Movie critic Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post thinks movies like Seth Rogen’s Neighbors and Judd Apatow “comedies” are connected to the mass killing in Santa Barbara. She writes:
As Rodger bemoaned his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire” and arrogantly announced that he would now prove his own status as “the true alpha male,” he unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA. For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.
How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
As you might expect, Rogen and Apatow are none too pleased.
Rogen called the criticism “horribly insulting and misinformed,” while Apatow accused Hornaday of using “tragedy to promote herself with idiotic thoughts.” Oh, and Judd Apatow does have a keen eye for how online journalism works: “They say something shocking and uninformed & get you to click on it to profit.”
You know who else does “something shocking” for “profit?” Hollywood.
I doubt Rogen or Apatow read the entire piece, however. Hornaday went on to write:
Every year, San Diego State University researcher Martha Lauzen releases a “Celluloid Ceiling” report in which she delivers distressing statistics regarding the state of women in Hollywood. This year, she found that women made up just 16 percent of directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 movies of 2013; similarly, women accounted for just 15 percent of protagonists in those films.
Weird how this didn’t come up when President Obama was recently in California raising money. How can the president take campaign contributions from such a misogynistic industry? What would Lilly Ledbetter say?
As for Hornaday’s thesis, I don’t buy it and it’s no better than the knee-jerk reactions blaming the tragedy on the NRA. For example, here’s Albert Brooks:
Psychiatric care for years, stated clearly what he was going to do, and legally owned three guns. Thanks NRA.— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) May 25, 2014
Brooks won’t admit this, but it’s the NRA that has been pushing states to put more Americans with mental health issues into the system that would prevent them from buying a gun.
When confronted on Twitter, Brooks dismissed the facts from Santa Barbara that three of the victims were killed by a knife and the plan was to kill many more with a car. He then went on to make a joke about AAA lobbying Congress to legalize ”assault towing.” This might be funny if the last movie I saw starring Albert Brooks wasn’t Drive, where characters were killed on screen with guns, knives, and cars. Maybe Hornaday can add Brooks to her list of Hollywood culprits?
There is a pattern emerging with these incidents, however, and it’s not related to Hollywood culture or the NRA. It’s that killers like the ones in Sandy Hook, Aurora, and now Santa Barbara were under mental-health treatment of some sort and the treatment providers — as well as the killers’ families – missed what was going to happen. And in the case of Santa Barbara, not only did the the mental health-experts miss the warning signs, so did law enforcement officers sent to check on the killer after a request for a “wellness check“ from the killer’s family.
As much as Hornaday or Brooks want easy answers to assign blame, they’re just not there.