Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Isla Vista Massacre: Movies and What They Mean

I realize how preposterous it is to have a post this somber just days after I posted a review of a film where trucks took over the world. And I don't want Cinema Freaks to become JUST a vehicle for my own politics and personal opinions. The main thing is still fun and laughs and jokes. Those will continue later, but now it is time for something a bit more somber.

By now, you’ve all heard about the Elliot Rodger mass murder case. Last weekend he massacred a bunch of college-age kids in Isla Vista, California – but the source of much news has been his “manifesto,” which detailed all the ways he would “enact revenge” against every woman who didn’t date him. I won’t bother going too much more into detail on this whole incident because everyone else already has – literally it’s been all over the place. You can’t turn over a stone without finding another opinion on this whole thing and another source of “blame” for the whole incident. People blamed guns, misogyny and (the lack of) mental health care – all the usual targets, which all had varying degrees of truth to them.

One of the more unique points of view I found was that of Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday, who asserted that Rodger’s manifesto and mindset were the result of a life of watching modern Hollywood comedies and romances.

“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”?” she wrote.

Now, I do not proclaim that this tragedy, which claimed the lives of six innocent victims, was the result of movies being watched. Judd Apatow is a talented director who’s made some successful films that reach a wide audience of men and women alike. Also, in general, movies, books and other entertainment are never the direct reason a mass murder happens. Elliot Rodger was criminally insane, and to suggest that this massacre happened JUST BECAUSE he watched a few movies is ludicrous.

BUT … I do think Hornaday’s article is interesting and poses some good points. Not to single out Mr. Apatow or any one film in particular, but her point that modern movies are really only about a small section of the population, only focusing on white mens’ sexual conquests and dating adventures, is a valid one. I would say there is a definite trend in modern American films to portray these dumpy, young guys getting really hot girls. Look at Superbad – it’s a great comedy flick, with a lot of good jokes, but to argue that it does not present a slanted view of real life would be a delusion. That’s just one example.

Face it – women in Hollywood movies are overly sexualized and often presented as trophies for men to “win” at the end of the film. The way modern comedies treat women, you’d think you could be a sloppy, under-achieving loser and somehow still get the hottest chick in school with just a bit of pluck and persistence. Which of course is the whole point – he wants her because she’s hot, nothing else. Never mind the dozens and dozens of less attractive girls – they aren’t given the time of day. Or worse, they are turned into comedic foils. (I fortunately have not seen the latter scenario happen too much.)

Does this mean we can’t enjoy movies like Superbad? Of course not. Plenty of women enjoy the film and plenty of intelligent, self-aware men enjoy it, too. That’s the cincher – even if we do find some brainless enjoyment in commercial summer blockbuster Hollywood films, we should be able to notice the flaws in them, notice the biases and recognize when a film is separate from real life.

Because it’s easy for young people to fall into the trap of watching movies and expecting real life to mirror them instead of the other way around. I was like that as a kid myself. I think lots of people, boys and girls both, tend to look at movies and wonder why they can’t have a picture-perfect romantic relationship, or why they can’t save the day. I believe this has grown over the years that kids have grown up with movies into something like a “main character” complex – we think we’re the main characters in our own lives and expect things to go in a three-act structure, with a climax and a denouement in which we come out on top. This is human nature, but I feel like it has amplified a lot in the 80s and 90s culture of entertainment.

In real life, you don't always get the really hot girl who's ten times more mature than anyone else in the class. In real life, the really hot girls are also insecure and have their own problems like everybody else. In real life, winning those girls doesn't mean your life is suddenly set, and in real life getting into a relationship isn't just a personal victory for you alone to gloat over.

In real life, you'll probably find love in an unexpected place. It will be a girl who may not fit every single check-list of what would be your perfect girlfriend, and you won't fit hers for a perfect boyfriend either, but you'll love one another anyway because it will feel right. That's all the shit Superbad isn't telling you and the other summer romantic comedies aren't telling you. If you're a 17 year old kid like I once was, you may not get that right away, but someday you will.

Elliot Rodger didn't get that, because he was unbalanced to destructive degrees. Elliot Rodger did what he did because he was insane. That’s the bottom line; that’s the end of it. It wasn’t the fault of movies that he spilled blood on the streets of Isla Vista last weekend. However, I feel it important after a tragedy like this to talk about these things anyway. Not to necessarily point blame or put a big old Band-Aid over the situation, but so we can come to a better understanding of the multi-faceted elements of our culture. Opening up a dialogue on social issues is never a bad thing when it gets people thinking outside their normal day-to-day.

Movies do matter. It’s why I have turned so much of my criticism (which can be seen in some of my reviews) in recent years on the level of “what does this do for society?” “What kind of a message is this trying to send, or unconsciously sending?” “What is this saying in-between the lines of what we see?” Because movies can be influential, and powerful – they impact all of us in so many ways.