The Unpopular Truth About Guns

Movies have made guns too cool: We must stop watching glorified violence.

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Photo by Seb on Unsplash

Pandora’s Frankenstien

“People own guns because they’re cool.”

Before you file this statement under “true but unhelpful”, let’s consider why people in America think guns are so cool.

Being a soldier used to be considered cool. Sure, in certain circles military service still earns you cool points. But by and large, teenaged boys and girls preparing to attend classes this fall are not likely fantasizing about a life as career military. They aren’t putting up posters of top military brass in their lockers.

Being a cop used to be cool, too. Some people still think cops are pretty cool, but again, not as popular an image as once it was. It’s not as glamorous as, let’s say, a hedge fund manager. It’s not as appealing as robotics or computer science or digital design. Kids these days.

So too the cowboy, the bully, the womanizing James Bond with the corny one-liners and interchangeable lady loves have joined the ranks of the uncool.

Old movies with soldiers riding around on horseback look more funny than cool today. Some movies made only a decade ago are nearly unwatchable now. Heroes have turned to villains in the fullness of time in movies from Revenge of the Nerds to American Pie. That stuff just isn’t cool anymore.

Stereotypes used to be pretty cool, too, at least according to Hollywood. Walk into any video store from 1985–2001 (and beyond) and you won’t be able to throw a stone without hitting a racial trope, a sexist premise, or the quintessential man thrown into a dress for cheap laughs.

But the times, as Bob Dylan once wrote, are a-changing.

The casting couch, on life support since Harvey Weinstein became the first sordid domino to fall, is officially dead. It was found this morning alongside Jeffery Epstein, unresponsive in a cell, the victim of apparent suicide.

Sexist jokes are over. Gay jokes are over. Racist jokes are way over. Man in a dress jokes are over. Prison rape jokes (never all that funny) and jokes about mental health, are my bet as to the next to go firmly and forever out of style and good riddance.

In the midst of all this reflected virtue, while we all congratulate ourselves on evolving, something glaring continues to go unaddressed. This something is quickly becoming so outsized in our lives that it threatens everything else.

It is endangering the very fabric of community life itself.

Guns.

Guns and violence. Violence and guns. Mass shootings, violent rampages, suicides. Spree killers.

“It’s guns!” From the left. “It’s mental health!” from the right.

But the problem of mass violence, of shootings that can easily kill and injure dozens in 30 seconds, is a symptom of much deeper problems. And with any deeper problem, there is almost never only one cause.

The truth about gun violence in America is probably all of the above: The problem is being driven by high rates of gun ownership and a lack of adequate mental health care in America.

There are likely a few other causes as well; increased alienation in society, online radicalization, violent video games, hotter political rhetoric.

There is also one cause many of us are reluctant to credit. We are reluctant to do so because unlike the rates of gun ownership, mental health care in America, increased individual alienation in society, online radicals, video games and politics, this cause is something each and every one of us can actually do something about right now.

It costs nothing. It takes no time. It takes virtually no effort. Here it is:

Stop watching glorified violence.

I know. I know.

I know what you’re thinking. But deep down, you know I’m right.

Because you know violence in movies and on television has increased exponentially in the past decades. You know it’s worse now. You know.

James Bond is tied naked to a chair and tortured in technicolor. The latest Rambo saw entire village of kids mowed down with machine guns. And that was years ago, before I stopped watching glorified violence.

Today, I understand that we are being treated to yet another loving portrayal of Ted Bundy and are revisiting the Manson murders. Great.

Jennifer Lawrence is subjected to a brutal rape during what is billed as a smart female spy thriller; we didn’t have to watch Angelina Jolie go through that 10-years ago.

There is no more pan away, either. Nothing happens behind a closed door. Once upon a time, the suggestion of violence, the context, the aftermath, was enough to satisfy us.

Not anymore.

Don’t watch the series Penny Dreadful unless you want to watch a baby heart cut out. From Game of Thrones to Westworld to Sabrina the Teenage Witch reboot; violence in entertainment has reached a new high-water mark.

You know it’s true.

Silence of the Lambs was terrifying. The series Hannibal was virtually unwatchable: Murder and cannibalism were almost passé, just a jumping off point.

Why?

Yes, human beings are fascinated by morbidity. Those shows are entertaining. But here’s a question:

How many times can we all watch our movie hero going full-metal jacked with automatic weapons, like some sort of twisted makeover montage, to deal with those needing dealt with, before that archetype becomes cool?

I think you know the answer.

You know that whatever number that is, we’ve reached it. We now have young men who can’t be heroes, but they can be anti-heroes. And anti-heroes think they are the true heroes, anyway.

These disaffected would-be terrorists collect weapons because it’s just so cool; guns are instant power, just like in the movies. We hope more people aren’t planning to use these weapons; we absolutely know that they are.

The leadership of the Khmer Rouge finally faced trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity recently, after so many decades. They are old men now; men who once committed genocide for Pol Pot. What do they say about their crimes?

That is exactly what we see our heroes doing in the movies, in greater and more vivid detail all the time. That is exactly what these deranged mass killers tell themselves when planning their horrible crimes.

“Good guys kill bad guys with big guns, make the world a better place.”

Time for us all to change the channel.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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