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Responding to Ann Hornaday and the Trappings of Misguided Feminism

05/28/2014 12:19 pm 12:19:39 | Updated Jul 27, 2014

Ann Hornaday is a film critic for one of the last great daily newspapers in the country. A quick tour of her Twitter account will show you she is deeply concerned with women's issues. She attended Smith college, and fashions herself a "cookie full of arsenic" on her bio page (cute, right?!). It wasn't until this week that I knew who she was, and due to the negligible, ignorant piece of trash she produced for the May 25 edition of the Washington Post, I'm afraid her idiocy will confound me for sometime to come.

In her article, titled, "In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen," Hornaday asserts (through a reading of his final YouTube video) that Elliot Rodger's mass murder spree on May 23 was spurred on not just by some assumed mental illness, but that the killers "delusions were inflated, if not created, by the entertainment industry he grew up in."

Yes, you read that right. Here's the whole quote, just to be clear:
"Indeed, as important as it is to understand Rodger's actions within the context of the mental illness he clearly suffered, it's just as clear that his delusions were inflated, if not created, by the entertainment industry he grew up in. With his florid rhetoric of self-pity, aggression and awkwardly forced "evil laugh," Rodger resembled a noxious cross between Christian Bale's slick sociopath in American Psycho, the thwarted womanizer in James Toback's The Pick-Up Artist and every Bond villain in the canon."

That's right. A "film critic," in examining a horrific, real-life mass murder spree, compares the motivations of the real-life perpetrator to characters which comprise fictional worlds with unrealistic plot lines, all in an attempt to shame Hollywood for the negative effects its misogynistic ethics have on real-world dynamics. Also, according to Hornaday, Neighbors, starring Seth Rogen and Zac Effron is to blame, because... well, obviously.

I wish the Hollywood studio system could conjure an Internet custodian to come and clean up Hornaday's convoluted mess of an article, or maybe Tinseltown could use their omnipotent power to create a new code of real-world ethics in which journalists use their intellect to compare real-life mass murderers to other real-life mass murderers. Without an intervention from Hollywood, Hornaday may continue spending her time wax-bullshitting about how Judd Apatow's summer blockbuster murdered seven people. "Please Hollywood, hurry! Without you we don't know who to be!" cries Anne Hornaday softly into her first-wave feminism textbook.

If Hollywood is guilty of anything, it is for perpetuating the false ideas of gift-wrapped justice and catharsis it so often flogs us with in theaters. It's guilty of not being a more diverse capitalist industry, and I will always welcome the social-cultural critique of how it operates. Hornaday mentions nothing of the blatant racism also found all over Rodger's manifesto, keeping her perspective as Caucasian and vanilla as the Hollywood of which she supposedly despises, one of the principal problems in how she articulates her thought process.

But seriously, if the movie executives have that great of a hold on us, where is the training center for the 2014 Hunger Games? How much longer must I wait for my invitation to Hogwarts, and seriously, why I am not living a life of endless sexual-gratification and bottomless wealth like those characters I love from Eyes Wide Shut? Hollywood is held culpable of real-life monstrosity only when half-witted writers, pundits and bloggers try and make sense out of a senseless, infuriating and heartbreaking crime. Never does the Hollywood-as-anti-feminist-murderers rant come to light when a five-year-old terminally-ill child employs the identity of Batman to "save" San Francisco, like BatKid did last November. If we're to stick movies into the faction-at-fault-for-real-life-tragedy category, blame also belongs to Rock-n-Roll, religion, video games, the Internet, the contemporary political landscape, Capitalism, slavery, parents, fluoride, standardized testing and Hitler (just to name a few).

There are so many things wrong with Hornaday's piece that I only have the patience to comment on one more obvious flaw. As a filmmaker who has spent years focusing on marginalized communities (my documentary film follows the lives of nine Puerto Rican transgender individuals), I agree the film industry is primarily made up of the male, wealthy, hegemonic variety. I accept that Hollywood needs to reevaluate where it stands in relation to female filmmakers, and I'm optimistic in my belief that the evolution of that discussion is currently under way. FiveThirtyEight recently discovered that women-featured films have a strong overall return on investment compared to their testosterone-fueled counterparts, a promising piece of information Hollywood is sure to feast on. Films like The Hunger Games, and Frozen, and Blue Jasmine prove that there is a demand for female-led movies, and I hope Hollywood responds to the need for such media (side note: Linda Cardellini (Lindsey Weir), on Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks" is one of the most complicated female characters to appear on television, and Apatow deserves a share in that recognition). Hornaday, in all her misguided anger, makes use of the well-known Bechdel Test to illustrate how male-dominated Hollywood honchos exclude undermine women and instill a degree of chauvinism in the male viewership. For those who are not familiar, the Bechdel Test measures a films gender bias on the following criteria:

1. The film has at least two (named) women in it.

2. The women speak to each other.

3. They speak about something other than a man.

To assert that films which fail the Bechdel Test breed sociopathic male monsters bent on slaughtering "every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see," our uninformed journalist ignores the film which has been credited with opening the floodgates for filmic violence, which was (by other ignorant journalists) implicated in several murders, and one which passes the feminist Bechdel test with flying colors, 1967's Bonnie and Clyde. (It should be noted that the for the final scene, director Arthur Penn referenced the JFK assassination in the way Clyde's head is blown apart. You know, art imitating life...)

TV currently hosts shows such as Scandal and Revenge, starring kick-ass women using violence to get what they want, but Hornaday's critique doesn't touch on this gendered violence either, instead she relies on a wobbly, vague argument which amounts to nothing while implicating and demonizing an artistic medium in the process. Hornaday would rather credit film for corrupting the minds of the youth than humanity for allowing someone with Elliot Rodger's needs to fall through the cracks. If anything, his diabolic plan is more a reflection of the world I live in than the worlds I escape to in movie theaters. At the end of the day, this article is merely a perpetuation of archaic fear tactics by a writer with no background in criminal psychology, who has, for the moment, instilled in me a fear that other people could believe in such nonsense. I imagine French people in the 1830's blaming Delacroix for a sword fight because of his realistic depictions of violence, and others responding, "no, a sword was all that was available to him, he was gonna kill the guy either way."

It's a shame such a well-known publication such as the Washington Post would rather disseminate these haphazard ideas than force us to take a hard look at how our culture treats those with mental illness, handles our gun laws, and how the intersections of masculinity and race operate within American culture. This all goes without saying that the blockbusters Hornaday speaks of not only screen in the United States, but to millions of audience members internationally, and still the U.S. has one of the highest gun crime rates in the world, an observation which, just maybe, speaks more to local gun laws that to the international availability of a Saturday night screening of Neighbors.

At the heart of the May 23 shootings lies an inexplicable evil. To blame this tragedy on a fictional entity diminishes our social obligation to care for one another. I'm angry because if ever before, now is the moment where we must fight to keep the conversation focused about what we, as people in real-life can do to change our circumstances. Mickey Mouse and Superman can't be our heroes here.

Ms. Hornaday, I'm a passionate film lover, a feminist, and a civil rights activist. It's a shame to see your tangled, convoluted thoughts make it to print instead of staying in the pages of your notebook. The recklessness of your words only add noise to the already-cacophonic turf many of these important wars are being waged on, and it may be time to extricate yourself, or stick to what you know best, criticizing other people's work.