On May 25th The Washington Post published an article by Ann Hornaday which cited movies like Judd Apatow's and Seth Rogan’s recent film “Neighbors” as feeding into the misogynistic culture that cultivates killers, like Elliot Rodger, who experience the conflicted “toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA.”
Now, I enjoy your average Hollywood flick as much as the next girl, but I have to say, I see her point. In a culture where a trip to the movies often requires that I suppress my feminist sensibilities, and only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female, and most movies are centered around male fantasies of sexual fulfillment and vigilante justice, my discomfort is more than warranted. There comes a time when we need to ask ourselves whether these facts and trends are the root of an overarching social and cultural problem.
This is the question Hornaday posed in her article, in which she asked “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'?”
This hyper-sexualized, masculine version of the Cinderella story is in many way a weirdly revamped Hollywood fairytale. Modern cinema, which often fails the Bechdel test, possess an outdated “cinematic grammar [that] is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger,” so “no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.”
A character in "Dykes to Watch Out For" explains the rules that later came to be known as the Bechdel Test, which takes its name from comic artist Alison Bechdel. (1985)
Hornaday’s article was met with outrage as Seth Rogan tweeted “@AnnHornaday how dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage” and “@AnnHornaday I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed.” Judd Apatow responded to this second comment, tweeting “@Sethrogen: ‘@AnnHornaday I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed.’ She uses tragedy to promote herself with idiotic thoughts.”
Understandably, no one wants to find themselves implicated in something like the Rodger shootings. Hornaday was not saying that these two had directly caused the killings, but rather pointing out that their movie participates in a culture that cultivates a diseased gender dynamic. Mass murders in Western and westernized cultures are overwhelmingly committed by males, and I, like Hornaday, think that this is a cultural problem which needs to be addressed.
Meghan Murphy, founder of the website feministcurrent.com, absolutely killed it in an interview with Ernesto Aguilar in which she used the Elliot Rodger killings as a springboard to address misogyny, porn culture, and the modern feminist movement. In discussing the Hornaday/Rogan/Apatow conversation, which begins at 11:00, she points out that movies teach men that life is about extracting sex from women, that they are entitled to ‘receive’ sex, and that it is acceptable for them to pursue sex with violence, since society often dismisses male violence (all of that boys-will-be-boys crap).
Rogan and Apatow were outraged to have their work suggested as a contributing factor in the killings, but I doubt they would have had such strong feelings if Hornaday had asserted their role in reinforcing the patriarchy. We all need to realize that to participate in the patriarchal structure is to be complicit about the extreme and violent acts that can arise from it. We have the potential to create men like Elliot Rodgers. That is how socialization works. And that is why we need to change.
Images courtesy of firstshowing.net and nation.com.pk and Alison Bechdel.