Tuesday, June 3, 2014

After Dark, June 3, 2014

The Strangest Debate Ever
The tragedy of UCSB may be a game changer
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

There is not much doubt that the shooting spree in Isla Vista was an act of profound ugliness. But what the act of the gunman actually means has - in the short week or so since the event - been parsed to death and in every which way. 

The strangest thing is that most of the discussion has had at least a germ of reality-based thinking but surrounding that germ is truly odd discussion and I thought it had reached its oddest when Seth Rogen suddenly appeared in the middle of it.

Let me backtrack...

Misogyny and nerds and Seth Rogen.

The shooting could have actually been far worse if it had not been for the good sense of the sorority house the gunman was going for. They locked him out. But even with that he managed to target at least two victims who were on his hate list: young women. 

Forget the also-important discussion of the easy availability of guns in the US, also ignore that the American health care system let another sick person slip through the cracks, and put away the conversation about the responsibility of parents for the young man's parents are (we are assured) good-hearted people who did their best. No, the primary discussion which followed UCSB was one of misogyny...

Misogyny and nerds and Seth Rogen.

As a man who had been glued to his TV the night of the Montreal Massacre and had bridled at any suggestion that that act was anything but a crime of misogyny, I never doubted for a moment that UCSB was a like instance. I frankly don't give a fuck what "kind" of women he was targetting - pretty, accomplished, professional, old, young, silly or overweight. But because he was targetting a specific kind of woman - according to his horrifying manifesto - and the male "losers" those women sometimes fell for, that became the core of the discussion: what he felt he (and many other men) were "owed" by society.

Somehow the discussion turned to the cinematic trope of the nerd getting the girl (NGG). This is a theme in fiction that, in films, dates back to screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby, and Clark Kent taking off his glasses, even farther back in fiction where the goodly poor brother in a family snagged the heroine (Jane Austen). There is not much doubt that since the word "nerd" became fashionable in films it has virtually reigned: from Revenge of the Nerds to the the films of Judd Apatow et al. (ie: Seth Rogen). The theme of the discussion was that the NGG films "taught" that losers can have romance if they use deception and tricks. One actually germane example was from Revenge of the Nerds where a nerd disguises himself and wins the girl over by being good at sex - and, yes, that would be rape. That was one of those strange moments in the debate where a fundamentally wonky argument made a very good point. We do need to look again at pieces of our culture that are so embedded as to be remembered as harmless.

My problem with this discussion is the way it is hopping all over the place, starting to aim at art (popular art but nevertheless art) and pointing a damning finger at works and artists without considering cultural context: the use of familiar tropes (even cliché), the times of each work (was Scarlet O'Hara swept off her feet or sexually assaulted?), the intentions of the artists (are the writers of Game of Thrones encouraging rape culture?). Perhaps these discussions are all important but the rage we all feel are making the shape of them potentially dangerous.

The right will look for anything to blame for these ongoing slaughters except the most important targets of blame: sexism, health care, guns. Popular culture has always been a favourite scapegoat of the right: music, video games, movies, TV. The crosshairs we on the left might casually aim at Knocked Up, the right will focus on art that is challenging, "impolite", and ugly in its representation of sex, relationships and even women. We will scream the right does not get the point.

The question I pose is: do we?

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