Linking Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow to UCSB Shootings Is Absurd (Opinion)

UCSB Shootings
Spencer Weiner/Getty Images

Washington Post op-ed on Elliot Rodger is wrong to point the finger at Hollywood sex comedies

As if the UCSB mass murder wasn’t difficult enough to stomach, the misguided finger-pointing that followed Sunday didn’t make it any easier to absorb.

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote an op-ed criticizing those in the entertainment industry who peddle sex-fueled comedies to male viewers; she alleges they are left with an unrealistic sense of entitlement to fulfilling the fantasies these movies depict. Hornaday singled out the new Seth Rogen movie “Neighbors” and the collected works of Judd Apatow, which led both men to lash out at her on Twitter for suggesting they were remotely responsible for the depravity of Elliot Rodger.

Hollywood should never get a pass on being held responsible for the moral consequences of its programming. But there’s something unique to this particular incident that demonstrates Rogen and Apatow are right to be outraged by Hornaday’s baseless assertion.

Hornaday cannot be blamed for grasping for answers. Yet another act of violence perpetrated by someone with severe mental health issues is bound to be followed by the hair-tearing ritual of trying to make sense out of something so senseless.

But there’s something that separates the UCSB shootings and stabbings from past incidents like Sandy Hook or the Boston Marathon bombings. While most of these murders leave behind scant trace of what prompted the perpetrators to act so heinously, Rodger left an unprecedented amount of meticulously detail material explaining his actions — and none of it remotely indicates the 22-year-old was under the spell of entertainment programming of any kind — sex comedies or otherwise.

As Hornaday wrote, “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?'”

But reviewing the YouTube videos and 141-page manifesto Rodger created leaves the distinct impression that popular culture–mostly in the form of videogames–did the opposite of shaping his warped worldview; to the contrary, it provided him with a refuge from a personal life that became increasingly torturous to him as he grew older. It’s tempting to speculate whether he would have exploded even sooner had favorite content he specifically references in his manifesto, including TV series “Game of Thrones” and “World of Warcraft,” not provided him an outlet for escaping his troubles.

Rodger’s manifesto lays bare with painful honesty the motivations that led him to such unspeakable behavior. If anything in popular culture influenced him to become dangerously unbalanced, it would be reflected in this crucial, ample evidence Rodger left behind.

When he talks about videogames like “Warcraft” in his manifesto, as he does quite often, he doesn’t do so in a way that would reinforce the usual suspicions about how this content desensitizes consumers to violence. Rodger probably would have copped to it if it did.

That’s because the essence of the manifesto is spreading blame to all that made him the monster he became. What’s most unforgivable is he himself takes no responsibility for his own actions. He would have loved nothing more than to blame Hollywood, but he doesn’t.

As to what left Rodger with such a raging sense of delusional entitlement to the level of female attention he never received in life, the manifesto makes abundantly clear he got that not from movies like “Neighbors” but the banality of his own life, the social circles in which he flailed so futilely. He envied his more socially savvy friends and acquaintances, not “Neighbors” star Zac Efron. The Isla Vista campus where he spent his final days, which he depicts as the kind of non-stop bacchanal familiar in any U.S. college dormitory environment, simply drove him over the edge.

Hornaday might argue that Rodger wasn’t aware of the role entertainment played in shaping his depraved philosophies. She’s entitled to such an opinion but at the very least should have specified that there is no actual evidence to suggest that beyond her own intuition.

More likely Hornaday was seduced by the convenient narrative Rodger provided, one of a literal child of Hollywood –his father being a film director– succumbing to the entertainment that put food on his plate. It’s a sexy angle for a story but that doesn’t make it right.

There’s a legitimate conversation to be had about the role culture plays in the disrespectful attitudes some men have toward women, and that includes the cues entertainment provides to the most mentally unstable among us. But as badly as that conversation is needed, it’s just not appropriate in this instance.

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  1. Michael Rawls says:

    If someone had said that he or she had received threatening letters from a certain party, would the police not have bothered to drop ’round to examine said letters? But they couldn’t bother to check out the youtube rants posted by Rodgers. In which case they might have taken the enormous effort involved in searching his apartment. Rodgers is the responsible party, abetted by the police not taking the trouble to log on to youtube. Oh, and if he had five thousand dollars mad money lying around from parents and grandparents, perhaps we should be grateful that Rodgers didn’t save up his allowance a little longer and make a down payment on a tank.

  2. srvwp2013 says:

    If we fear that we may be becoming numb to the “shooting of the week” and that such a regular event will be the next reality show or series, it is obvious from many of the comments posted here, that this shooting incident in particular may have brought about some kind of tipping point for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Perhaps because it is California; perhaps because the shooter was the son of a noted director and was in some way exposed to or influenced by the unrealistic sex and violence of today’s entertainment industry; perhaps because the shooter was obsessively engrossed in a facet of the entertainment industry — video gaming. Perhaps because we have been thinking in terms of a “war on guns” rather than a “war” on deficient mental health.

    There is a very large salad bowl of ingredients that have flavoured this particular incident. Hopefully this “salad” will be chewed upon, mulled over, and perhaps even a palate cleanser for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Perhaps all the ingredients that have gone into this distasteful mixmaster will finally give raise to us all being fed up.

  3. Katie says:

    Fantastic article. People need to write and react like this. Well done.

  4. Jennifer says:

    It’s called an OPINION. No one is claiming there is specific evidence linking Apatow movies to violence. An artist puts a piece of work in the public eye and its somehow NOT ok to voice an opinion???? Touchy touchy.

  5. Karen says:

    Nice to know that the editor of Variety believes that art exerts no influence whatever on its audience.

  6. Street Films says:

    Great publicity stunt.

  7. butters says:

    Andrew Wallenstein: Another bro not capable of, and furthermore not interested in, hearing what many women have to say about their lived experiences with male entitlement. This piece, like Aptow and Rogen’s response, is nothing more than bro bullying of a woman that refuses to stay silent in order to spare their bro-feels. disgusting

    • I’m gonna go ahead and copy-n-paste my comment from below, because it’s relevant to the absolute drivel you wrote:

      Hornaday’s conclusion that pop-culture’s influence on Rodger’s decision to massacre a bunch of people is absurd. In fact, it’s an asinine, thoughtless op-ed piece published in a rush so Time and Hornaday can squeeze in on the limelight. Apatow nailed it; she’s using this tragedy the same way most 24-hour cable news networks do: to keep the audience from switching to another channel, and visitors from reading a rival publication’s site.

      If you think her op-ed piece has anything to do with furthering the feminist movement, you’re sadly deluded.

  8. Tallulah says:

    How in the hell is this an “inappropriate” time for this conversation?! Because it might make some famous people uncomfortable?! A man went and KILLED people due to thinking he didn’t get what he deserved from society – there isn’t a BETTER time to discuss what makes up that society.

    The denial in this piece of how far media influences our culture and collective psychology is ridiculous.

    • You clearly didn’t read any of this article if *that’s* what you took from it. He didn’t say it’s an “inappropriate time for this conversation” at all.

      “It’s just not appropriate in this instance” meaning that Hornaday’s conclusion that pop-culture’s influence on Rodger’s decision to massacre a bunch of people is absurd. In fact, it’s an asinine, thoughtless op-ed piece published in a rush so Time and Hornaday can squeeze in on the limelight. Apatow nailed it; she’s using this tragedy the same way most 24-hour cable news networks do: to keep the audience from switching to another channel, and visitors from reading a rival publication’s site.

      If you think her op-ed piece has anything to do with furthering the feminist movement, you’re sadly deluded.

  9. Darla says:

    I believe the issue lies especially in the hands of mental health or lack of it its crazy all these shootings and sincless killings all have had some sort of issue of mental health and have showed significant signs step up mental health

  10. occultology says:

    Seth Rogen is the Moral Compass of Hollywood. Leave my boy alone.

  11. srvwp2013 says:

    “Hollywood” and the “entertainment” industry are certainly part of the decline of culture and society thatr we have witnessed over perhaps the past 50 years. Hollywood’s product today in no way resembles a heritage of the “Golden Age” of any media industry. Good movies were made in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Perhaps those in the 50’s were part of the “quiet” Eisenhower years. A few good movies are still made today and they are few and far between. The “World of Warcraft” game which Rodger played contains the word “Warcraft.” Allegedly Americans and most of the civilized world are against war. Without censuring or dictating media content, a massive national effort of overwhelming force, influence, shock and awe must be made on the fronts of mental health, education, entertainment in order to bring our society back up to the better and best angels of our nature. For some reason our educational system is broken, our health care system is broken, — most of America is failed, broken and lost. The NRA is no particular friend of any of us, and Gun Control is broken and failed as well. Instead of wasting resources trying to defuse the negativity of the NRA, America would do well to work the positive side of the aisle. It is more useful for politicians and the public to be voting FOR, or working FOR, or petitioning FOR something. The millions and billions that Hollywood is concerned about from weekend to weekend can be better spent on an overall campaign to bring the best we can to mental health care and education. In large degree our priorities and our money are misspent.

    We also suffer at this time with a lack of leadership and inspiration at all levels. Whatever happened to Joe Biden’s Taskforce Report after Newtown? Was it published in the New York Times? Is it even completed? Did I miss the memo?

    There will be a great wail and cry about many proposals to stop us all from killing one another, but we can work on a positive tact by having a national policy mandating yearly mental health testing from birth to death at all levels. Testing at each level of education. For those out of education testing could be through getting a drivers license or registering to vote. Whether it is the water or drugs or the air around us, the minds of mankind are deteriorating. If it takes a wholly new bureaucratic effort such as going to the moon or mobilizing for World War Two, this may be what is ultimately needed. We have millions out of work that can be educated and trained for such work if they so choose. If we do not have our mental health we have nothing.

    There are multiple precedents in the education system that allow for all kinds of testing — IQ, Aptitude, et al. Practically all knowledge in the medical sector derives from our “being tested at the lab.” People want good health. We can keep trying to do away with the NRA, but if we can target resources at good health, the NRA will eventually be marginalized. Hollywood, as the largest, and perhaps most influential media activity on the planet has a tremendous responsibility to restore our culture, our civilized society, and to promote responsible depictions of our lives including our sexual lives.

  12. Lisa says:

    ‘Getting girls’. Wow. Just wow. Again, for the millionth time, women aren’t objects to be possessed!
    And I doubt that if the article was written by a man Rogen would have referred to the reporter’s thoughts as ‘idiotic’.
    Guys, you just proved her point.

  13. Ryan says:

    If you ask me, Rogen’s tweet says it all. The fact that “girls” are something to be “got” in virtually all Hollywood films is precisely the problem.

  14. Ethyl says:

    I believe a Seth Rogen film could inspire a murderous rampage? Did anyone see Green Hornet? I’m still angry about that awful movie…

  15. BillUSA says:

    It isn’t surprising to me that anyone, especially in the entertainment business, likes to have a finger pointed at them for blame attached to tragic events. Hornaday may not have crafted her assertion as well as everyone would have been happy with, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t correct. By the same token, I’m not about to suggest that Rogen is specifically to blame either. What should have been said was that the plethora of entertainment that is geared toward gratuitous sex and violence opens wide the field of responsibility. Hiding amongst the number of producers of such entertainment makes one no better than being the only person who produces such entertainment. Defending an industry that exalts despicable people named Allen and Polanski despite their crimes is hypocritical in principle.

    What people like Rogen fail to grasp is that we intelligent members of society aren’t laying all the blame at anyone’s feet when we point out how their chosen profession gives disturbed people their ideas. We are merely pointing out how the industry is culpable just as the video game industry is culpable. It’s like when grandma told me not to overfeed her guppies when I was a kid because they would overeat themselves to death. For some individuals like Rodger, already primed for destruction with his “the world is against me” condition, seeing young males and females engaging in sexual situations doesn’t exactly excuse the producers from an ethical responsibility. After all, to them it’s all just art that all at once is supposed to “move” the observer yet be so benign that it couldn’t possibly spur anyone to do anything negative.

    If any industry is to blame, I’d say it’s the mental health industry. But with the ACLU ready to jump at the slightest hint of intrusion upon the rights of mentally-imbalanced individuals, it puts them hand-in-hand with one another. In the current condition of this highly-strung and highly-sensitive culture, I’m not about to suggest that we pass legislation that coldly determines who needs to be pulled from the streets and put on meds, but we need something better than giving passing visits by law-enforcement folks who have many other tasks to perform.

    Rant over.

  16. Chelsea says:

    Stop the violence, it not helping anyone it causes more problem in the world.

  17. Jack T says:

    Hornaday is so right. We as a society should be hiding and protecting our youths, all citizens for that matter, from sexualized images and stories in films and TV and magazines – the way they do in Iran. Because it works out so well for their culture. So let’s just hide the world from our children and that way we can all live in safety and peace together. Easy.

    • Karen says:

      Seeing as how Hornaday wrote no such thing, you merely underscore the rampant misogyny.

    • Lisa says:

      So, you’re not suggesting stopping the films objectifying women, just hiding our children from them like the films don’t exist. Wow, that makes for a transparent and responsible society.

  18. Michael Anthony says:

    You just have to find someone to blame, don’t you? But, instead if laying blame where it belongs, you insinuate the absurd. All we need is God? Ha! As an example, your laughable bit about abstinence and purity. No movie, TV program, song or person us responsible if bone doesn’t live s chaste life. Its PERSONAL responsibility!
    One thing you neglect, and us chiefly responsible, us the almost total lack of mental health inpatient care. U have a heart attack and you’re immediately hospitalized. Your brain goes haywire abdcyou get group once a week. Look at the REAL causes and seek help for them. Not imagined things having to do with God. If you gave advice like that to a person in a similar crisis, such as this man, you only reinforce his need to kill.

  19. JJust says:

    “Yet another act of gun violence perpetrated by someone with severe mental health issues is bound to be followed by the hair-tearing ritual of trying to make sense out of something so senseless.”

    So we’re just focusing on the “gun violence” here? Half of his victims are dead from knife “violence”, but I guess they don’t count.

    I agree that Rogen and Apatow don’t share any blame in this, but at least use the same reasoning to see that the tools of madmen don’t matter whether they’re knives, cars or guns.

    • Another tired NRA talking point. Knives have other purposes. Guns have one purpose: To kill. You don’t use a gun to carve a steak and open a UPS box.

      • Karen says:

        If knives are analogous to guns, why didn’t we storm Normandy Beach with knives?

      • Lisa says:

        Because it’s much easier to blame a harmless female journalist than a group of gun crazy men. Right?

      • BillUSA says:

        They are also used to protect and defend. Something I’m sure you have benefitted from simply by being a citizen.

  20. ross says:

    This is like holding Martin Scorcese and Jodi Foster accountable for the Reagan assassination. There is never a situation where a creative product is justifiably accountable for other people’s actions, and I mean NEVER, I don’t care if Seth Rogen made a movie justifying women being tied up and tortured, I may have an opinion on him and his movies if he did do that but I don’t hold him accountable for the choices someone who happened to watch it makes, it doesn’t matter what the content of the movie is. For an entertainment columnist at a high profile publication to encourage that type of thinking is shockingly irresponsible. It makes me think she’s doing cause she knows it’ll get traffic and attention to her column.

    • Karen says:

      You didn’t read Hornady ‘ s column either, did you. You opine against a position she did not express.

  21. mchasewalker says:

    Elliot Rogers’ homicidal rampage has absolutely zero to do with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan nerd fantasies and everything to do with the maniacal slasher movie running inside his own depraved narcissistic six reeler going on in his mind. “Hell hath no fury than a Narcissist Denied” http://www.psychologytoday.com/…/what-have-you-done-me…

  22. Paramount Employee says:

    Blame the Jews! It’s always the Jews!

  23. Robin says:

    I don’t believe that Hollywood had anything to do with this horrific tragedy. He was severely mentally ill but was clever enough to fool the police. Therefore the comments that Hornaday made was just plain ignorant. I pray for all the families that lost a loved one.

    • Lisa says:

      Ummm, his father was a Hollywood director. So Hollywood, technically, does have something to do with it.

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