Superdumb: Why Hornaday was right about Rogen
The first time I saw Superbad, I knew it would one day inspire a horrific multiple murder.
OK, not quite. But I was disturbed greatly by its denouement. The good and upstanding kid who had refused to become a date rapist was rewarded by getting the girl; meanwhile, his coarse, obnoxious buddy, who had shown no such decency as he objectified women left and right, was … rewarded by getting the girl. Moral: Every guy is entitled to whichever woman he wants – especially if he’s a high-school doppelganger for Seth Rogen.
Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday called out that lunkheaded ethos last weekend, correctly pointing out how the work of Rogen, Judd Apatow and their ilk helps create a culture in which the sexual attentions of women are treated as men’s birthright – the same attitude that had been expressed by Isla Vista killer Elliot Rodger. As Hornaday so eloquently put it, Rodger had “unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA.”
Right on the money, which may be why Rogen and Apatow reacted with indignation that was both swift and fierce.
“I find your article horribly misinformed,” Rogen tweeted, following up with “how dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage.”
Naturally, when you’re trying to deflect an accusation of male privilege, your best strategy is to act as if the killing of six people has left you its biggest victim. But egocentrism and entitlement are nothing new for Rogen; they’re practically his stock in trade. Everything he puts on the screen is a testament to the idea that he should reap whatever reward life can bestow, simply for existing. I can’t say if, as Hornaday alleged, Rogen’s new Neighbors continues that tradition of frat-boy wish-fulfillment, simply because I swore off his movies for good after watching the first 20 minutes of This Is the End — a work actively disdainful of the idea that films should in any way satisfy those who weren’t involved in making them. But I have plenty of other evidence to go on. There’s the aforementioned Superbad, an extended game of consequence-free grab-ass for Rogen’s intended Mini-Me, Jonah Hill. And during the run-up to The Green Hornet, Rogen had taken genuine offense to David Letterman’s polite suggestion that Rogen wasn’t the most typical choice for the role. He accused Letterman of implying that a “Jewish superhero” was somehow an unworthy concept — as if that was the extent of his unsuitability for the part. In contrast, if Lena Dunham announced a desire to play Wonder Woman, the hoots of derision would be loud, sustained and sanctioned in almost all corners.
And how did Apatow respond to his own namecheck in Hornaday’s terrific piece? By tweeting “Maybe keep the computer off for a while and think more.” In other words, any broad who dares take issue with his output must simply lack his intellectual firepower. Then again, this is the same guy who had forced the female writers of Bridesmaids to include a bunch of gross-out humor they had resisted as unreflective of the ways in which women behave; he then went on to lecture an awards audience about the lack of female voices in the film business. I’d say he has enormous balls, but I’m afraid he’d take it as a compliment.
Bottom line: Rogen’s and Apatow’s reaction to Hornaday’s essay proves her point about the film industry’s pro-douchebag bias. And that problem has been going on for quite some time. Look back at the supposedly lighthearted comedies of the ’80s and ’90s, and you’ll find picture after picture in which a happy hooker is the male lead’s dependable muse, her vocation depicted as both enjoyable and risk-free. (Don’t mistake that attitude for third-wave sex-worker empowerment: The Hollywood artistes who propagate it haven’t yet spotted the first wave headed for the shore.) And when prostitution isn’t technically on the table, it sometimes seems as if the main agenda of many male filmmakers is to get revenge on women who were inaccessible to them – whether by positing an alternate personal history in which physical gratification (as opposed to love) was indeed the end result, or simply by humiliating the stuck-up bitch who dared to say no.
The sickness is so pervasive that its exceptions are glaring in their humanity. In Penny Marshall’s Big, the young protagonist, Josh, is mortified when he’s pronounced too short to go on an amusement ride his honey-haired crush and her friends are about to board. With great kindness and sympathy, the girl reassures Josh, “That’s a stupid rule.” It’s an affecting moment, and it’s also great writing: By showing us that the object of Josh’s affections is not just pretty but tender of heart, the movie cements our affection for him. We like Josh because he likes the right kind of people. I wonder how much convincing Marshall and cowriter Anne Spielberg had to do to get that moment in there. In the typical male-written, male-directed picture, the girl would have simply laughed at Josh’s plight, making the rest of the film a revenge fantasy in which the adult version of the hero “got even” by possessing the body of an honest-to-goodness, grown-up female.
Make no mistake, possessing women’s bodies is the focus of the Rogens and Apatows of this world – and its Elliot Rodgers as well. And I don’t say that because I fall in line automatically with every Jezebel-era pseudo-feminist meme. Too often, those spontaneous little movements come across as equating to “I can treat anybody any way I want, because agency.” The whole NiceGuyTM business, for example, struck me as both imperious and intellectually dubious: Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to listen to some dude piss and moan that he can’t get laid because he’s too nice – even other guys hate hearing that. But if you’re not cutting loose a “friend” who acts that way, might that not say something about you, and what you really want out of the relationship?
In contrast, #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen are both vital and beyond argument. Anyone who responds to someone else’s tribulations with a protestation that he’s not to blame is making himself the issue – and that’s your textbook male privilege right there, pal. Screw Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow for not being willing to listen to Hornaday’s wise and carefully considered critique of their output. And screw them for that output in the first place.
On second thought, don’t screw them. It’s what really drives them nuts.
Days without a response from the publication that plagiarized from me and won’t come clean: 342.
Follow me on Twitter: @Schneider_Stv