Simplistic Thoughts, Simple Minds

Two articles caught my attention today and they just go to show the power of language, the dangers of over-simplifying, and this notion today that in order to be relevant you somehow must be provocative.

Cases in point: The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday and her treatise to explain away the horrific shooting in Isla Vista, Calif. last week. As a movie critic, she's certainly entitled to share her opinions. But she falls woefully short when she attempts to delve into the seriously complex world of mental illness. Inserting herself into a national tragedy ostensibly as eyeball bait is just low.

She takes it upon herself not only to try to explain away the violence, but ascribes blame as well, drawing some bizarre connection to the murderer and filmmakers Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. Huh? Yes, exactly.

Hornaday's puzzling attempts at poetic prose fall apart simply because the equation doesn't work. A+B=C makes sense. She's come up with A+R-6xL= broccoli. She writes that the shooter was fueled by the "sexist double-helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood's DNA." Seriously? Yes, seriously. She goes on to suggest that this murderous rage that killed six and wounded 13 was a product of movies like Neighbors, and that somehow Rogen and Apatow contributed to this beastly crime. Read: "How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always get the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, 'It's not fair. '?" We know the shooter grew up in a Hollywood family, but do we even know at this stage in the investigation if he was a movie-goer?

I've never met Messrs. Rogen and Apatow but I can't think of two less threatening or two more entertaining filmmakers. It sickens me that a film critic, working for an established newspaper like the Post can spew trash like this, masquerading as analysis, but instead coming across as simple, provocative pablum. Rogen and Apatow, justifiably outraged, took to Twitter to share their choice reactions, and Hornaday followed up her original post with a sample of the reactions she's gotten from others, hoping that "the conversation should continue." Please. In her initial post, had she wanted to launch a conversation, then say so, thoughtfully, instead of the verbal carpet bombing she unleashed, which makes so little sense on its face, and even less so when you dig a little deeper.

It borders on the outrageous to attempt to explain away such awfulness by resting blame at Hollywood's doorstep, and speaks to the simpler truth of, "We need explanation. We need blame. We need to make sense of the senseless. We need a patsy." And look, Hornaday seems to have found one. Maybe he was allergic to Gluten? That's de rigueur. Twinkies? Meth? Lax gun laws? Boredom? Pick one. Take a stand and claim "conversation." Provoke. Simple.

Let me take a whack at simple: Boiling the complexities of mental health and senseless violence down to Hollywood is an affront. Her piece is silly, the premise a waste, the conclusion a farce. Nonsense.

To another example today that is actually even more embarrassing: Toure Neblett, who bills himself simply as "Toure," calls himself an American writer and cultural critic, and he's featured prominently on MSNBC as co-host of "The Cycle." Now, full disclosure: I used to work for a sister network of MSNBC while I was at CNBC, and oh, yeah, I'm white and I'm Jewish. Those last disclosures are important given the context of the shockingly ignorant tweet from Toure over the weekend.

Background: Someone tweeted that their family "survived a concentration camp, came to the US with nothing, LEGALLY, and made it work." Toure's response: "The power of whiteness." Wow. Hooray for simple! Hurrah for stupid.

How foolish. And how utterly stunning from a guy who bills himself as a "cultural critic." That whiteness sure helped those 6 million Jews in Eastern Europe overcome prejudice, mass murder and near extinction. That "whiteness" sure has helped since with hate crimes and prejudice still a part of global life for Jews. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center is all over the wires today talking about how anti-semitic Toure's statement was, how we have seen these jealous roots before, the pure hyperbolic fiction that somehow "Jews made it because they're white and Jews". Again, simplification from Toure's terribly simple mind.

We're seeing this more and more: There's a provocative quotient on cable news and on parts of the blogosphere today the likes of which we've never seen before. Anger, provocation, attitude, negativity, simplicity. Not everywhere, certainly, but in a crowded media marketplace, notoriety matters: No quicker path to notoriety than being simple and outrageous, I suppose. And that's simply, deeply, truly unfortunate.

I love free-wheeling discussions, spirited, informed debate, and I value perspective, differing opinions and thought-provoking conversations. But here are just two examples -- not the only, but merely the latest -- of simple minds spewing simple, outrageous thoughts for the sake of making noise. Nothing intelligent, nothing valuable, nothing additive to an informed conversation. Just dumb. Two people who should have known better, flopping around in the gutter of stupidity saying "Look at me! Look at me!" Let's do them all a favor and start looking the other way.