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Did right-wing attacks on “Trainwreck” inspire John Russell Houser’s shooting rampage?

Was Amy Schumer the real target of John Russell Houser's rage?
Was Amy Schumer the real target of John Russell Houser’s rage?

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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Alais
6 years ago

@Carmen,

While you say that you’re only shaming people who use kink as a cover for abuse and rape, it sounds like you’re shaming everyone else involved too when you talk about shaming the BDSM community, “including the rapists” and imply that people involved in the community as subs who do enjoy it and who aren’t being abused or raped are somehow “drinking the koolaid” because they feel as though you’re implying that their sexual choices mean that they’re broken.

AltoFronto
AltoFronto
6 years ago

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath was advocating sexual permissiveness in the 14th century, and nobody goes after that.

skiriki
6 years ago

:O

http://media.giphy.com/media/11c2hRHwmvgFOg/giphy.gif

I’ll saddle my nopetopus and ride to sunset. Not cool to kink-shame. And then the rest of it… noooooope. 10 ft pole, 15 ft pole, ain’t no pole long enough for me to stir the rest of it.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
6 years ago

Like, I am not even allowed to give a criticism of the practice of BDSM, including all the rapists in it (and how they like to hide out in it, considering how murky consent issues can become),

This part is particularly hilarious given all the stuff I’ve read about the BDSM community and how practically obsessed it is with consent. There is no murkiness whatsoever, just willful ignorance by certain practitioners who quickly get ousted from the group.

indifferentsky
6 years ago

It is my understanding that BDSM is the one area where consent discussions are a requirement, and thus has a positive effect on the understanding of these concepts for all of us.

BDSM if it’s mostly women wanting to be hurt can be discussed and critiqued, but it would come down to people asking themselves questions if the information appeals to them. “Why do I want to be dominated”. that’s PERSONAL. and why would anyone think shame was a good idea? What a terrible way to approach that.

So if the understanding that shaming is ridiculous , useless and counter productive makes me a dumb liberal, I guess I’m a dumb liberal. Shaming just satisfies some emotional need the shamers have to lash out and abuse people. I think there is less harm in shaming than there is in letting people think that their attempted emotional abuse of others is valid social change or good argumentation.

Fuck that noise.

In a similar vein, I don’t like the idea that as soon as there is equal partnership and deep emotional intimacy in the bedroom that’s “vanilla”. But that might just be due to lack of available good verbiage to describe non kink. Being a feminist though I value equality in that setting and a label that implies it’s “boring” seems like a slight to something that should be heralded among feminists.

THEN AGAIN, is saying that making a statement that BDSM is inferior? If anyone takes it that way please understand that is not a shaming tactic and maybe just my personal opinion when it comes to sharing intimacy. I guess I just consider kinks as getting off and other sexual practices to be sharing love and intimacy, and that might be where I’m wrong. I can be wrong. It’s just that intimacy does not appear to be what’s highlighted with kinks. I am more making the point it’s apples and oranges, not vanillas, so hopefully I can get the benefit of the doubt here that this is not covert shaming.

RE the movie people made excellent points here about being drunk and uninhibited to being a punchline itself. I’ve never found that part of Amy’s stuff funny, but a lot of her other stuff is imo.

Aerinea
Aerinea
6 years ago

@indifferentsky I’m pretty sure the term vanilla was chosen due to its universality for those who enjoy ice cream, not as an insult. That doesn’t stop some jerks from using it as such, but I don’t think it was meant to mean boring. Besides, really good vanilla is awesome, whether it’s ice cream or sex.

There is intimacy in kink, and it comes from the level of trust that has to exist between partners. It just doesn’t always look like intimacy to those who just aren’t into that sort of thing.

alaisvex
alaisvex
6 years ago

Regarding casual sex…it seems that women’s feelings on their own experiences with it vary a lot. I’ve known people who’ve felt about their experiences the way that Carmen does and who’ve had issues with either receiving no respect from their partners’ or having emotions complicate things. But then I’ve also known a lot of women who’ve had satisfying, non-complicated experiences with it. Hell, I’ve had both kinds of experiences with it. When I first started having sex, it was complicated, even though it was casual. On the one hand, I really did want to experiment and try things. On the other hand, I know that sometimes I did things just because cultural messages made me feel as though I owed those guys an orgasm because I’d made them hard. The second set of feelings made things complicated initially, but once I did get more confident and better at openly conveying what I wanted and started finding guys who did care about what I wanted and whether or not I was enjoying things, it started feeling good. So, at the end of the day, I don’t know. I think that misogyny can complicate and infect both casual sex and relationship sex, but I also think that women can (to use Carmen’s phrase) “powerfully own their own sexuality” within the context of heterosexual sex, whether it’s casual or within a relationship, once they figure out what they want and get good at picking out men (or rather, avoiding ones who raise important red flags).

AltoFronto
AltoFronto
6 years ago

@indifferentsky. Good comments. 🙂 But I would say that it would be incorrect to generalise that there is no intimacy in all kink.

If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing… but I’ve heard lots of kinksters describe an extreme bond of intimacy with their partners (often spouses) during BDSM play.

There are also lots of forms of “vanilla” sex that don’t involve much intimacy beyond the being-naked-and-mutual-touching part. It’s not as if no-strings-orgasm-having is exclusively the realm of one broad umbrella category of human sexual behaviour.

I dunno where the assumption comes from that intimacy = vanilla, or vice-versa, but that’s probably rooted in the same kind of misapprehensions that people had (and perhaps continue to believe) around the mythological Homosexual of yore. I.e. the myth that if it’s socially “deviant”, it can’t be wholesome, pleasant or emotionally fulfilling.

@Aerinea – Yes. Vanilla’s just a popular flavour preference, and shouldn’t reflect badly on anyone who chooses it as their favourite.

To expand on the analogy… I guess the thing to bear in mind is that it’s kind of rude for anyone to go “eeeeww, I can’t believe you like [flavour combo]” when it’s your scoop and it’s well within the range of an Acceptable Ice-cream Parlour Transaction, and you’re just there to enjoy a tasty dessert in peace.
That said, it might also be valid to question the sale of Human Breast Milk Ice-cream,both as an ethical thought experiment or as pertaining to how it would work in practice. Care should perhaps be taken to have an informed discussion on it, but not to be judgmental about those who safely produce and consume it.
Ice-cream made with the blood of ritually-slaughtered infants and illegally-poached rhino parts would deserve to be met with utter disgust and condemnation, with the acknowledgement that its appearance in an Ice-cream Parlour wouldn’t really have any bearing on the sale of all the other, non-evil flavours of ice-cream, except inasmuch as the Parlour (porn, the scene) could be considered a venue where all these types of ice-cream exist in separate tubs.

Sorry, that got pretty contrived there.
Preference = ok.
Talking about sociological, ethical and legal aspects of consensual, but perhaps unconventional or extreme human behaviour = ok and interesting when careful to avoid kink-shaming and misinformation.
Illegal and non-consensual forms of sexual activity are never acceptable, and we can openly express contempt for their practice as much as we like, but it shouldn’t call the activities of consenting adults into question except inasmuch as the surrounding culture can be said to present conditions for the sale of the Evil ice-cream.

Feel free to comment, disagree, etc. I’m not an authority, and I probably shouldn’t analogize whilst tired. 😛

Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

@ Altofronto

Ice-cream made with the blood of ritually-slaughtered infants and illegally-poached rhino parts would deserve to be met with utter disgust and condemnation

Really? Uh-oh, I need another ‘Dragon’s Den’ idea sharpish.

Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Banana Jackie Cake, for those who still want to call me "Banana", "Jackie" or whatever)
Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Banana Jackie Cake, for those who still want to call me "Banana", "Jackie" or whatever)
6 years ago

In a similar vein, I don’t like the idea that as soon as there is equal partnership and deep emotional intimacy in the bedroom that’s “vanilla”.

Vanilla is delicious, tho? And there’s different types of vanilla, like French vanilla ice cream, American vanilla ice cream, Italian vanilla gelato which is a whole ‘nother ball park – and, I mean, there’s not a person who really hates vanilla. Vanilla is delicious on its own, it’s just that some people like it better with ball gags and knife play sometimes, that’s all.

Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

Illegal and non-consensual forms of sexual activity are never acceptable

With you on the non-consensual of course but not necessarily on the illegal.

Plenty of times and places where gay sex for example was/is illegal for example; and there are types of BDSM practice where everyone is a willing party with full capacity but the acts are still illegal [cf R v Brown and Others (the ‘Spanner’ case)]

Oliver_C
Oliver_C
6 years ago

I’ve seen DVDs that contain just the movie, with no bonus material (outtakes, interviews, etc), referred to as “vanilla” DVDs. The derogatory use of the word really grates.

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
6 years ago

Ack. BDSM. A subject which I am far too willing to teal dear on, because the intersection of feminist thought and BDSM thought is fascinating.

(Background: I’ve been participating in the London kink scene for a little short of a decade now, off and on. I’m hardly a central figure there but more than a few people know my name. If you know an EJ in that scene, it’s probably me. Hi there!)

I agree that there’s a language gap to describe things properly; I think it’s partially because there is little shared experience to form a shared language, and partly because there is nothing that kinksters love more than arguing about nuances of meaning of words.

Most kinksters, like most gay people, grow up in a normative environment in which kink is very much othered. Traditionally people repress the desires until it ruins their first marriage, but nowadays thanks to the internet a lot of people are getting used to it much earlier. If you ask a kinkster about non-kinky romance, sex or intimacy their answer will often be something along the lines of “I never found it fulfilling” or “it just wasn’t for me” or “I thought I was frigid until I discovered kink”, much like a gay person’s answer would be. As a result, kinksters will tend to use the term “vanilla” for exactly that type of unfulfilling, bland experience, because that’s what they experienced non-kinky stuff as being.

Also like the gay community, there is a often perception of smugness and superiority by people outside that community. I will leave it to each individual to judge to what extent this perception is valid.

There is, however, no similar experience in the other direction. Very few people get raised in a kinky environment and decide that it just isn’t for them. (A lot of people’s initial experience of kink tends to be too hard and deep, after which they’ll scale back to a comfortable level of exposure, but very few people will go entirely vanilla afterwards.) Therefore, there is no widely accepted term for “I tried kinky but it isn’t for me; I prefer there to be no power dynamic in my romance and no endorphin play in my sex.” At best, the terms for this are very normative: “Normal”, “Non-Kinky”, et cetera.

Of course, dividing the world into kinky and non-kinky is absurd. There are as many ideal relationship styles as there are people in the world. I’ve met people who think having sex with the woman on top is kinky, and I’ve met people who are surprised to hear that breath play is considered such. Even saying “kinky” is meaningless, because there are many kinks in the world and not everyone enjoys all of them. For example, within London the rope community is almost a separate community rather than a subset of the kink scene.

As such, I prefer to think not of “kinky” and “vanilla” people, but of a-la-carte-relationship people and bespoke-relationship people. The latter group assume that because you’re having a relationship, things A, B and C must happen. The former group are comfortable sitting down and saying, “Listen, I really like A and want lots of it, but can we avoid C please? Oh, you really like C? Shall we negotiate a compromise? Oh, it seems we can’t. Well, let’s not date, but let’s definitely be good friends because we have a lot in common anyway.” There’s no reason why this sort of negotiation can’t happen about things like children or cuddling or dual-income-versus-stay-at-home-parent rather than use of titles or eye contact restrictions. There’s also no reason why it can’t involve picking a little from each column.

Orion
Orion
6 years ago

This part is particularly hilarious given all the stuff I’ve read about the BDSM community and how practically obsessed it is with consent. There is no murkiness whatsoever, just willful ignorance by certain practitioners who quickly get ousted from the group.

Oh, how I wish this were true. Just as often, it’s willful ignorance by certain practitioners who run the group. Or by practitioners who move undetected in the group with the exact tricks predators use to infiltrate any other group.

[Disclaimer: this post is about the “BDSM community,” by which I mean BDSM clubs, BDSM parties, BDSM social events (like “munches”) and the like. It’s not about BDSM itself or about people in BDSM relationships.]

Every BDSM community I am familiar with has a huge problem with rape and sexual abuse. It would be kind of shocking if it didn’t, because kinksters grow up in the same culture as everyone else, including exposure to rape culture. Kinksters spend a lot more time talking about “consent” than mainstream society does, and I’m sure that does help, but rapists are perfectly capable of mouthing the words. Like every community, the BDSM community has predators. Worse, there are practical problems that make it more difficult to deal with them.

There are many incentives for people who were victimized within the community not to go to the police. They may not want their kinks publicly known; in some places their own consensual practices may be illegal, and nobody wants police scrutinizing the group.

Survivors also have incentives not to speak up within the community. The BDSM scene in any given city is a pretty small world; if you break friendships or burn bridges at one club, you can’t necessarily join an equivalent new one. Even if there are alternative events, whatever reputation you earn sticks with you, and unfortunately reporting abuse can give you a bad reputation in BDSM-world just as it can in Vanilla-world. People with authority or respect in the community have a lot of power because of the paucity of alternatives, and tend to abuse that power as people in power anywhere do.

Allegations can be very difficult to substantiate. In other contexts, survivors of rape or assault can use any injuries sustained as evidence that the encounter was not consensual; that doesn’t work as well in the BDSM scene. Even witnesses are not always helpful. Most abuse happens in private, but it can happen during a party in plain view and go undetected. Assault doesn’t necessarily look different from consensual play to an outside observer. There are supposed to be “house safewords” or other ways to signal for help from bystanders, but it’s possible to prevent victims from using it by confusing, panicking, or intimidating them.

TLDR: Kinky people are not better or worse than vanilla people, and relationships between people who practice BDSM are not worse or more dangerous than between people who don’t. BDSM communities may or may not be more dangerous than other groups, but are sufficiently dangerous that one ought not to imply otherwise.

ultimateprotagonistnerd
ultimateprotagonistnerd
6 years ago

Apparently somebody in Tennessee has tried to pull something similar at a Mad Max: Fury Road showing. With the added bonus of Pepper Spray and a Hatchet, luckily he was the only one who died. I’m waiting for more information but do you guys think it could have a similar motive to the Lafayette Attack?

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