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Seth Rogen railed against Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday when she cited "Neighbors" in a discussion of the murders that took place near University of California's Santa Barbara campus on May 23. This conversation, though more familiar in terms of violence, is not new: "Neighbors," nor any film that's not a gun-control documentary, certainly doesn’t work to remedy the prevalence of mass shootings. But rather than hurrying to call movies the cause of misogyny or violence, we ought to consider the possibility that they are actually the effect of a culture that actively glorifies these things.
.@AnnHornaday I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) May 26, 2014
.@AnnHornaday how dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) May 26, 2014
From a scientific perspective, movies, television and video games do not cause violence. What proof do we have that the sorts of people who are watching violent media don't have violent predilections to begin with? At best, there is a reciprocal interaction at play. There are studies that evidence this, but a much more tangible example comes in the form of the “Dexter” murders. Dexter's method influenced the way the crimes were carried out, but the show has no actual culpability: It's impossible to say whether, in lieu of Dexter's Saran Wrap, the guilty parties would not have simply committed the crime in a different way. These acts draw a fine line between art inspiring violence and being responsible for it, as does the potential for "Neighbors" to affect Elliot Rodger's sexist feelings of entitlement.
If we’re talking about people being inspired to commit crimes for certain ways or because of certain reasons (i.e. because they cannot “get girls,” as was understood to be the implication with Rogen's films), there's a predisposition of violence or misogyny that is perhaps enhanced (but, again, not caused) by pop culture. So, what is causing these predilections? There’s a much more important conversation to be had about the role that mental health factors in to such horrific incidents. But our ideology condones misogyny and violence, and that is what drives us to have (as Hornaday later put it in response to the uproar) "such a narrow range of stories that we go back to." Speaking specifically to misogyny, we can look to the movement of #YesAllWomen tweets in response to the UCSB shooting for evidence; sexual harassment, victim blaming or physical intimidation exist because of something prevalent throughout our culture.
Sure, the Judd Apatow canon often trades in unsavory (read: sexist) themes. Of course, there are much more harrowing examples, but all of these movies (indeed, movies in general) are a reflection of our culture. It's possible to argue that perhaps they reinforce these things, but they would not even be created if they didn't fit nicely within the presiding ideology. There is heaping tons of violence and/or misogyny in works like “Marvel's The Avengers," "Star Trek Into Darkness" or, heck, even “Sex and the City 2,” but you’ll note that not one of those films is widely considered controversial. Instead, they reflect the norm.
The mediums that value violence and misogyny are created by and for a society which seems happy to accept these things, even at a subconscious level. The hope is that we can change the discussion to focus on that problematic ideology. These are real issues at hand, which is a point that was lost in Hornaday's piece amid the upset at her examples. If a film like “Neighbors” or show like “Dexter” can truly influence someone to the extent they commit murder, it’s more than likely that they’d be "set off" by some other aspect of our flawed culture. Ultimately, funneling outrage into a specific movie, TV show or video game only serves to help us lose focus on the presiding issues that have led us to accept "latest shooting" as a common phrase.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca