Cennamology Chief Editor
Movies are a common scapegoat for those looking for answers after tragic shootings, but those movies are usually films like "Die Hard," "Pulp Fiction," or any movie that prominently features guns. But a comedy featuring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron? What's the connection between a movie where not a single gun is fired and a tragic shooting?
Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday has found a way to expand the ways Americans use movies as a scapegoat for shootings:
“How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as [suspect Elliot] 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,” Hornaday says.
However, I do not think that if this "eludes them," as Hornaday says, that they are more likely to go on a violent rampage like Elliot Rodger. All in all, despite maybe wanting to make their college experience more closely reflect that of Efron's character, most people know that the experience portrayed in "Neighbors," is exaggerated and fictional. After recently graduating from college, I know that if a frat did a fraction of the stuff that the one in the movie did, it would have been given a decade-long suspension.
What needs to be discussed here is not the movie itself, but why exactly does the one who commits the violent acts fail to see that the movie is a work of fiction. I will quote the internet celebrity the Nostalgia Critic here by saying that "movies are an illusion and how well a movie gets us to submit to that illusion measures how good that movie is."
The "illusion" of college life that "Neighbors" portrays is nothing new. These types of comedies have been around for ages - from "Animal House," to "The House Bunny," to "21 and Over." Comedies that are set in colleges, and sometimes even high schools, are filled with sexual motifs to the point where most adult audiences are used to it and know that the world of college that these movies portray is fictional.
In fact, one thing that I like about "Neighbors" was when Dave Franco's character says that he and Efron's character were virgins at the beginning of college. I have noticed that in most of these kinds of movies and television shows, the V-card is lost in high school, making it seem like everyone loses it between the ages of 14 and 16. This tidbit of Franco's character's dialogue is arguably the most realistic thing in the movie, as probably over 40 percent of students come to college as virgins. That being said, while "Neighbors" is a decent flick, it is hard to believe that it would convince even the most simpleminded viewer that its portrayal of college is the real deal.
Also, submitting to the illusion of a movie does not mean that the viewer accepts it as reality. I was 11 years old when "Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl," came out. That movie made me want to dress up as a pirate for Halloween, but it did not make me actually want to be a pirate. This is because I knew that the life of a real pirate during that era was very different than what was shown in the movie. The movie also did not make me want to plunder villages and kidnap fair maidens.
I knew, at 11 years old, that "Pirates" was a work of fiction, but it was a great movie because I wanted to pretend to be a pirate during my free time and harmlessly sword fight with sticks during recess. The worst thing that "Pirates" contributed to was horseplay, not violence. I still knew that the characters and events in the movie were fictional, but I still submitted to the movie's illusion because the film became part of my life as I brought it into things like play time and I quoted it for several months after seeing it. I still say "But why is the rum gone?" every now and then.
If "Neighbors" did influence Rodger to commit the shooting (although it has not be confirmed that he even saw the movie) the movie itself should not be blamed. Instead, his mental health needs to be explored (in a retroactive sense, since he committed suicide) and it needs to be determined why he saw movies as representations of real life instead of what they actually are: illusions. Why was he unable to distinguish between fiction and reality? Why did he feel that his life must perfectly reflect that of a work of fiction in order to be happy? These are the questions that must be asked instead of placing blame on the movie and its filmmakers.
In the end, it is lazy to blame movies for violence in our society. Violence existed long before the first motion picture was ever produced. Movies are an easy target because there is always a violent movie in theaters at any given time and there are violent shows and movies on television all hours of the day. Their ubiquity make them easy to blame. Other causes of violence must be discussed, and if movies are going to be discussed it should be related to mental health. Do not blame the movies themselves.