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New Seth Rogen Film Forces the Question: Is Date Rape Funny?

American culture is truly in a sorry state when a news organization feels the need to explore the question of whether a date rape scene in a movie is funny or offensive.

 

ABC News did just that in an April 14 article about “Observe and Report,” the latest movie starring Seth Rogen, an actor best known for his roles in Judd Apatow movies such as “Knocked Up.” Writer Luchina Fisher's Headline asked, “'Observe and Report's' Date Rape Scene: Funny or Offensive?”

 

Rogen plays Ronnie, a shopping mall security guard with delusions of grandeur, who makes it his mission to catch a repeat flasher after he exposed himself to Brandi, a cosmetics saleswoman played by actress Anna Faris and the object of Ronnie's affection.

 

After a date in which Brandi chased prescription drugs with shots of tequila, audiences see Ronnie helping a stumbling, vomiting Brandi into her house. The next scene shows Ronnie writhing on top of a passed-out Brandi. Ronnie stops for a second and Brandi groggily says, “Did I tell you to stop, motherf---er?” Ronnie then continues his activity.

 

To be fair, ABC's Fisher gave marginally more weight to people who found the scene offensive, such as rape survivor and educator Jennifer Storm who argued, “It's a date rape scene, no ifs, ands and buts. If you mumble an acknowledgement while blacked out, that is not informed consent.”

 

Rogen defended the scene as “funny” to the Washington City Paper on April 8:

 

When we're having sex and she's unconscious like you can literally feel the audience thinking like, how the f--- 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.”

 

Faris however, acknowledged her own discomfort with the scene. She told New York Magazine, “It kind of gives you pause. It's like date rape. Like, hmmm, that's funny, uh right?” She went on to say, “When the scene was shot, I was lying there thinking, 'This is wrong on so many levels. There is no way Warner Bros. is going to keep this in.'”

 

Movie critics apparently took their cues from Rogen and have failed to muster much outrage over the scene.

 

TIME Magazine's Richard Corliss said:

 It's clear that Ronnie, no babe magnet, will take what he can get on this night of nights, even if it's not quite the exalted ecstasy he had hoped for; and that Brandi, who'd been in this position once or twice before, wants the sexual exercise, even if she's not awake to take an active role in it – somewhere in her stupor, she's feeling a rote rumble of pleasure…that minute or so is the finest thing in “Observe and Report.” 

 

The New York Times indicated that retroactive consent is still consent. On April 2, David Itzkoff wrote, “In another scene he [Ronnie] forces himself on a makeup-counter saleswoaman (Anna Faris) after a date of heavy drinking and drug use. (Before the scene is over she indicates that she had given her consent.)” Manohla Dargis wrote on April 10

What follows next should have been the shock of the movie: a cut to Ronnie having vigorous sex with Brandi who, from her closed eyes, slack body and the vomit trailing from her mouth to her pillow, appears to have passed out. But before the words “date rape” can form in your head, she rouses herself long enough to command Ronnie to keep going.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The best, riskiest bit in “Observe and Report” involves Faris, with wee vomitous spillage drying on the pillow by her slack jaw, underneath Rogen, who cannot believe the dolt of his fondest desires is trashed enough to give him a toss.”

 

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore briefly mentioned, “Audiences expecting sensitive treatment of sexual assault should look elsewhere.”

 

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote in a blog post that Ronnie does commit date rape but he still defends the scene as “the bipolar Ronnie is acting totally in character. Consent or no consent wouldn't faze Ronnie, who has completely lost touch with his moral center, if her ever had one.” He concludes, “the movie isn't condoning Ronnie's actions.”

 

No, the movie isn't condoning date rape. It's just asking audiences to laugh at it.

 

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek summed up the “comedy” of the situation with:

 

The intended point of hilarity here must be that what Ronnie is doing is almost date rape, but phew! not quite. Brandi knows what he's doing, and she's OK with it -- because she's really just sort of a sleazy girl to begin with, right? Even if you just write the gag off as a sick joke, it's no fun to see Anna Faris used this way.

 

Storm told ABC, “(The reaction to the film) is clearly indicative of a much larger problem and why these cases are hardest to prosecute and sell to a jury. There seems to be a consensus of confusion about what is rape.”

 

That's the problem with the “Observe and Report” scene. Director Jody Hill, Rogen and Faris are desensitizing moviegoers to the very idea of date rape, an act that in real life has serious repercussions.

 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.