Monday, December 17, 2012


Frank Rich says what a lot of people believe -- that guns are deeply ingrained in our national identity -- although I suspect this may no longer be universally true:
We must acknowledge that guns and violence are not some new "modern" problem subject to a quick fix. We must recognize that they have always been intrinsic to the very idea of America and "freedom" -- enshrined in our Constitution's Second Amendment (however one chooses to read it), romanticized in our glorification of both our revolutionary and frontier past, and a staple of our popular culture not just in this era but every era: from James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer and Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows through The Birth of a Nation, Zane Grey, Stagecoach and The Wild Bunch, gangster movies and gangsta rap, Bonnie and Clyde and Zero Dark Thirty, The Untouchables and The Sopranos.
Does every American see guns as an essential and noble part of our national origin myth, a belief reflected in popular culture? Maybe not. Consider the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll cited by Greg Sargent:
What's really striking is that opposition to stricter gun control is largely driven by white men -- blue collar white men in particular.

By contrast, college educated whites, white women, moderates, and minorities all show majority support for stricter gun laws. These are the emerging pillars of the Democratic coalition.
It's true that Americans have always seemed to see gun freedom as an essential part of what makes us American -- but maybe only blue-collar white males still feel this way. Maybe the rest of us have a different myth of America, one in which the use of guns (to "tame the frontier" and so on) isn't the embodiment of our best selves.

But don't the rest of us enjoy popular culture that romanticizes guns? Scarface? Grand Theft Auto? The more violent strains of hip-hop? Well, maybe it's possible to enjoy this kind of pop culture while seeing its armed heroes as people acting out of grim necessity, not heroism, because they're dealing with a depraved, dystopian world -- the streets, the drug trade, the post-nuclear zombie apocalypse.

We like our action heroes morally ambiguous. We like them to be bad as well as good. So maybe we don't regard their violent acts as the template for a virtuous life. When we try to imagine a better world, it's a world in which that kind of violence is less necessary. Paradise would be a place where you didn't feel the need to "tame the frontier," or kill the rival don, or blow away the zombies.


Victor said...

Paradise, for a lot of us, is a place where people can stay home, and go to movies, and shopping malls, and post offices, and Elementary, and Middle, and High Schools, and College, and Church, and Temple, and other recent places like these killing fields, without having to worry about being collateral damage in some drug or gang war, or have some young white males anxiety and self-hatred, culminating in more bullets being shot than in 20 OK Corrals.

Ten Bears said...

This past weekend I fared opportune to root fpr my alma mata's engagement in crass commercialism to note that amongst the advertised "classics" such as Moby Dick and Grapes of Wrath available on Apple's latest reading device were Louis L'Amour's How the West Was Won.

For those lacking a broader literary background - no diss, I learned how to read reading...L'Amour was the master of the twentieth century dime "western". No where near the caliber of Zane Grey, and... well, just because they made John Wayne movie out of it doesn't make it "classic".

Perhaps, Steve, we should again pick up that dropped conversation we were having about sublinial programing.

Ten Bears said...

Addendum: blogging from a "smart" phone sucks.

Philo Vaihinger said...

FR is old enough to recall from his childhood endless TV rebroadcasts of movies from as far back as the 30s displaying the heroism of American frontier settlers against the Indians, mostly, but also the French (1756) and the Brits (1776 and 1812) and the Mexicans (The Alamo and then the Mexican War).

Yup. White history.

He probably watched countless rebroadcasts of Gunga Din, too.

Pure, unrepentant White Man's Burden stuff from the pen of the author of that very poem, written, as I recall, for TR in commemoration of the US entering upon imperialism with the Spanish-American War and the conquest of the Philippines.

Ordinary Saturday, Sunday, and late night TV fare right into the 60’s.