of the families whose loved ones were victims of Rodger’s slaughter were later explained in a statement by Moghadam. However, the statement does little to ameliorate the offensive nature of his comments nor explain what would cause an otherwise successful individual to have such a serious lapse in judgment.
According to Moghadam he was fascinated by the killing manifesto because it was associated with such a “heartbreaking crime” and that Rodger had written about Moghadam’s own childhood neighborhood. He admits that he was “carried away” and that his comments about Rodger’s sister were in “horrible taste.” While Moghadam expressed his gratitude that Rap Genius had the sense to edit out his marking up of the Rodger manifesto, CEO Lehman will still have to deal with the fallout of his co-founder’s poor judgment and twisted sense of what appears to be an attempt at humor. Meanwhile the families who lost loved ones to the madness that sent Elliot Rodger on a killing spree will likely not understand why Rap Genius thought that annotating the manifesto of a mass murderer was appropriate or necessary.
Opinion By Alana Marie Burke