The Date Rape Heard Round the World

Sarah Seltzer

The date rape in "Observe and Report" is a natural progression from the "Knocked Up" mentality of sidelining women for dude-induced yuks.

In the "controversial"
film "Observe and Report," which opened this weekend, Seth Rogen’s
character Ronnie takes Anna Faris’s Brandi home after a night of tequila
and recreational anti-depressant consumption. Brandi is stumbling and
half-conscious. The audience at my Saturday afternoon screening grew
audibly uncomfortable as Ronnie began kissing Brandi after she puked
on the lawn.  

But when the screen flashed
to Rogen "pumping
away
" while Brandi
lay on the pillow, vomit on her face and eyes closed to oblivion, a
line was crossed – "sketchy" became "illegal." 

Here’s the oft-circulated response
Rogen (the actor) has to the scene
:

    SETH ROGEN: When we’re
    having sex and she’s unconscious like you can literally feel the audience
    thinking, like, how the fuck are they going to make this okay? Like,
    what can possibly be said or done that I’m not going to walk out of
    the movie theater in the next thirty seconds? . . . And then she says,
    like, the one thing that makes it all okay:

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    BRANDI: "Why are you
    stopping, motherfucker?" 

Some critics, even some feminist
ones
, have said
that this line from Brandi constitutes consent. But such an utterance
can’t absolve Ronnie. The
scene is a clear-cut date rape
.
Even Faris has
gone on the record

acknowledging this (emphasis mine): 

    "When I read the script,
    I thought, ‘Well, this is Warner Bros. This is a studio movie, so
    this is all gonna be softened up. It’s a comedy, right?’ So when
    we were shooting it, even the date-rape scene – or as I refer
    to it, ‘The Tender Love-Making Scene’ – I just thought, ‘We’ll
    shoot it, but it’s not gonna be in the movie. I don’t have to worry
    about that one.’ And yet there it is." 

So there’s a popular movie
out in theaters that plays a date rape for laughs. As Jill at Feministe
wrote, in and of itself, that might not be horrifying
. I’ll jump on the "not a humorless
feminist" bus and argue that in the right hands, nearly anything taboo
can be funny. I adored "The Aristocrats" and worship "Borat." 

But Brandi’s "why are you
stopping?" line and the way Rogen and director Jody Hill have described
it puts the scene firmly in the problematic realm. Instead of showing
the audience how depraved Ronnie is (which is ostensibly the point of
the film and this scene), Brandi’s "funny" line shifts the focus
towards her – a classic "she was asking for it" implication
that makes Ronnie’s actions go from horrifying to a-ok. Brandi is
further victimized by Ronnie later in the film when he angrily smashes
the glass at the makeup counter where she works, and then once again
when, after she’s nearly been attacked by a flasher, calls her out
in public for (willingly) sleeping with his rival.  This is supposed
to be a moment of triumph for him and humor for the audience because
Brandi has been so uncool to him that she deserves it. 

Dana Stevens wonders aloud if
her horror at the film is misplaced
,
and like many comedies, "Observe and Report" functions as a dark
send-up of anxious masculinity. (A bevy of male
critics
have embraced
the film as such,
rape and all
).
Indeed, such a parody does seem to be the film’s goal. Ronnie is objectively
morally repugnant, and the cheers he gets at the film’s end in reward
for a grotesque act of violence are supposed to indict society’s need
for "heroism." The movie wants to implicate its audience and Ronnie
is meant to be revealed as a false hero. 

But the film fails to achieve
its goals in every single way.  Just as Brandi’s characterization
as a slut who craves even non-consensual sex swats away questions about
Ronnie’s culpability during the date rape scene
, the film’s cast of malevolent secondary
characters gives Ronnie free reign to cross every line imaginable including
gratuitous hard drug use, beating up teenagers, indiscriminate shooting,
and harassing people of color. Apparently, they were all asking
for it. 

Ronnie’s journey reveals
little about any psyche permeating our culture. Instead of an outsize
emblem of the tough-cop wannabe, Ronnie is a mentally ill, delusional
person (he is literally a bipolar disorder sufferer who goes off his
medication) who craves violence as a means to self-esteem.  Given
the shooting sprees that have rocked our country recently, it’s just
hard to find that hilarious. 

Amanda
nails the essential problem in her critique of Jody Hill’s first comedy,
the Foot Fist Way:
 

    The satire is over, and
    the whole thing is a nerd’s revenge against evil women and more successful
    men. And even though the movie starts off satirizing the cult of masculinity,
    at the end of the movie, the basic rightness of the cult is upheld. 

This is a problem that permeates
comedies during our current "bromance" era. When I got home from
"Observe and Report," I turned on the TV and caught the sex scene
from Judd Apatow’s "Knocked Up" in which Rogen’s character continually
makes his pregnant partner change positions in bed due to his neurosis
about jolting the fetus. I found this disturbing in the wake of "Observe
and Report" – the woman’s body and needs were secondary to the
man’s paranoia. She was expendable while he was making the audience
crack up. To me, the date rape in "Observe and Report" is a natural
progression from the "Knocked Up" mentality of sidelining women
for dude-induced yuks.

The Seth Rogen archetype appearing
in both films is an apparent loser who within each story’s context
ends up an unlikely good guy. The fact that a slimmed-down, cleaned-up
Rogen is positioning himself as a "leading man" in public reinforces
my feeling that he and his comic posse are not deeply interested in
mocking themselves, but rather using their slacker-dudeliness as a platform
with which to mock everyone else. That’s not a parody of masculinity,
but a classic example of male privilege.

I admit it, my comic tastes
don’t require feminist subversion: I loved the British flick "Hot
Fuzz," which was a graphically violent parody of action films that
had an actual heart. And I long for the halcyon days of the mainstream
"Frat
Pack
" comic vehicle – where
the buffoonish protagonist is billed as a manly hero but inevitably
revealed as the butt of the joke. In contrast, the Rogen-Apatow-type
character who’s dominating the "edgier" blockbuster comedies now
always has to make someone else into a bigger joke than himself, and
often that person is a woman. How subversive. 

"Observe and Report" was
a waste of Anna Faris’s considerable comic gifts, a waste of two hours,
and a wasted effort to critique an aspect of our society that cries
out for a critique. David
Edelstein chastises anxious feminists by saying
"humor isn’t safe."

I’d retort that just because a scene is "unsafe" doesn’t give
it humor.  

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