<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Patterson Entertainment & Responsibility

Entertainment and Responsibility


Following the May mass murders in California by Elliot Rodger, my friend and Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday wrote a column about it that was headlined: “In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen.” It set off a firestorm on the Internet, especially with one line: “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’?”

Of course Apatow took umbrage, as did many others who felt her pointed criticism of aspects of modern films was out-of-line. I beg to differ. We need more courageous voices like hers looking at the entertainment we consume and how it affects modern life.

I took up for Hornaday in both my own Facebook postings and in my comments on the posts by others on the matter. And not because she’s my friend and also enabled one of my lifelong dreams to come true when she recruited me to basically be her freelance second-string daily paper film critic at the Austin American-Statesman for the better part of two years in the late 1990s. But rather because I respect what she has to say. She’s a critic who, even if I disagree with her about a movie, I still respect what she has to say, how she says it, and her love for the cinematic art (even when it’s mere popular entertainment).

And in this case, even if I didn’t know her, I would still have defended her thesis, which I feel is best expressed in this paragraph: “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.”

As one mutual friend noted, she’s quite capable of defending herself without our help (her smart assertiveness being one of many reasons I like Ann). And when Apatow accused her of using the tragedy to promote herself, I had to laugh. Yes, she’s assertive. But in an era when self-promotion is all but a disease in the media, Hornaday is refreshingly free of that too often distasteful impulse. She simply does her job and does it well and doesn’t fall prey to the lure of trying to be a celebrity critic and acting as if she’s some kind of star.

The criticisms of what she said are many and myriad, too many to go into here. But I will address one that became a bit of a pitched battle on one Facebook thread – that she was advocating censorship in the arts.

I’ll flip that around to assert what I believe underpinned much of what she said and I feel strongly: Creating very public art – or even in the case of Apatow’s movies (as I see it), crafty entertainment – comes with a degree social and cultural responsibility. And in our modern age that is all too often ignored.

That doesn’t mean that everything a creative artist does must serve the greater good. And sometimes even silly diversions with little if any message behind them can serve a greater good (diversions, laughs, little things that are still important to the human soul). But public entertainment does not exist in a vacuum.

On the left, too often, the ardent defense of freedom of expression ignores this responsibility. Yes, we should not draw direct lines between what entertains us and how people behave – such as saying that violent video games beget violence – but to not acknowledge that what we consume as entertainment not only reflects but affects culture and people’s attitudes and behavior (especially the mentally unstable) is akin to sticking one’s head in the sand. But Hornaday did hit on something that troubles me greatly: how the progressive movements against sexism and violence that were a part of the 1960s and ’70s in which I came of age have stalled, and society has backslid on those counts in rather troubling ways.

I had my own similar minor scrap on a Facebook post where I took to task the violent and sexist “thug” subculture that pervades too much contemporary hip-hop music, and someone I know accused me of being racist. I won’t bother to defend myself from the charge, but will say that in the lower-middle-class, racially-mixed neighborhood I lived in over the last five years (I called it a “demi-ghetto”), I saw thuggish behavior from people of all complexions, as hip-hop’s audience is hardly confined to the African Americans that largely create it.

The fact that Hornaday’s essay sparked such a firestorm attests to the fact that she hit on a valid hot button. And as she concluded in a follow-up addressing some of the criticism she received, “Let the conversation continue.” Because when a society loses its ability to examine and criticize itself and fails to do so on a regular basis it puts itself and its people in great danger.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014


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