The Guns In America Symposium : First Shot
This past weekend I went to see The Hobbit with my family. We went to one of those large multiplex chains – the kind that has hit movies like The Hobbit playing on four or five of its twenty-five screens. For those of you that only see films at art house venues, one of the interesting multiplex marketing developments over the past decade or so has been the introduction of high-budget product advertisements shown alongside the coming attraction previews. These are always “feel good” ads for companies that have the coin to drop seven or eight figures into a sixty-second advertisement that will be seen be a relatively small but captive audience. (Most of the ones I’ve seen have been for Coke.)
The commercial shown prior to The Hobbit was for the Dodge Ram truck; it was made to be a movie tie-in with the upcoming Die Hard movie. I have tried in vain to find a video of the ad on the web, so you’ll have to make due with my written description: It’s essentially about a minute and a half of clips of Bruce Willis shooting very large, very loud guns at terrorists while yelling at the top of his lungs – with shots of a Dodge Ram happily driving down a road spliced in between each clip. That’s really all there is: Bruce shooting a gun while yelling, truck driving, Bruce shooting a different gun while yelling, truck driving, over and over for about ninety seconds. Then, the words: Dodge. Ram. Guts. Glory. The ad has nothing to do with Dodge, trucks, or any variety of big-horned sheep. It is, rather, an ad with a message made to appeal to our American reptilian brains, and that message is this:
Wasting bad guys with big, loud guns is fuckin’ awesome. Buy our truck.
Only in America…
Today marks the beginning of our January symposium, Guns In America. Over the next several days we’ll be posting writings from League contributors, readers, and other bloggers on America’s unique relationship with firearms. Submissions continue to come in, but the posts we have so far include such diverse topics as hunting and family traditions, being the victim of a gun-related crime, arguments for a strong and arguments for a weak second amendment, a historical look at the Supreme Court’s take on gun rights, the relationship between gun violence and the welfare state, the different ways we choose to tell stories about guns, as well as how guns play out in our popular media – including video games.
The specter that hovers over all of these posts is, of course, the horrific tragedy that took place last month in Newton, Connecticut.
Tragic shootings seem to be an irregular but permanent part of American culture, like the occasional blemishing knot that is inevitably woven into any large tapestry. Still, I can’t think of any shooting in my lifetime that evoked the level of pure shock and horror that the Sandy Hook massacre drew from our collective souls. Reading about the victims of other shootings may have touched our hearts; this one ripped those hearts from our very bodies and ripped them to shreds. So terrible was the slaughter that it might well be “game changer” in terms of how we view our cultural relationship with guns. If it isn’t enough to change the game, it’s hard to fathom what we’d have to live through that would be.
The truth is that the League decided to do this symposium hours after we had all been made aware of the Sandy Hook shooting. Our decision to hold off three weeks before starting was quite purposeful. When we looked at shooting massacres in the past, we noticed a pattern: Before the tragedy, no one talked about guns. For a few days after the tragedy, everyone talked about guns – but with emotions running as high as they do after tragedies, no one ever seemed to listen. Within a week or so after the tragedy, discussions around the proper place for guns in our society all but disappeared. We planned the timing for this symposium with the hope of bucking that trend.
Likewise, we very purposefully decided to focus on the bigger picture of guns in America, as opposed to gun violence. The roots of our complicated relationship with firearms run deep, and much of it is quite positive: To many Americans, the ability to own a gun underscores our love of freedom and self reliance. There is a tradition of hunting for both food and sport that reaches throughout our country’s history and diverse sub-cultures. Guns are practically an extension of the bodies of our most enduring and treasured archetypes, the Frontiersman and the Cowboy. (And, let’s be honest: Even those most negative of armed American archetypes – the Outlaw and the Gangster – are both beloved and revered in our culture.)
Politicians are politicians, of course, and as such they tend to paint American gun culture using only the blackest and whitest of palettes. Our desire was to throw open the entire 64-Color Crayola Box and let people from all sides of the discussion have their say. If solutions are too unreachable a star, perhaps in our failed attempt we can at least grasp at a better understanding of one another.
Welcome, then, to the League’s Guns In America symposium. Pull up a chair; read, comment, listen, discuss, grit your teeth, consider, howl at the moon, and maybe – just maybe – enjoy.