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Superdumb: Why Hornaday was right about Rogen

May 28, 2014
By

The first time I saw Superbad, I knew it would one day inspire a horrific multiple murder.

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Stop him before he kills again.

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.”

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“OK, how about Black Canary?”

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.

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Failed to emasculate hero; never worked again.

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

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  • Jigzaw

    Who is Ann Hornaday to decide who is out of who’s league? An overweight man dating a “conventionally attractive” woman in a movie causes mass murder? Will she say the same about Melissa McCarthy movies? The message she seems to be saying is ugly guys should hate themselves and realize that they aren’t worthy of love. Either that or she’s just an anti-semite who has a problem with Jewish filmmakers and actors.

  • Captain Obvious

    Coarse,
    obnoxious guys , who show no decency and objectify women left and
    right are usually rewarded by getting the girl. Didn’t you go to High
    School? Of course the difference here is that the guy doing all those
    things you just mentioned is a Football or Basketball or Baseball
    Player…and they don’t look like Jonah Hill.

  • Kevin Arthur O’Donnell

    While we’re on the subject, I also blame superhero movies for making any guy watching think that they could somehow save the day and be a hero, like they are entitled to having superpowers. Also, I think Disney movies are a detriment to society because they make little girls think that they could be princesses – how are they supposed to cope when they grow up and realize that’s not true? The same thing goes for romantic comedies, and science fiction epics, and medieval fantasy, and… should I go on?

    Movies are nothing but fantasy and wish fulfillment, and most of Rogen’s films have a core audience of teenaged and young adult men, who see the character as their analogue and want to see him get the girl. Yes, the guy is usually portrayed as a slob, an everyman, someone who you wouldn’t expect to get the girl, but he ends up with her, not because every man “deserves” a hot woman, but because in the same situation we would want things to turn out that way. The same exact trope plays out in romantic comedies, wherein the “plain, normal girl” finds herself with the gorgeous, charming guy, because movies are a chance for us to see the world through someone else’s eyes and have things play out the way we wish they could. I will never slay a dragon, never create a flying mechanical suit that allows me to blow up bad guys, never throw a touchdown pass in a professional football game, but I can live vicariously through the fictional characters prevalent in several forms of media (not just movies) and find myself doing phenomenal things, including getting “the” girl. I am a big fan of Seth Rogen’s movies, and never once have I looked at a woman as merely a prize to be won.

    And I certainly never went on a shooting spree. I would have to be mentally disturbed to do that, right? Oh, wait, no, that’s not it, it’s definitely Seth Rogen’s fault.

  • cheesus18

    So let me get this STRAIGHT! It’s NOT Hollywood’s fault for showing violent movies that sanitize death when someone kills others….BUT, it IS THEIR FAULT when the killing involves women & is committed by someone who a journalist deems “insecure & entitled.” Now, I’m not sure how that happens watching a movie, but I can tell you how it happens in REALITY! Bad parenting, and a liberal society of ‘everybody gets a medal!’ This has more to do with liberal policies, and parents NOT DOING THEIR JOB! Blame the CRIMINAL for once, and quit trying to associate blame onto others for the irresponsibility of the criminal!

  • Steve Schneider

    “So let me get this STRAIGHT! It’s NOT Hollywood’s fault for showing violent movies that sanitize death when someone kills others….”
    – Actually, I’ve never suggested that. In fact, I’ve said the exact opposite:
    http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/bloggytown/vision-thing/amnesty-for-the-devil-obama-gives-big-media-a-pass/

  • Dee

    What is with this Jewish superhero business? Most actors up for Spider-Man in 2010 were Jewish (Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Alden Ehrenreich, Anton Yelchin, and the guy who got it, Andrew Garfield).

    for future reference:
    Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman,
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk,
    Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton
    Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal
    Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin
    Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage.

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, James
    Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy
    Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either
    raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Alexa
    Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism
    -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia
    Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

  • zengrrl

    Stop blaming movies and TV and music and what not. They’re merely reflective of society. Blame the parents who don’t teach their sons to respect women and their daughters to respect themselves. Until we address the fact that society as a whole is failing in this regard, this kind of stuff will happen. We teach our daughters how not to get raped, but we don’t teach the sons not to rape. When boys sexually harass girls, it’s dismissed as “boys will be boys” or the girl is asked “what did she wear?”

    There are a lot of great guys out there, but as long as there are ones like Elliot Rodger, women will live in fear. And you can’t point the blame at a Seth Rogen movie for that.

  • aapatow

    This article is ridiculous. Apatow’s movies

  • aapatow

    This article is ridiculous. Apatow’s movies aren’t about playing down or objectifying women. It’s suposta be humor, nothing more than taking situations people have been in, and making them funny. Superbad was about the highschool experience, Neighbors are about douchey frat guys… Trust me, I know the guy.. he was a dorky loner kid that wants to make other dorky loner kids have hope for the future and not feel like they had to change themselves.. Maybe we should focus on the fact that the kid had mental illness history and was LEGALLY able to purchase guns or that he had been obviously over prescribed psychotic drugs all his life before we start attacking someone who has succeeded at making the entire country laugh. BTW he has 2 very sweet daughters that are independent and intelligent never in a million years would they date a man that objectified them.

  • D

    Her conclusion is there needs to be more female writers (BRILLIANT) or the Bechdel test should be considered in all scriptwriting (very revolutionary; never thought of that one before), and your conclusion is these guys are douchebags because they reacted negatively to a very broad, purposeless, and unhelpful critique of their canon. And on top of that, you sexualize their responses to be derogatory of women when they could be responses to literally anyone, regardless of gender, who have attempted to pick a personal fight?

    Because she absolutely was not trying to start some sort of conversation about #YesAllWomen or the modern state of misogyny, she was trying to pick a fight just as you are trying to pick a fight, and that simply and only asks for self defense. If she’d attempted to ask them questions or to get their take, or to give them credit as anything other than assumed misogynistic hot shot filmmakers, maybe it would’ve justified more than that.

  • Quyll

    I knocked my chair over and hurt myself laughing at the caption under Seth Rogen’s picture. Stop him before he kills again! I do see where Hornaday is coming from. Rogen and Apatow… well, it is what it is. Insightful article.

  • Thunder Sack

    The only intellectually dubious thing afoot in these parts is your self-hating feminist tie-in with those film choices and what they represent.