Of all the things that have been said in the nonstop chatter since an obviously deranged young man killed six UC Santa Barbara students in Isla Vista last weekend, by far the dumbest comes from Washington, D.C., where The Washington Post’s film critic actually said that these mass murders were tied to white men in Hollywood promoting “escapist fantasies” that “revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment.”
Wrote Ann Hornaday, who hopefully knows more about film than about crime, “As (Elliot) 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.”
There’s more: “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).”
And more: “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’?”
So Apatow, a happily married man and the father of beautiful daughters, is responsible for a seriously ill young man’s murdering six students because that young man — unlike Seth Rogen or a character in an Apatow movie — didn’t get the girl?
This is nuts. Just nuts. How many of us didn’t get the girl or guy we wanted, didn’t get the job we wanted, had our hearts broken any number of ways? We don’t kill. This is not what people do after watching escapist movies and getting dumped by real people. If it were, our college campuses would be wastelands.
Maybe Hornaday is auditioning for a job as a loudmouth screamer who wants to blame Hollywood for everything.
Maybe she’s out to become the new Ann Coulter of culture: wrong, tasteless and offensive, but plenty of airtime. No doubt she’ll succeed. If I had more readers, I’d probably be giving her a boost.
It would be funny (OK, entertaining, because that is what this discussion is really about: ratings and attention. Maybe Hornaday will get her own show if she’s crazy enough.) if this were not a life-and-death problem.
Elliot Rodger was a dangerous and sick young man. He should not have been buying guns and living on his own. His parents knew he was troubled, but clearly they didn’t know just how seriously ill he was — or they didn’t know what to do about it. He had therapists who didn’t know just how imminent a danger he posed. He was a college student, but they apparently didn’t know or do anything. He had parents who thought they were doing enough and weren’t. I have no doubt that they (not Seth or Judd) will blame themselves forever, Ms. Hornaday.
And now six kids — it could have been any of our kids — are dead.
Could we please focus on the killer and not the movies? Could we please try to figure out how to keep sick and dangerous kids who have easy access to guns from killing our children?
I’m happy to rant and rave till the cows come home about discrimination against women in almost every aspect of life — from Hollywood to the op-ed pages of even The Washington Post (which has improved somewhat, in gender terms, since I self-immolated trying to make it an issue). I’m glad to see women with a voice in the op-ed pages. I realize that women, as Hornaday clearly proved, can be every bit as uninformed and offensive as men, but equality doesn’t always mean excellence.
But as a parent and a professor, I would like to believe that campuses are safe places. We need to help the parents of deeply disturbed kids get help for their children, we need to help campuses step up to mental health issues, and we need to deal with the sale of guns to young people who should not be allowed to buy them. That’s a big list. Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen really don’t belong on it.
— Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.