John Russell Houser, who gunned down 11 moviegoers at a showing of Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana Thursday night, killing two young women, was a volatile, violent, woman-hating, anti-Semitic, far-right loser given to dark and bitter diatribes against what he saw as cultural “immorality.”
It’s a safe bet that if Houser had stayed for the entire showing of Trainwreck, instead of pulling out his gun, he would not have enjoyed the film, a comedy about a young woman living an unapologetically “promiscuous” life in New York city, written by and starring Amy Schumer, a feminist comedian famous (or infamous, depending on whom you’re talking to) for her frankly sexual humor.
A more important question: Did Houser deliberately target viewers of Trainwreck as a sick protest against its “permissive” politics? And if so, was he inspired by attacks on the film from right-wing media and misogynists online?
Trainwreck has been a lightning rod for right-wing “moralists” since the first trailer for the film came out five months ago. A glance through the comments to the trailer on YouTube reveals months of sniping at the film by an assortment of angry misogynists decrying Trainwreck as “propaganda” and a celebration of “whores.”
“This is unbelievably degenerate,” one would-be cultural critic on YouTube wrote shortly after the trailer came out. “No respectable man would even touch an overweight whore.”
“Movies like this are the reason people can’t have normal, old fashioned relationships anymore,” another YouTuber complained. “Thank you Hollywood for yet another huge, stinking, steaming pile of crap contribution to society whose sole purpose is to teach women to act like men, be sluts and take relationships for granted.”
Still another attacked the film as subtle “propaganda” encouraging women to “behave like sluts” — even though Schumer’s character repents and gives up her “slutty” ways at the end. As this non-fan of Schumer saw it, the fact that the film has a happy ending
encourages the viewer to partake in her abominable behavior, because the message is that such behavior has no consequences: everything will go your way in the end. This gives young women a license to party, do drugs and whore around in their 20s, because they believe they can count on a Prince Charming to rescue them when the time is right.
The apotheosis of this kind of, er, criticism comes not from some irate, anonymous YouTube commenter but from Armond White, movie reviewer for the paleoconservative National Review, who, in a review last week, blasted Schumer for turning “female sexual prerogative into shamelessness” and promoting “the degradation of sex.”
And he was just getting started:
Trainwreck should be a wake-up call for anyone — especially for any conservative — who thinks pop culture is guileless, harmless fun. …
Not really a sex comedy, Trainwreck is a comedy that uses sex to promote feminist permissiveness.
Like the angry YouTube commenters he almost seems to be cribbing his critique from, White is especially offended that Amy — it’s not clear if he’s talking about Schumer or the character she named after herself, or both — can be so unapologetically sexual without suffering “social stigma.”
As White sees it, Schumer is “a comedy demagogue who okays modern misbehavior.” Apparently confusing Trainwreck with the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Schumer with Madame Mao, White concludes that
Schumer doesn’t simply use humor for social readjustment; like all Comedy Central performers from Jon Stewart on down, she aims to acquire cultural power. … As the latest model of Comedy Central’s stealth comediennes (following Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman), Schumer disguises a noxious cultural agenda as personal fiat.
Now, we don’t know if Houser was directly inspired by White’s antifeminist-diatribe-cum-movie-review; we don’t know if he even read it.
What we do know is that over-the-top attacks on feminism and feminists like his have helped to contribute to a widespread backlash, online and off, against outspoken women, a backlash that has both encouraged and excused attacks on, and outright harassment of, individual women who have challenged male cultural authority — from women daring to offer opinions about video games that offend misogynistic gamers to comedians like Schumer who challenge old-fashioned slut-shaming by joking unapologetically about female “promiscuity.”
No, movie reviews don’t cause terrorism, not by themselves, anyway. But John Russell Houser was a veritable rage bomb that had long been ready to explode, and “cultural critics” like White and his ideological fellow travellers online may well have inspired his choice of targets when he finally did.
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