It’s hard to write about hating Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and thinking it’s bad for the world without sounding old and like a scold (or worst of all, like an old scold!). And that’s why I’m late in writing about it, frankly. But I did hate it, and I do think it’s bad for the world.
I don’t know whether I’ve reached a personal breaking point with hipster sexism — to steal both the phrasing and the politics of Racialicious cofounder Carmen Van Kerckhove’s 2006 “hipster racism” coinage — or whether its manifestations have become objectively more repulsive. Looking at the evening of the Academy Awards alone: host Seth MacFarlane used the Oscars stage as a seething, misogynistic platform; later in the night, The Onion called 9-year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis “a cunt” in a tweet. I guess I should be happy that The Onion and MacFarlane got slammed for those things; the grotesque Spring Breakers got a rave review in The New York Times. This for a movie that literally has the same perspective as Joe Francis’ Girls Gone Wild videos, and that perspective is: I saw your boobs.
I had a pit in my stomach as I watched Spring Breakers: It’s about horrible people doing awful things, I was afraid the entire time one of the girls would get raped, and it ends with young people in masks committing a massacre with guns. People who have decided to trust that Korine is satirizing sex, violence, crime, gun culture, race, Christian youth groups, Sapphic displays, and alcohol/drug binges are fooling themselves. As always, he shocks just to shock — I refer you to Gummo’s cat-killing scenes, its prostitute with Down syndrome, and, well, all of Gummo for evidence. If Spring Breakers’ flatly delivered “pretend it’s a video game, act like you’re in a movie” mantra is meant to be a wink inside a message wrapped in a shawl of irony, then it should have been better written. And that goes for the whole screenplay. (As John Podhoretz concluded in his eloquent and hilarious top-to-bottom trashing of Spring Breakers in Commentary, “Korine didn’t really bother to write a screenplay for this movie.”)
It’s not like I think you’re a bad person if you liked Spring Breakers. I just think that the next time there’s a school shooting, you should think about how hilarious you thought the (incredibly racist) climactic scene is — and I simultaneously wonder if what you picture happening to the girl who was gang raped in Steubenville looks anything like the scene during which Cotty is partying with a bunch of guys who really seem to want to do her harm. (The miracle of that sequence being that she ends up fine and in control of the situation.) Cotty, of course, is the character played by Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife: Sorry, but only a monster would shoot his wife in a scene like that. Disgusting.
To be clear, I’m not drawing a causal relationship between violence in entertainment and real-life violence. But I do think that there are things that are no longer funny or cool to see, and all the bright colors in the world can’t hide Spring Breakers’ ugly misogyny. And I think there is a clear link between women’s representation in media and how women are treated in the real world — the porn-i-fi-cation of culture is real, whether you think that’s liberating or horrifying. So let’s shut the door forever on all of these horrors, both large and small: the Terry Richardson aesthetic, the slut-shaming of Taylor Swift, Judd Apatow’s women-as-shrews view, and Daniel Tosh rape jokes (and 2 Broke Girls rape jokes too).
Until then, next time I will trust my instincts and not even see a movie like Spring Breakers that makes me want to move to the Arctic Circle and bury myself and my family under ice; in the meantime, you can find me on the couch watching Gilmore Girls reruns instead.