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‘Why Did You Stop???’ Observe and Report and Denounce

Well, it turns out that the gun-fetish aspect of Observe and Report hasn’t generated nearly as much debate as the so-called date-rape scene. All involved, we’ve read, should be ashamed, and anyone who endorses the film should recalibrate his or her (but presumably his) moral compass.

My moral compass is just fine, but I’ll concede that many of us gravitate to “extreme comedy” — be it South Park or Eastbound and Down or, for that matter, Lolita — to test that compass and permit it for a time to go haywire. We do so precisely because it is reckless and socially irresponsible, but we (and when I say “we” I exclude sociopaths, as I always do, because art can be dangerous, and just because John Hinckley took the wrong lesson from Taxi Driver doesn’t mean that Taxi Driver wasn’t a great and vital work) don’t conclude that we have license to imitate vile behavior in life.

Some mitigating elements of the scene in question (spoilers to come):

1. These characters are the opposite of role models. Seth Rogen’s Ronnie is certifiable and Anna Faris’s Brandi a zealous lush and druggie who has no qualms about sleeping around.

2. Brandi has consumed superhuman amounts of drugs and alcohol, but this is not, we may infer, unusual. Nor does Ronnie aggressively encourage her to do so.

3. While she is addled in the extreme and would not presumably allow Ronnie to touch her while sober, many of us — men and women — have done things when inebriated that didn’t seem so wise in the morning. Live and learn — or don’t and pay the consequences.

4. Midway through, Ronnie has a pang of conscience and stops grinding away, the cue for writer-director Jody Hill’s explosive reversal: Brandi is not unconscious but at very least semi-conscious and apparently enjoying herself.

If this were real life, would Ronnie be a date-rapist? That’s debatable — I say, all in all, no. But I understand that many women are extremely vulnerable in such situations. So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he is. Because we laugh and gasp at what follows, does that mean we approve? Having seen Ronnie’s actions in a movie, do we now believe that date rape should not be prosecuted — that it is just harmless fun?

Although I have never had such a dilemma in life, usually being the first to pass out, I hope I’d have the decency to walk away from a semi-conscious woman. I hope I also wouldn’t harass a Muslim co-worker, use a Taser on a man who parks next to a loading dock, break into a mall and assault policemen, or triumphantly shoot an unarmed criminal. Although I adore Lolita, I hope I am never tempted to lay a finger on a prepubescent girl. Although I grew up watching The Three Stooges, I shall endeavor never to jam two fingers into someone's eyes or yank anyone by the nose with a ball-pen hammer.

All this might seem crashingly obvious, but at least in this culture it can’t be restated too often that comedy is not safe.

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