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Did Hollywood Male Fantasies Impact the Isla Vista Assault on Women?

by Anne Thompson
May 27, 2014 2:38 PM
  • |
Efron and Rogen are 'Neighbors'
Efron and Rogen are 'Neighbors'
Elliot Rodger
Elliot Rodger

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post argues persuasively that Hollywood male fantasies could have played a role in the vengeful anti-female assault at Isla Vista at the University of California Santa Barbara. Check the "last" video below of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, in which he bewails being a virgin and proclaims his imminent status as an "alpha male." 

The essay has set off a torrent of reactions largely because Hornaday used as her examples of Hollywood male fantasies the films of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, specifically the current frat comedy hit "Neighbors." This in turn has spawned the usual counter-arguments in defense of Hollywood: movies don't kill people, mental illness and guns do. 

Rogen tweet

Apatow has fought back, understandably, tweeting that Hornaday's motivation may have been traffic-motivated. 

I respect Hornaday: she is a thoughtful and serious film critic and her essay is well-reasoned. She's not a cynical traffic-chaser. She has valid points to make.

Unfortunately citing Apatow and "Neighbors," she picked on the wrong villains. Both Apatow and Rogen are examples of inclusive and enlightened moviemakers where women are concerned. "Neighbors," especially features a strong and funny woman (Rose Byrne) who with her husband (Rogen) is fighting the frat boys next door. This movie hardly celebrates frat culture.

These arguments on the role of movie culture in violence are necessary and important and I would hate to see Hornaday's valid points buried in the wrong debate. 

Meanwhile, Andrew O'Hehir over at Salon makes the case that Rogen and Apatow's Twitter reactions actually solidified Hornaday's point about misogyny and Hollywood.


  • thepoliticalronin | May 28, 2014 9:07 AMReply

    Typical liberal diatribe after a tragedy - blame everyone but the perpetrator. I don't care for Apatow or Rogen films but the suggestion they their work caused this event is absolutely asinine. How about the parents, the sheriff's department that refused to intervene when cause was present, and finally...*drumroll*... the sick, sad person that actually did it. Why not blame those factors? No, it's far more likely that Hollywood males are the precipitating factor in such a tragic event. How many times did Rodgers mention Apatow and Rogen in his videos? I forget. Hornaday is an idiot pandering for attention and internet traffic and Anne Thompson is apparently an idiot too.

  • Leon | May 28, 2014 8:10 AMReply

    You are all awful who give this woman any weight. She is a terrible person who is trying to blame movies instead of THE GUY WHO ACTUALLY KILLED EVETYONE!!!! Blame is easy to dish out and hard to except. The only people need to be blamed for this is the Kid who killed everyone. Nothing more nothing less. At least we don't have suicide bombers blowing up everyday. She just wanted to get her time of fame. What a way to do it to. On the deaths of all those innocent people. She should just leave and go away. Far far away and live in her G rated phony life. Holden caufield would beat the crap out of her.

  • Brian | May 28, 2014 5:47 AMReply

    I think you're right in the sense that she's blamed the wrong movies. I don't believe film causes people to kill (witness the debates in the past over films such as The Matrix and Basketball Diaries among others being used as "causes" of school shootings), but I think there are films that might contribute to a culture that denigrates and demeans women. Instead of bashing Apatow and Rogen, I think she could have found better examples.

    But even so, I think movies and video games were hardly the spark that caused Elliot Rodger to snap. I think it was a combination of a twisted viewpoint against women and sexuality and delusions of grandeur that caused the shooting. He could have watched documentaries and listened to classical music and the result most likely would have been the same.

  • Leon | May 28, 2014 8:14 AM

    HAHAHAHA you are so wrong. And Sad. Yeah Sad and wrong. Woman really are ruining movies.... one PTC council at a time. 1989 gore law passed by laura bush and hilary clinton.
    1999 Rated R forceful push to keep youngsters out you geuessed it, Women. I think its funny that they are going after Rated R movies when the violence level in R rated films has stayed the same since the 70's where as PG-13 violence has multiplied more then 1000x. Just goes to show you that people are the ones to blame not movies. The only person to blame here is the darn Killer.

  • David | May 28, 2014 1:33 AMReply

    You stop being a stupid idiot and delete this article before everyone laughs at you.

  • Brandon | May 27, 2014 4:55 PMReply

    It's annoying when the individual is ignored for the supposed cultural explanation. The guy was lonely and sexually frustrated. No further cultural input required – if he matches certain other personality requirements (see below), he might hurt someone as “retribution” for how bad he feels. It unfortunately might be that simple.

    He was mildly autistic, which, likely in conjunction with shyness and an isolated childhood, made socializing with girls more difficult than it already is for many young men. As he withdrew socially, he countered his feelings of worthlessness in the sexual arena with private delusions of grandeur, insisting to himself that he was superior to the males around him who were successful sexually (in much the same strategy as insisting to oneself that a work of art rejected by a gallery is simply too profound for the owners, or that a rejected job application is overqualified, etc.).

    By framing his very understandable rejection by every woman he tried with as an injustice, he was able to begin fantasizing about retribution against women and men without moral qualms. His belief in the righteousness of his violent plans resulted from the fact that his own hurt feelings had calcified into an ideology - making a manifesto is part of that process. Once you have ideology of any kind, you can commit bizarre or deranged acts (not necessarily violent) and feel justified. Many people feel lonely and angry at others of both genders for “making” them feel lonely (no one owes anyone their attention or companionship), but they don’t commit horrible acts unless their loneliness becomes an ideological cause for action.

    I didn’t have time to discuss the role of Neighbors in this, but that’s only because it had none.

  • Alex | May 28, 2014 3:50 AM

    You make some great points. My only contention is the "autistic" diagnosis. I'm calling BS on this diagnosis. His therapist is either wrong in her diagnosis to the family or the family is lying. He was obviously borderline personality with narcissistic traits. He believed the world should revolve around him and had zero emphathy for others. I've worked with violent offenders specializing in mental disorders and I can tell you they were the scariest ones. It's the cold detachment that is truly frightening.

  • Bob | May 27, 2014 3:24 PMReply

    Whenever somebody blames movies or video games for a shooting in the US, just counter with this simple retort:

    "Oh, you mean the same films and video games they get in Canada? Where are their mass shootings?"

    You can interchange Canada with pretty much any other country in the world. That's what so sad.

  • Damien | May 28, 2014 2:07 AM

    Bob you're totally right, same thing could be said about the UK as well where shootings are virtually unheard of.

    There are millions of people who play and watch said movies and videogames who never once hurt, maim or shoot a solitary soul. I think we should blame the fact that this kid just never got the help he needed which is just part of the holes in our mental health system.

  • No | May 27, 2014 2:59 PMReply

    This is beginning to be a really stupid continuation of a stupid argument. Has any actually read the entire piece by Hornaday? She never once mentions the influence of gun violence in the films and the fact that we're living in a society where "craven" politicians and rapacious gun lobbyists.

    Ms. Hornaday and I have been in communication about her piece. She said that she didn't mention the guns because she decided to stay in her "lane" and only report on the cinematic aspect of Rodger's YouTube.

    I told her that I found it inexcusable and lazy to use the "staying in the lane" metaphor and not mention guns in Hollywood films. However, she could find the time to trash Judd Apatow & Seth Rogeb but say nothing about the toxic mixture of gun violence in films, the NRA and the lack of political will to do something.

    This just underscores how bankrupt America intellectuals are. A few weeks ago bell hooks (sic) was calling Beyonce a "terrorist" because of her sexually aggressive videos.

  • Matt Parks | May 27, 2014 2:54 PMReply

    Everyone knows that there was no such thing as violence until movies came along. Especially those horribly violent slacker movies that Rogen and Apatow make....

  • aanfo | May 27, 2014 2:50 PMReply

    In answering your column's question, NO! I can't believe we're not only blaming films, but blaming men in general for acting out certain things because of what they view in film. That is hideously insulting.

    And advocating that this woman's take on it is dumb as can be is not, by default, blaming the victim. It's an attempt to take the issue and point it in the more accurate direction. The direction that doesn't use ideology to come up with the root cause.

    And yes. This guy was mentally ill. Generally, those who enact murderous rampages happen to have mental issues who cannot be told "no" in order for them to stop. You can't be afraid of being to politically incorrect when trying to tackle an issue like this. Also, how is it much different for them to insist that this is just something men have been trained to do than for people to blame those with mental illnesses, not all people with those issues, to be the perpetrators of such an act? At least with mental illness you have a factual basis to state your claim.

  • Lela | May 27, 2014 2:02 PMReply

    "movies don't kill people, mental illness and guns do"

    What? Um, less than 10% of all violent crimes in the US are committed by those with a serious mental illness. News is hyped by it BECAUSE it is rare, but those instances are used to perpetuate the stigma that the mentally ill are a danger to society.

  • Cath | May 27, 2014 3:02 PM

    Seriously mentally ill people can be indeed a danger to society. As someone who works with mental illness, I have to deal with violence on a regular occasion.

    This story is not perpetuating the stigma of mentally ill, but the complexities of treatment. It's obvious that the boy was very ill.

  • Jack | May 27, 2014 12:42 PMReply

    "This is turn has spawned the usual counter-arguments in defense of Hollywood: movies don't kill people, mental illness and guns do."

    I forgot that a gun has a mind of its own and is capable of a decision and ability to aim and fire itself. His family was so anti-gun I'm sure they taught him that firearms were only instruments of violence. When a drunk driver kills someone do we blame the car and ban the use or start restricting fuel capacities? Why don't people blame the sick person who did this terrible act and I don't know maybe the Santa Barbara police department who could have put him on a psych hold or just looked in his room?

  • Leon | May 27, 2014 12:18 PMReply

    I am so tired of Women/men/parents/Muslims everyone blaming movies for their own shortcomings. People wake the hell up! life is what you decide so stop placing the blame on film. Start blaming yourselves.

  • ET | May 27, 2014 1:54 PM

    If you are in ANY way blaming the victims here, then maybe you need to look at your own shortcomings. The guy was a psychopath.

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