Last week, one of our team members at Growing Leaders directed me to an Op-Ed article in the Washington Post by Ann Hornaday. She’s an entertainment writer who, for years, has unpacked movies and their impact. In this article, however, she mused about the impact of the current entertainment industry on Elliot Rodger, the young gunman who killed six and injured nine other UCSB students in California:
As deranged manifestos go, the final YouTube video made by suspected Isla Vista, Calif., mass murderer Elliot Rodger was remarkably well-made. Filmed by Rodger in his black BMW, with palm trees in the background and his face bathed in magic-hour key light, the six-minute diatribe — during which he vows revenge on all the women who rejected him and men who were enjoying fun and sex while he was “rotting in loneliness” — might easily have been mistaken for a scene from one of the movies Rodger’s father, Peter Rodger, worked on as a director and cinematographer.
Ann treads on controversial territory — but she’s careful not to blame all movies or directors. She does, however, make an incredible point about the narrow range of films made by men, primarily for men at the cinema:
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. As Rodger bemoaned his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desire” and arrogantly announced that he would now prove his own status as “the true alpha male,” he unwittingly expressed the toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA. For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny). Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.
Ann then asks a question I have asked myself many times. For the myriad of middle school, high school and college students who wander into cinemas and watch such similar, mindless entertainment, can we expect anything but such strange desires, expectations and even entitlement? Ann continues…
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”?
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
I recognize not everyone will agree with Ann’s conclusions. But when art and entertainment do not encourage higher thinking and culture, what can we expect from the emerging generation? We become a bit more animalistic and a bit more sadistic than we were before we consumed the media.
Maybe we should reflect more on the potential impact that comes as a result of making movies or writing books or creating video games… and not just money. Isn’t it time we thought more about outcomes for everyone, not just income for the moviemaker?
Find out more about how technology impacts this generation,
read Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.