Mass shootings invariably fire up the culture wars and I am loath to join in, since so much of what we read and hear is stupid, irrational or morally execrable, a prime example of the latter being the rant from “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in which he says to the parents of the slain students at UCSB, “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” Wow.
Now we know how Joe the Plumber snakes a clogged line — he goes head first.
In our initial news story on the Santa Barbara mass shooting, we noted the theatrical nature of the killer’s video — the one where he stares into the camera and explains his plan like a Hollywood villain. The influence of popular culture on violent behavior is a legitimate topic and I’m proud of my friend and colleague Ann Hornaday for taking it on so thoughtfully in her essay. She wrote:
[A]s 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.
She then briefly referenced frat-boy comedies and mentioned Judd Apatow by name, as well as the movie “Neighbors,” which stars Seth Rogen. Apatow and Rogen came down with massive cases of the vapors and, prior to collapsing on their fainting couches, huffed and puffed at Hornaday on Twitter. (If they’ve done more than react on Twitter, I haven’t seen it — and thus I have to object to the headline in Entertainment Weekly, “Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow speak out about ‘Washington Post’ critic’s UCSB shooting article.” Is writing some tweets considered “speaking out” these days? Hornaday presented her thoughts in a carefully rendered (on deadline) essay, and Rogen and Apatow have, in effect, answered with “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That is not a conversation.)
Rogen tweets that Hornaday’s essay was “horribly insulting and misinformed,” but declines to specify the misinformation he alleges. Maybe he thinks Hornaday hasn’t watched enough movies? Dude, this is what she does for a living. She is, in this context, extremely informed. [See also this discussion by Jessica Goldstein at ThinkProgress.]
Rogen also tweets: “how dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage.” Question to Rogen: Is the “how dare you” construction (vintage: 1927) one that you use a lot when addressing people with whom you disagree? Hornaday has followed up her column by saying she did not mean to imply that the movies caused this insane act of violence. Rogen can disagree with her column, but the “how dare you” construction implies that Hornaday does not have the right to speak her mind on this.
Apatow, unfortunately, has decided to engage this difficult issue by making it all about Ann Hornaday (misspelling her first name in the process) and his perception that her essay was driven by something other than a sincere desire to sort through a difficult issue that has perplexed and horrified us all. Here are some of his tweets:
“She uses tragedy to promote herself with idiotic thoughts.”
“‘why is it always everything but mental illness?’ Because that doesn’t sell papers.”
“Remember everyone – ads next to articles generate money. They say something shocking and uninformed & get you to click on it to profit.”
“with every view her paper makes money from discussing a story no one yet knows anything about.Now it is a media profit center.”
“Here is how it all works. Anne says something thoughtless. I say it is wrong then CNN asks everyone to debate and it becomes TV.”
“I said no. I wonder if Anne can prevent herself from going on and becoming part of how these tragic events become profit centers for media”
I’m struggling with the idea that Judd Apatow is now the oracle who warns against the perils of commercialism.
Also, he’s wrong: There is zero chance that Ann Hornaday at any point in the development or rendering of her essay pondered its effect on selling newspapers or increasing advertising revenue. This is a canard, like alligators in the NYC sewers. No serious journalist ponders ad revenue or circulation. Apatow’s implication that Hornaday was thinking of self-promotion or corporate bottom lines when writing her piece confirms my suspicion that Apatow has never met Hornaday and knows nothing about her.
And although I haven’t spoken to her about it, I doubt Ann enjoyed writing that essay on a holiday weekend, any more than I enjoyed coming in on Saturday to write about this despicable and depraved crime. We do this because it’s our job to do it and we believe in what we do — even if we don’t always execute the work perfectly. I’ve received some tough e-mails about our coverage; I struggle with the uncomfortable questions about how to handle narcissistic, attention-seeking killers.
Apatow and Rogen are free to tweet whatever they want, but I’d recommend that they stand up straight and engage Hornaday with adult reasoning that doesn’t question her right to speak up on this issue. I bet the powers that be at The Post would be happy to run a comparable essay about pop culture and violence from either Apatow and Rogen.
And here’s a promise to the fellas: I’ll take what you write as a serious and sincere effort to grapple with a complex issue, and will not default to the suspicion that you’re just trying to sell your next movie.