September 6, 2022 - 1:47pm

Sometimes working on a story highlights the distance between myself and other people, when each additional detail requires an explanation longer than the story itself. It reveals how far I’ve retreated into my own echo chamber. Other times, however, the chasm is explained by the simple fact that the “other people” are indefensibly clueless. Such is the case with the actor/director Olivia Wilde. 

On the press junket for her scandal-ridden sophomore effort, the unfortunately-titled Don’t Worry Darling, Wilde made a series of bizarre assertions about the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson.

In what appears to be an ill-advised attempt to infuse her drab, insignificant costume drama with some cultural relevance, Wilde revealed that the “inspiration” for the lead character, “Frank,” was “this insane man, Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community.” 

She then explained just what that was: a “community of disenfranchised, mostly white men, who believe they are entitled to sex from women.” She continued: 

This guy Jordan Peterson is someone that legitimises certain aspects of [the incels] movement because he’s a former professor, he’s an author, he wears a suit, so they feel like this is a real philosophy that should be taken seriously.
- Olivia Wilde

Now. It’s one thing to be an out-of-touch Hollywood dilettante who hasn’t read anything not published on the goop website. But to be ignorant about the real-life “inspiration” for the lead character in one’s own film is both lazy and short-sighted. 

Jordan Peterson’s singular intellect is worthy of admiration even by detractors, and his cultural influence is undeniable. In bestselling books, charting podcasts, and consistently sold-out lectures, Peterson wrestles with timeworn questions about man’s quest for meaning and the role of responsibility in today’s society. He may get it wrong sometimes, but the eager consumption of his content by the general public reveals a tremendous appetite for intellectual engagement that I find heartening. 

Peterson himself seemed appropriately amused by Wilde’s comment, and playfully responded by saying that he was flattered to be portrayed by Chris Pine. He has also in the past been rather dismissive of incels — to whom he once referred as “useless men”. 

This is harsh and a little unfair: most incels suffer from a variety of mental health conditions that interfere with social functioning, like autism spectrum disorder, depression and anxiety. An overwhelming majority have experienced bullying and suffer from PTSD, and over half have sought treatment but found it ineffective. They feel invisible, unwanted, and alone. 

Wilde’s description of the incel community as “mostly white” is also plain wrong. In fact, according to one survey, only 55% of incels are white men, but what most share in common is a yearning for connection more than sex. Maybe the loathsome, entitled white men here are actually the flat, unexamined characters in Wilde’s film.

Whether the director actually believes these things is beside the point. Her intention is to signal that her art is socially conscious and woke; her film isn’t just a derivative murder story set in the 50s but a statement about anti-feminism in neo-reactionary cultural movements. 

But a proper artist should love and intimately know their characters, and embrace them with empathy. Olivia Wilde has made an entire movie about this “insane man”, so why wouldn’t she have the faintest curiosity, or a modicum of respect for him? If the entire film is this shallow, arrogant, and unoriginal, I’m going to wait until it’s streaming somewhere for free to find out.     

Naama Kates is a writer, producer, and creator of the “Incel” podcast.