Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on "Neighbors," Masculinity, and the May 23rd Mass Shooting

I saw the movie Neighbors a few weeks ago during our recent heatwave in Southern California. It was nice to retreat into an air-conditioned theater for a few hours, and I have to admit, since I came in expecting nothing beyond the Animal House platitudes and dick-jokes of your typical "College-sploitation" film, I enjoyed it and then some.

In it, recent parents (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) have all but resigned to the banalities of domestic life, but sense reprieve in the arrival of a fraternity (headed by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) next door. As fate and formula will have it, however, the party noise soon becomes unbearable for the couple, and a petty, comedic feud ensues. Throughout the film's 90 minutes, the viewer is subjected to just about every unenlightened notion of sex, drugs, and masculine pride our culture has to offer, yet, the context is as insulated in fantasy and implausibility as a car-chase in one of the latter Fast and Furious installments.

In fact, a huge part of what made Neighbors work for me was the fact that director Nicholas Stoller shot it like an action film. Relying on over-the-top stunts for many of its big laughs, it is Hollywood absurdity down to the character profiles and ideas that inhabit it. So why can't Washington Post critic Anne Hornaday, who recently cited the film as a precipitating factor to May 23's mass shooting at UC Santa Barbara, get that?

Of course, these type of knee jerk reactions are to be expected following senseless tragedies, and are arguably disingenuous, given the headline-thirsty nature of the press. While it is certainly relevant to discuss pop-culture's hand in the pressure males face to "get laid" as a right of passage and measure of self-worth  -- and the Darwinian contest it can feel like for many -- nothing short of a severe, underlying mental illness can drive someone to murder 6 innocent people. 

Elliot Rodger, with his bmw and bizarre youtube videos, was severely mentally ill. A few of my more trivial observations about this include:

-Why is seemingly every psychotic manifesto but the Unabomber's so infantile and poorly written?

-Goddamn, if this Rodger kid isn't a dead-ringer for a splice of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman and Jay Baruchel's character in She's Out of My League, both physically and psychologically.

-Speaking of Patrick Bateman, Hornaday catches the similarity in her article, yet is clueless to the irony, as American Pyscho is, itself, a ruthless satire of the pomp machismo she decries.

Hornaday is absolutely right, however, in her article's closing statement. We're indeed "only as strong as the stories we tell ourselves." Fundamental to this is the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. I can go on, but Quentin Tarantino really says it best. 

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