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Because You’re Worth It — Apatow, Hornaday and Santa Barbara

This is in the Washington Post.  It asserts that a glut of lady-negative films led to the murder of four men and two women in California last Friday.  It tells us that “no one should be surprised” when the “pathetic” impulses manufactured by “male executives” play out as they apparently did in per person of Eliot Rodger.

For the sake of sober thought.  This was in the Post.  Get a grip, diabetes and pregnancy Bezos. And the rest of you looking for the trigger for the crime committed and the silver bullet that will prevent its gory replay might stop a minute, patient too.

This is by no means the only work online making a direct link between cultural goods and murder. There are so many and a day ago, Australian news site Crikey published my thoughts on the culture-blaming victim-claiming thing.  It goes like this: when US citizens who are held to be culturally valuable are slain for no apparent reason, someone finds a cultural reason.  After Sandy Hook, for example, persons of all political hues decided that they should really do something about those pernicious video games Lanza was reportedly playing before he did the unspeakable.  Finally, here is a reason.

Now, I have argued on this occasion as much as I am going to that a society may be inimical to the femininity it constructs without this leading inevitably to a Rodger.  I can’t be arsed talking about that anymore.  I have no patience with the so-called “rape culture” view of western patriarchy.  I think that it is a really naff account.  So I don’t want to talk about that. And I don’t want to go into an account of the diffuse and convoluted rhythms of power because it’s rather late and and I am very lazy and a bit thick.

Instead, I just want to remind you, by way of this Post insanity, that we have got to stop blaming cultural goods for the bad things that happen.

The writer describes the marginality of women film directors.  A greater number of women directors might allay the “rape culture”, she proposes. Although presumably not women directors like Kathryn Bigelow.  You know.  We need more nice women directors who are not dangerously male identified.  Because good entertainment should also be good propaganda, Josef.   More women in the fields in film on collective farms with glorious scythes advancing the cause with ruddy cheeks!

Then, the writer goes on to blame Judd Apatow for creating a yearning so unfulfillable that (male) society’s only recourse is vengeance.  You see, men are promised things by Judd Apatow that society cannot deliver and so when men fail to get a fake ID in the name McLovin, they are wont to kill and maim.

Let’s overlook the ills of Noted Misogynist Judd Apatow whose crimes against women include financing Bridesmaids, the first legitimately multiplex girl buddy movie, and HBO’s Girls.  Gee whiz, what a total rapist.  I especially hate how he tied Lena Dunham to a chair and forced her from behind with his hate-penis to take production assistance that would lead to a deftly made and profoundly cinematic series with a woman auteur at its centre whose work and person defies easy gender moralising.  I honestly don’t know why he didn’t just cut to the chase and jizz the words “bitch whore die” on her chest in fluid evil instead of giving life to a protagonist who would go on to challenge and not define femininity in a way that had not been previously attempted on screen.




The perfect choice of Apatow as ruling class elite media enemy-to-woman aside, the article goes on to “describe” the mechanism of media effects.

Here we go now.  “Part of what makes cinema so potent is the way even its most outlandish characters and narratives burrow into and fuse with our own stories and identities.”  In other words: movies are powerful because I say so.  Movies are “the dominant medium of our age”. Again, because I say so and not because my views tally with actual hours spent with film relative to television, games or online video.  Movies are powerful because I say so.  And, the form is particularly malignant because “it is in the hands of one gender”.  Therefore, movies which are both poisonously masculinist and obviously important “become distortions and dangerous” and end in just the sort of thing we saw last Friday.

On we go.  Movies are particularly influential not only because (a) just cos and (b) a male elite has control of their production but because “spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine.”  So: movies are effective (in creating moments of massacre if they’re bad, Powerful Women, presumably, if they’re good) because they are controlled by an elite and they are not controlled by an elite.  Are you following? Movies influence us because everyone can make them and only a few people can make them.

Let’s allow that the author was very upset when throwing angry turds at her keyboard and was unable to crap out that necessary sentence to describe how ruling class interests are buoyed by everyday people and that DIY media is just a deluded powerless copy of its professional original.  Still. This third-person effect nonsense will fail to bloom into any kind of sense. Because BAM the delusions of Rodger were inflated by cinema; you can tell because he knew how to frame and light himself (I would argue more in the style of Todd Solondz than Judd Apatow) and is therefore deeply influenced by movies.  Therefore: movies killed seven people and golly gee who knows how many more.

Perhaps there is a reason the author can’t make an argument for the sway of cinema.  Or why no author can make a convincing case for media effects.  And it might be this: entertainment merely reproduces ruling class interests and cannot hope to manufacture them whole because the extreme yearning felt by many violent human subjects is not created by the 40 Year Old Virgin.  It is a myth necessary to the way in which we have organised ourselves for three hundred years.

Entitlement is hardly the fixation of violent men alone.  The possibility and/or the expectation of upward mobility is present in political and advertising campaigns, our emotional transactions and in conversations with 90 per cent of the people you know who believe in their entitlement or their “rights”.  You’re Worth It is hardly a lie told only to and believed by men.

And it is hardly a lie that was begun or finessed in the cinema.

While it is true this broad doctrine of entitlement may have been the thing to which Rodger affixed a sickness (that may well have been as socially as it was chemically produced) it makes no more sense to say that this, in its purely feminist context, was the only reason any more than it does to scream JUDD APATOW IS A RAPER.

The ideas of entitlement and of our “rights” to the lives of others are worth examining.  And if we truly are worried how our desire for more, more, more might impact the lives of others, we don’t need to look to Santa Barbara for an example.  We might want to look, for example, at the things that we buy which can and often do lead to the devastation of lives because we feel We’re Worth It.

Ladies.  You are not exempt.



30 Responses to “Because You’re Worth It — Apatow, Hornaday and Santa Barbara”

  1. Mark petrolo says:

    Helen, you’re ruining this massacre for everyone! Why can’t you use this opportunity, like most writers at the moment, to show the world how many statistics you can google proving misogyny kills? Instead of looking at this rationally and objectively why can’t you just use phrases like “rape culture” and “let’s create a dialogue” in a myriad of heart felt platitudes? Or just throw blame around and then validate doing so by making constant references to things you think might prove not only that you are right to point blame but also that you are qualified enough to decide who or what specifically is to blame. When one of the victims father’s spoke out recently against the lack of gun control in America he didn’t sound very academic and probably couldn’t have gotten something published in relation to the massacre if he’d tried to write something post-misogyny. Somewhere in an ivory tower right now Tara Moss is shaking her pretty little head.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Mark. I do understand that people care and try to do good. But politicising tragedy is just not a good idea.
      And I have to say. I wonder what this insistent message of “THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU” is all about. Do people really want to believe that they are at constant risk of assault?

  2. MikeC says:

    Fear sells. People feeling a pervading dread of any and all things around them are avid consumers as they search for the momentary opiate-like kick of acquisition. The fulfilment of desire. The fact that it quickly fades and is replaced with the old fear is the same as the driver behind all good addictions. The more fearful the populace are, the more they buy. This is, as we are repeatedly told, A Good Thing.

    For whom I leave as an exercise for the reader.

  3. Brian O'Leary says:

    I think you’re forgetting the well-known historical fact that ‘Porky’s’ triggered the Iran-Iraq war.

  4. Mark petrolo says:

    How can we not live in constant fear especially now that Apatow’s Freaks & Geeks is due to be released on DVD in Australia July 23? It’s probably loaded with extra features and I daresay it’s coming for all of us.

  5. tad says:

    this reminds me of a post i read basically saying “not all men are rapists but you just can’t be sure you know? best to treat them like that anyway to be on the safe side” and i mean, is this really the society in which people want to live? where strangers are treated as potential murderers and rapists purely for the fact that they exist? and then i wonder, if people want to live in a world that is truly free from the threat of anything bad happening to them ever then what exactly are they prepared to do to make that happen? i would think that a twitter hashtag is not effective enough to make that happen.

  6. Carlene says:

    Porky’s – the exception that proves the rule!

    As well as the “third person effect” nonsense, I can’t decide which particular ligical fallacy best fits these arguments but
    “affirming the consequence”
    “Correlation does not imply/equal causation”
    “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc”
    may have it covered!

  7. Carlene says:

    Obviously ligical = logical

  8. CAP says:

    My brief flirtation (2 point something years) with a psych degree hardly make me an expert lets face it, but the thing that bothered me was the repeated report that he had Asperger’s like that somehow meant it explained everything. I let the misogyny rant wash over me because blah blah blah – as if it wasn’t to be expected. The MSM can’t think of anything new and it ticks a few boxes to sell trash rags to chicks standing in line at the super market (how sexist of me to assume there is a target audience right). The fact is Asperger’s does not lead people to shoot a heap of people that because they’re still a virgin and they blame women. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can, Sociopathy can, Psychopathy can, and being extremely delusional chemically, or just because you have a chemical imbalance may do. If I see another news reporter’s knowing look at their co host as if Asperger’s explains this behaviour I may vomit. The overwhelming evidence that ties mass murderers and serial killers together is generally a complete lack of empathy. Some say Asperger’s people appear to lack empathy – this doesn’t really ring true, they just don’t know what the social conventions are in showing empathy, they seem to be able to tell others might be in distress but rather than being sympathetic they themselves become distressed themselves – and I personally think feeling distressed by another’s distress is a kind of empathy. If you notice that your neighbour is killing kittens for sport or in general could give absolutely not a flying fuck about anyone else and is entirely fixated on themselves they are more likely to be a killer than the shy awkward nerd who only knows how to talk about one topic because they feel comfort in it’s consistency. If we now start lynch mobbing shy people who aren’t very good at social skills because they are excessively honest and can’t tell when people use euphemisms or say they’re ok when they’re not etc. and so through their awkwardness often choose to spend more times with machines, which say and do what they mean rather than use social conventions to lie for the sake of social graces, it’s gotten beyond ludicrous. I can just see it now, IT departments everywhere quietly playing StarCraft in their breaks, descended upon by waves of police SWAT teams, to prevent the imminent rampage that video games are bound to have on people displaying a few Asperger’s traits. Perhaps he did have Asperger’s but that was not the condition evident in his video, and the police found him polite and charming – well that is certainly not Asperger’s but glib superficial charm present in Narcissists and Sociopaths.

    That guy didn’t even act like an Asperger’s person (of which I’ve known a few) so to be honest I found the mention of it at all just confusing, a red herring. But then I went into a doctors and told them I was tired and had back pain, this was a new doctor who’d never met me before. They wanted to prescribe me antidepressants. Call me crazy, but the age of diagnosing people with nowhere near enough evidence is rampant (depressive episodes are determined by 10 weeks of depression so severe you are not able to go about your daily life, things such as eat, bath and go to work/school). The doctor had never met me before and wanted to give me a drug that altered my actual brain chemistry for a disorder that they had no where near enough evidence and time to diagnose, and quite frankly don’t have the training as a GP to judge. I don’t care if they write down they have a special interest in psych – I have a special interest in politics, doesn’t make me an MP. I personally think that the media is responsible for a lot of misinformation and they bang the misogyny and video games/movies are evil drum all too much, it’s like crying wolf and when their truly is a instance it’s obscured by all the fluff, but the fact we are aware of this and there are advocates screaming out for us to check our sources too, which is great. GP’s wandering round in their white coats, as if to be revered receptacles of knowledge on all things health, able to prescribe any drug under the sun when they are the handymen of medicine, is what is truly concerning to me. That needs to stop! If perhaps it did and specialists were used to greater effect and health professionals could only prescribe within their specialised field, specialised medicines approved for that field, a lot of this crap may be avoided. I looked at this case and yes guns and their loose regulation are obviously a huge problem. The fact is however the parent had warned police he was acting out, and rather than sending the police around, sending round specialists in mental health, who could put him under proper observation, might have been more instrumental in saving ALL these kids who so needlessly died.

    But of course as you say – the media simply sees a misogynist, not a very sick boy having a delusional episode of grandeur, probably brought on by movies . His family did the right thing and tried to get him help, in a system that deals with such things completely inappropriately. Now all those families and that community pay the price. There are so many things that need to change to stop these events (from gun law through to handling of mental illness and the structures of governance around these areas) I severely doubt anyone will have the chutzpah to ever deal with them all.

  9. CAP says:

    I shouldn’t write when I have headaches – hope you can get through all the typos.

  10. Cathy says:

    Thanks Helen, For this.

  11. Julie says:

    No, Helen, “they” don’t want to believe that. But “they” is gender neutral. Tell me you walk home at night alone and are not scared. Did you grow up in, or do you now live in, a vacuum?

    The judgement you mention of Aptow is moronic, of course. But, come on, you are setting up a strawman here. Cultural products do influence behaviour. No, this does not mean we can knee-jerkingly assert blame, but we have to admit influence. These debates were had in the so-called “sex wars” of the 80s, around pornography. The better question is why are we having these debates again? Liberal feminism has failed us, to be sure, but smacking the bums of daft thinkers, the new “feminists”, etc….what is actually to be accomplished?

    And “politicising tragedy is not a good idea”? I really don’t know how to respond to that. I mean, a tragedy is an earthquake, or a bus crash.

    • Helen Razer says:

      I am unsure of where the pronoun “they” figures in this piece? I had a high school English teacher who beat its use out of me. I try to burn the straw man or woman which is why, in this case, I engage with one of the more popular pieces about cultural goods. Not written by a nobody or a dummy but a Pulitzer-nominated self-professed feminist film critic writing in the Washington Post to very broad acclaim. This was not a piece in Jezebel.
      And. For the nth time. I don’t see how this particular crime (which is also a tragedy because its cause can be even less better known than a bus crash) illuminates the presence, in particular, for the systematised hatred of women.
      The man was even alienated from the misogynistic groups that some hold as bastions of this purported ultra-sexism.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Regarding fear: of course I have felt it. I happen to be blind and therefore more vulnerable than most. But I am sure you know as well as I do that men are many, many times more likely to be subject to street violence. When women are subject to physical violence, it is much more likely to be by an aggressor who is well-known to them.
      And so. Where does this conversation get us? Except into a media effects debate.

  12. tad says:

    hi helen,

    i just had a thought, and am wondering. when i was a boy, my father taught me and my brothers self defence from and early age. and i guess my first and only experience of a male figure was a man who looked after himself and his family and a man that had no to rely on but himself. now i wonder if young girls might internalise the role of the mother, the passive figure who has things provided for them and who have a “protector/provider” figure in their father (assuming a father exists ofc) and someone to protect the family from external threats (as much as they exist in western society).

    so now i think, is why women are losing their shit now, and rather than seeing a threat and knowing that their only recourse is to protect themselves, they see a threat and after having internalised a protector figure in their childhood to fill that role, they ask that another protector figure in the state to step in and fill that role? why is the predominant narrative on state driven protection rather than women taking the onus on themselves to protect themselves?

    yes, i am aware of all the assumptions i made in this. and no i’m not saying that women are asking for it unless they carry a gun or whatever. and yes, as i was typing this i kind of felt how ridiculous it sounds but then again maybe it doesn’t. but watevs amirite?

    • Helen Razer says:

      Tad. I’m reluctant to get into a public debate about normative violence. Mostly because I know bugger all about it. But I can say that, yes, it has occurred to me that there has been a great shift from 70s women’s liberation wholesale rejection of the state to the equality feminism of today which seeks to remediate all negative behaviour by means of the state. Of course, it would be foolish for us to say to a woman with a boot in her face that taking assistance from the police is counter-revolutionary. And who, but the most radical anarchist, would decry the legal rights police now have to intervene in intimate partner violence? However. If we agree, and people seem to, that there is a problem and we are eager to trace its origin, it strikes me that this basic shift needs to be critically addressed.
      It’s also interesting to see intimate partner violence used as a political platform. I believe Premier Napthine in Victoria is on about it. And on the one hand, that’s good. But on the other, I do wonder if this grandstanding is not a little like that which promises safer streets.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Tad did you see Guy’s piece in Crikey?

  13. Julie says:

    Sorry, I’m so dumb I didn’t realise I had to sign in again. Anonymous above is me, pretty obviously, I guess.

  14. Helen Razer says:

    Yes. Atrocity. That’s a batter term.
    I am just saying that Rodger is seen largely as the inevitable endpoint of masculinity. And, sure, I should probably engage with more complex views but the thing is, I am best qualified to be cheap and nasty. Or, if you prefer, talk about popular conversation rather than Butler, normative violence and war.
    This lassie may be tawdry but her views are representative of many this week. So it’s not a strawwoman but an argument many believe.
    I thank you for suggesting my arguments are too pedestrian, though. I usually just get called a wanker ;)
    As far as your media effects position. I just can’t agree. Adorno and Horkheimer inform my views on the sway of the culture industry. Which is to say, I think it reproduces ruling class interests. And sometimes fails–particularly at present. I wish they were alive to re-write the Dialectic of Enlightenment for this new age of DIY media. I’ve looked for a sort of Frankfurt School critique of social media but cannot find one. Perhaps you can help me out, as a philosopher?

  15. tad says:

    yes, it was a good read. i should revisit it i think.

  16. Julie says:

    I know there’s heaps of stuff but it’s not my area so nothing off the top of my head. I’ll ask some mates. And I would never talk about Butler. I read a brilliant article by someone (fucking middle-aged memory loss) who argued that constructivism (all gender identity is socially formed, nothing to do with the body, etc) is the perfect theory to support late-Capitalism, where all value comes about through the over-valuation of abstraction and the complete diminishment/eradication of nature. I go with the French chics (Irigaray, especially)…difficult and challenging, but totally repulsed by bourgeois, white Western feminism and liberal ideologies supported by the individual and his rights.

    I just don’t understand how the Adorno and Horkheimer (and Fred Jameson as well) position about cultural products reproducing elitist interests jars here. I’m missing something, obviously.

    • Helen Razer says:

      I have also read the Cultural Turn and I don’t see what’s not to get. Which is to say, these are accounts of power as a diffuse thing. Not a “it’s in a man” thing or that it is always centralised and easy-to-see thing. Power, in its electronic form, works because, as Adorno has it, it gives us the illusion of liberation. That is its might. It makes us believe that we know. And I see this account of visible misogyny as fitting precisely with his account of early television where we all felt that here, at last, was the truth. And I see that generally, and not just specific to this case, as being the mechanism of media. We have had decades and decades of talk about the greatest ugliness imaginable and we all feel we know what it “does” (although I won’t convince you on this point as you seem to believe that porn can cause sexual violence if I don’t misunderstand?) So the chief function of media, and not just in political or social cases, is to delude us into enlightenment. It paralyses our critical faculty. It doesn’t make us behave in a particular way other than to tranquilise us. And I see this new feminist moment as one of absolute tranquility. Believing we can see power is so dangerous.

      • Helen Razer says:

        This all becomes especially interesting in an age where everyone is publishing. Where the culture industry is created by us. Like the great democratiser television, it gives us a false sense of power.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Send me that piece when you can. I am pretty wed to Butler’s idea that the physical body is an alibi for difference; just as it is with race. But. You know. Gotta see what’s out there.
      Was it Spivak? Her “strategic essentialism” is interesting. But in no way, from my understanding, goes any way to convince us of the essence of a physical subject.
      Bit suspicious of any account that says Foucauldian accounts of power are conservative. And my understanding of Irigaray’s morphology was that the body reproduces meaning not because of nature but because of the symbolic order into which subjects are drawn. Isn’t is psychoanalysis? And how is that necessarily opposed to Butler’s account that I always thought was more Foucauldian than constructivist?

  17. Julie says:

    I agree with everything you just said, though the porn thing is still too complex. Having said that, there is that compelling, now old but still compelling, response to the statement that images and narratives don’t affect our behaviour – well, why then is advertising so effective and lucrative? Wrt to the Frankfurt school, and the Marxist traditions, so much feminist work has been done analysing the blindspots of their thinking. I’m writing a little bit about this at the moment: how marxism in general and feminist marxism more specifically tends to raze all non-class issues to the ground; I want to know why it needs to do so (and yes I understand the arguments about totalisation). Your point is good – about this “new” misogyny lulling us into a sense of renewed power (I had to “unlike” DtJ after a few weeks because I just wanted to punch someone). But, in the end, I doubt that Marxism in itself will provide productive answers. I thought Rundle’s piece was pretty banal, sorry (and so too Sparrow, who’s usually very good). And as for internet publishing, je despair :)

  18. Julie says:

    Butler is heavily influenced by Foucault, who is one of the principal figures of social constructivism. Irigaray and the issue of essentialism is really tricky. Her work since the 90s has developed the earlier critiques, based on Lacanian categories like the imaginary, symbolic and real, for example. Her main claim is that sexual difference is irreducible, that are born two, and that we’ve never actually translated that “fact” into social, political or economic terms.

  19. CS says:

    Sorry to dumb the conversation back down, but I’m glad that Apatow’s to blame. I mean, I liked Freaks and Geeks, but I found Knocked Up extremely tedious. Now to go back to some REAL feminism, which seems to currently entail sharing video soundbites of affluent Reece Witherspoon in Election look-alikes banging on about affluent white entitlement and priviledge (not their own, of course). Oh, and by the way, I saw someone comment about Ms Razer this week that “There’s a special place in hell for women like her who attack feminism”, so apparently new feminism extends to misquoting Taylor Swift, which is comforting, cause for a while there it was getting complicated.

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