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It’s Monumentally Stupid to Suggest Seth Rogen Movies Are to Blame For Isla Vista Shooting

Seth Rogen Isla Vista
Universal Pictures

What happened when Elliot Rodger picked up a gun had little, if anything, to do with cinematic escapist fantasy, and everything to do with mental illness, misogyny, and a tragic confluence of factors that allowed a young man to claim six lives. In a recently published piece in the Washington Post, critic Ann Hornaday blames the media, as we often rush to do, for enabling the now infamous mass murderer who went on a killing spree before taking his own life in Isla Vista, California. But, she’s pointing her finger in the wrong direction.

Hornaday blames a Hollywood that’s controlled by white men and films rife with casual misogyny for Rodger’s rampage, a Hollywood that produces films where vigilantism and male entitlement are commonplace tropes. And although she briefly makes some points about what’s wrong with Hollywood, her armchair psychiatry and speculation seems crass in the wake of this tragedy. But her mud-slinging at Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow seems particularly misguided:

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”?

The point of ‘Neighbors‘ wasn’t “sex and fun and pleasure” — that film portrayed frat life as a cautionary tale. Speculating on the media consumption of a mass murderer is crass, particularly when you’re making correlations that place the weight of one person’s actions on the shoulders of many, doing little more than accusing a filmmaker of indirectly inspiring a mass murder. All media consumption is incredibly subjective, from film criticism to the casual viewer or listener. Charles Manson was a huge fan of The Beatles, and I don’t think I need to tell you how monumentally stupid it would be to blame them for his crimes.

Rogen and Apatow took to Twitter to respond:

It’s especially baffling to bring Judd Apatow’s name into the conversation, given that his films have often portrayed the central male characters as stubbornly regressive and out of shape, not as an aspirational macho ideal. When they do get the girl, it’s through introspection, maturation, and learning how to respect women, not through physical change and domination. Hornaday makes an odd correlation between Apatow’s films and other Hollywood movies filled with “violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger.” Anyone who has actually watched a Judd Apatow film can tell you this is terribly false; hell, anyone who has seen a trailer for a Judd Apatow film can tell you this is wrong.

Hornaday has a point that Hollywood is controlled by white men, and the statistics do alarmingly reflect this year after year, and she has a point that casual misogyny in Hollywood is real. Could this have contributed to Elliot Rodger’s mass killing spree? Who knows. What we’ve seen over the last few days in his videos and his online presence is a deeply troubled young man who despised women and needed psychological help — the kind of person so close to the edge that he may have been affected by just about anything, and the kind of person who felt a sickening desire to see women suffer for the pain he felt inside. There are Very Big Issues to discuss right now, socially and politically, as there always are in the wake of a mass shooting, and even worse right now because this man embodied a harmful misogynistic culture women deal with on a daily basis. If you want to read more about that culture, which is being addressed in the wake of this tragedy, you should take the time to look through #YesAllWomen on Twitter.

But there’s one thing that we shouldn’t be discussing in relation to Elliot Rodger, and that’s movies. We don’t know what he watched. We don’t know what he liked. And you know what? It probably doesn’t matter. Sick people are sick people, and Elliot Rodger was going to do what he did whether he watched Zac Efron get laid this summer or not. It’s an absurd, reductive correlation in the wake of a heinous tragedy. If you have an issue with those movies and with Hollywood, there’s a time and a place to discuss that reasonably — maybe don’t use a mass murder as an excuse to do it.

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