In the wake of the horrific and heinous murder rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday weighed in with a column that has, as they say, blown up on social media. She questions whether shooter (and stabber) Elliot Rodgers’ delusions were “inflated, if not created” by the entertainment industry in which he grew up (his father is an assistant director).
This is already a slippery slope, made even slipperier when she linked the killings to the films of Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow. “Blame Apatow” doesn’t have the same ring as “Blame Canada,” the Oscar-nominated anthem from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” But it’s just as ridiculous.
"How many men,” Hornaday posits, “ raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, finds those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”
This is a grossly simplistic and superficial reading of the Apatow oeuvre. As with the later films of Harold Ramis, Apatow has wrestled with the eternal question, “How can I be a better man?” “Knocked Up” is not about a shlub who gets the girl, it’s about how that arrested adolescent (to quote Hornaday) realizes it’s time to grow up and accept responsibility as a new parent.
Hornaday also singles out Rogan’s latest film, “Neighbors,” which she calls an “outsized frat-boy fantasy” when what the film is really about is a couple (Rogan and Rose Byrne) trying to reconcile their youthful, hard-partying pasts with their own current status as new parents.
Rogan, suffice to say, was more disgusted than amused by Hornaday’s essay. He took to Twitter: “How dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage?”
Which reminds me of a story, perhaps aprocryphal, concerning a man who was arrested for murder, the lastest of three, which he committed after seeing “Psycho.” When asked to comment, director Alfred Hitchcock is said to have asked what films the killer had watched before committing the other two murders.
Whether movies (and television, and video games, and music, and books) can influence behavior is a topic way, way above my brain grade. I interviewed Larry Hagman many years ago in conjunction with the release of a smoking cessation video he produced. He told me that he started smoking because screen idols like Humphrey Bogart made it look cool. And how many kids who grew up with the Three Stooges didn’t try to duplicate their hair-pulling, face-slapping, eye-gouging antics with their friends?
"Movies may not reflect reality,” Hornaday writes, “but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it.” I dunno. I’ve been watching movies all of my life and not once have harbored any feelings of entitlement that bred violence or homicide. Okay; I grumble while watching Jon Favreau’s latest, on what planet does this portly chef get Scarlett Johansson AND Sofia Vergara, but more power to him, I say.
Still, Hornaday’s essay is an odd turn in the debate over Hollywood’s culpability in incidents of gun violence. Usually, it is the ultra-violent films that get caught in the pundits’ crosshairs. Even Jim Carrey, co-star of “Kick-Ass 2,” refused to promote that film in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
But when we start to blame our comedies, it's clear we are no closer to ever being able to figure out, “Why?”