It seems like every year there is a new gun violence story to talk about — mass murders committed mostly by white (occasionally Asian, rarely African American) upper middle class or middle class (occasionally men of no means) men who are angry at the world, angry at women, angry at immigrants, angry at Jews, angry at the government. They are everywhere and access to weapons has never been easier. Want a gun? No problem. Want to stockpile weapons online? Easy as pie. No one is watching you. They’re all too busy looking for swarthy terrorists and busting pot growers.
It isn’t so simple to say that it’s untreated mental illness. Nope, the latest Isla Vista piece of shit was being well treated for mental illness. The Aurora shooter, the Newtown shooter and the Columbine shooters, not to mention the Virginia Tech shooter were all being treated for mental illness and most were being medicated. You want to blame medication? Can’t do that either because many of the less famous mass shooters who shot up fast food restaurants, post offices or synagogs weren’t being medicated. Blame guns? Well you can do that, sure, but guns have always been around. We’ve always had access to them. Blame hateful men for being angry? Sure, that’s a constant throughout human history and especially in the last 100 years. The rise of mass murders and serial killers is a fairly recent phenomenon, human history-wise. We’re overpopulated now, we’re living longer – it stands to reason weird shit is going to start cropping up in our DNA.
But what has really changed in the past 30 years? What has caused this epidemic of mass shootings, which has gone roughly this way:
1980s – 3 mass shootings recorded
1990s – 11 mass shootings recorded
2000s – 12 mass shootings recorded
2010 – 2014 13 mass shootings and counting
[source: LA Times]
In the last four years there have been more than in any other decade going back 30 years. That means we have to start looking at other factors of what might be causing the recent increase in these types of killings. Before we get to Michael Moore’s famous statement on the issue, which is dead on the money, let’s look at what happened to Ann Hornaday when she tried to explore the possibility that the continual fantasy fodder of films aimed young men might be partly to blame for the latest shooting, which Gawker then picked up.
What happened as a result of her name checking Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen was that they each tweeted to their millions of followers the following:
.@AnnHornaday I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) May 26, 2014
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) May 27, 2014
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) May 27, 2014
The last tweet I left in for effect but let’s just say that mental illness certainly was being identified, obviously, as the main motivator here. Oh, they threw around the term Asperger’s, like they did with the Newtown shooter but that appears to have been a misdiagnosis for what they really meant: psychopath. They exist in our world and we have to realize that sooner rather than later.
So what has changed in the past 30 years? Haven’t there always been psychopaths? Yup. What is new in our culture?
1. There are more people overall.
2. The hysteria-driven news cycle has done nothing but fan the flames for this kind of tragedy, poring over detail 24/7. If attention is what these guys are seeking, attention is what they get right away and often. The media delivers the shock and awe reaction they hope to get, even though most of these shooters kill themselves before they see that reaction. They don’t need to see it. They know it’s coming. They’ve seen it before. They saw it with Columbine.
3. The rise of violent video games and video game playing. Back in the Columbine days it was Marilyn Manson music that was blamed for violent behavior so no one really wants to take video gaming seriously but in fact it is often the common link, along with (sometimes) drugs and (sometimes) afflictions or disabilities that prevent them from fitting in with society. Video games can’t be blamed, ask anyone online and they will cut you down for even suggesting it. So many people play them, how could they be the cause? Wouldn’t everyone take to the streets shooting if video games were to blame? Probably. They do enhance a certain personality type, just as drugs probably do, towards acting out violently but you can’t lay blame there.
4. The rise of extreme violence in film, television and video games. You can look at The Exorcist, The French Connection, the Dirty Harry movies, the Wild Bunch, Ken Russell films, Argento movies — and then you can look at Tarantino movies. And Scorsese movies. All of the films we see now have taken screen violence to the ultimate extreme. But you have to ask yourself don’t they have extremely violent, way more violent, films in Japan? Yes. Do they have mass shootings in Japan? No. Mass murder occasionally but not with guns because they don’t HAVE GUNS.
5. Prescribing drugs to children. Children are now medicated starting as easily as two years old. These kids are all about to come of age. Many of the shooters were on anti-depressants either before or after the shootings but certainly not all. Still, it’s one thing that has really changed: the chokehold of Big Pharma on all of us but especially kids, especially young boys who have too energy from playing too many video games whose parents just need some quiet time. They can’t sit still at school so parents drug them up. What does that do to the developing brain? There has been no direct evidence to suggest that drugs cause extreme violence to others, just to self (suicide, etc).
6. The rise of the NRA’s power and the gun lobby with no one with balls to stop them. They are so powerful now that no gun control laws could even be enacted after the Newtown massacre. We can’t even regulate buying ammunition online in some states. This is a state by state thing but you can rest assured, the NRA is winning. There are more guns tucked away in communities than anyone could imagine. Obama’s presidency only increased the purchase of weapons and the stockpiling of them.
These things are new. But are they to blame? Ann Hornaday’s point (read below) wasn’t to blame these fantasy films but to really look more broadly at how we rear the typical American male. Most Americans (more specifically white, middle class Americans) are raised to believe that they can have everything they want — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is especially true with young white males who are born with privilege. The world is completely open to them. Every movie aimed at kids, every television show has things working out perfectly for the protagonist. In films the central male figure, a misfit, is recognized by the end and saves the day. The key is that they are recognized. A girl will love them. Their employer will reward them. Their parents will love them. Remember Rupert Pupkin’s fantasies in The King of Comedy where he imagines his school principal coming back and telling him “we were wrong, Rupert, and you were right.” That is the fantasy churned out in almost every film made for kids, probably every TV show.
Entitlement culture tells us that we matter more than everyone else, that what we want is what we’ll get. That if we buy the right car, wear the right clothes, live in the right places, go to the right schools, look the right way we will be happy. How many dishwashers you want? Two? Okay. Entitlement culture tells you that’s okay, no matter how many resources it uses up. You deserve that monster truck. You deserve that big house, that beautiful blonde on your arm. You not only deserve it but you’re ENTITLED to it. Every billboard, every TV ad that blares out at children (the most advertising blocks are aimed at kids programming) sends the same message, over and over again: your happiness/satisfaction matters more than anyone else’s.
But what happens when we all realize that we were raised on a big lie? Happiness can’t be bought. It can’t even be close to being bought. Most of us accept this and move on with our lives of either happiness or quiet desperation. But a certain kind of person, an angry sociopath, a psychopath or just an impulsive asshole amped up on drugs who can’t control his temper. Middle class male will feel even more angry, more slighted by being rejected from the very society that was supposed to accept him. After all, why should he? His parents always made him believe he was special and that everything would go all right because people would think the same things about him that they did. Except that they didn’t in most cases. Girls winced at the very sight of most of these guys. Not all of them. The Aurora shooter, for instance, was a good looking man with no problem getting laid. His problem was bigger than that, with mommy and daddy and high expectations. But we’re not quite there yet.
Some mass shooters, a small amount, aren’t rich at all but they carry around with them that American entitlement anyway. One guy believed America was being destroyed by immigrants and wanted to take them out before killing himself. Another shooter was homeless but hated women, threatened and beat them before opening fire and killing more women than men, as many as he could.
So where do movies fit in? They fit in where everything else fits in. We have created a perfect storm for a shooter to easily acquire a weapon, fly under the radar mostly undetected because they are usually so shy and quiet they are practically invisible. “Weird” isn’t a thing you call the police about. They sit there in their dark little rooms and fan the flames of anger while using any tool at their disposal — video games, music, movies, whatever mirrors what they feel inside, whatever helps back up their eventual plot of destruction.
That is the overall big picture of what’s happening now, I think. But ultimately, you can’t really do anything about that. What Ann Hornaday brings up is an overall look at how we treat women in Hollywood films and how that might help to foster that kind of hate. In other words, women should be easily acquired and if they aren’t — fuck them.
What Hornaday says is that misfit creeps look to movies like that, unrealistic depictions of unattractive males getting hot women, and feel even more slighted by women or society as a result. Why aren’t THEY recognized? Why can’t they have what that guy has? Haven’t American films flipped since the 1970s to give everyone a deserved happy ending? Travis Bickle didn’t get one, nor did many of the protagonists in the major motion pictures back then. But we had bizarre murders like Charles Manson and serial killers were on the rise. But mass shootings? That’s a new thing. Can we look at movies as at least part of the whole culture around entitlement?
Whether I agree with her or not on this — I agree with her overall point but I would not have called out these specific movies — she did not deserve to be called opportunistic and idiotic by someone as powerful as Judd Apatow. Perhaps he hasn’t been looking at how women are treated online by the misogynists who follow sites that celebrate Apatow films. That whole culture is tangled up in their mob mentality against women. The only prominent male blogger I’ve ever seen go after this dynamic is Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci, who continually calls out misogynists he sees in this corner of the internet. I see it more and more in movie coverage and it’s a big drag. Apatow making those accusations at Hornaday has unleashed the rage once again. She is being accused of all sorts of terrible things when all she was doing was taking a closer look at one twig on one branch of one tree. I keep getting tweets like “shouldn’t she be called out for blaming Apatow and Rogen for mass murder?” Call her out, defend yourself but to reduce her to being “idiotic” seems to me to back up the overall point she makes in her piece about what men think about women. We know Judd Apatow doesn’t think this way — he reacted, angrily. I only bring it up to say why that’s different from merely “calling her out.”
We can’t solve this problem by blaming any one thing but we certainly can’t solve it by NOT looking at everything. But I can tell you one thing. If your answer to this is gun control that is not happening any time soon. With the frequency of mass shootings get used to it. Here is what Michael Moore said, whose Oscar winning Bowling for Columbine should have really sparked the kind of debate that did motivate elected officials to start going after the guns. But it didn’t. Welcome to the new normal. Here is what Moore said:
With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.
And here is much of Hornaday’s piece — something I can pretty much guarantee that Judd Apatow’s defenders did not read:
Indeed, as important as it is to understand Rodger’s actions within the context of the mental illness he clearly suffered, it’s just as clear that his delusions were inflated, if not created, by the entertainment industry he grew up in. With his florid rhetoric of self-pity, aggression and awkwardly forced “evil laugh,” Rodger resembled a noxious cross between Christian Bale’s slick sociopath in “American Psycho,” the thwarted womanizer in James Toback’s “The Pick-Up Artist” and every Bond villain in the canon. As 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. 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). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.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”?
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
Part of what makes cinema so potent is the way even its most outlandish characters and narratives burrow into and fuse with our own stories and identities. When the dominant medium of our age — both as art form and industrial practice — is in the hands of one gender, what may start out as harmless escapist fantasies can, through repetition and amplification, become distortions and dangerous lies.
Every year, San Diego State University researcher Martha Lauzen releases a “Celluloid Ceiling” report in which she delivers distressing statistics regarding the state of women in Hollywood. This year, she found that women made up just 16 percent of directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 movies of 2013; similarly, women accounted for just 15 percent of protagonists in those films.
Even if 51 percent of our movies were made by women, Elliot Rodger still would have been seriously ill. But it’s worth examining who gets to be represented on screen, and how. It makes sense to ask, as cartoonist Alison Bechdel does in her eponymous Bechdel Test, whether a movie features (1) at least two named female characters who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. And it bears taking a hard look at whether we’re doing more subtle damage to our psyches and society by so drastically limiting our collective imagination. As Rodger himself made so grievously clear, we’re only as strong as the stories we tell ourselves.