Why we need to say goodbye to gun romance – INTO

This story is part of INTO’s seven-part series, in which we asked strange voices to respond to rising gun crime and the sixth anniversary of the Pulse shooting. We hope these varied perspectives will encourage dialogue and change to end the unnecessary violence that plagues our country.


When the British drama “Happy Valley” aired in 2015, I, along with millions of others, couldn’t get enough. In 2016, Emily Nussbaum praised the show’s second season, explaining that unlike so much art coming out at the time, she found “something original to say about evil”.

The show followed hard-nosed police chief Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) on a hunt to avenge the death of her daughter by suicide – a death she is certain was abetted by her ex-boyfriend. daughter and father of her child, the delightfully despicable Tommy Lee Royce. Over the course of two seasons, Royce kidnaps a girl, nearly sets his son on fire in a houseboat, and brainwashes a woman into doing her nefarious deeds for him while he remains trapped in prison. He’s evil in a broad sense, the kind of character that makes you scream “Kill him!” on TV every five minutes.

But the problem with “Happy Valley” is the same thing that makes it a great series to start with: it can’t “just kill” Royce, because cops in the UK don’t have guns. So when Royce goes on a rampage setting boats on fire and threatening the lives of everyone around him, Cawood has to get creative, almost ridiculously. It doesn’t take long to realize that if anyone tried to remake “Happy Valley” as an American show, the drama would be over in five minutes. Cawood would shoot Royce, and that would be the end of it. Maybe that’s the kind of ending we want: but if it is, it’s because we’ve been conditioned to want it.

In the two weeks since the Uvalde shooting, I have thought about this country’s relationship to the use of firearms. Not just in terms of statistics or gun laws, but our relationship to the history of gun use. What guns really mean in this country. For many, a gun represents protection. To others, they mean freedom, regardless that the Second Amendment was never written with AK-47s or other mass-shooting weapons in mind. For most of us, however, the meaning of guns is surprisingly clear, regardless of our political affiliations: if you’re American, you probably think guns are the end of the story.

It is very wanted. In any cowboy movie, thriller, detective show, film noir or action movie, the scene ends with a gunshot. A gun is the thing that kills the “bad guy”, it’s what ends the car chase. It’s what assures the person who’s been bullied, pestered, or gassed for the entire movie that the nightmare is over. They are safe now, as their tormentor has been killed, usually with a gun.

There’s something so satisfying about on-screen gun deaths. There can be no real ambiguity about them. Consider Adrian Lyne’s Seminal Final Sequence Fatal attraction. Michael Douglas retaliated against Glenn Close by trying to strangle her, trying to drown her, and trying to snatch the kitchen knife from her hands. She manages to survive it all, returning to battle each time crazier and ready to kill him with her bare hands. It’s not until Douglas’ cheated wife shows up with a gun that the action ends. It’s an auspicious moment, charged with meaning: the American family can carry on, intact, now that the tantalizing threat of extramarital sex has been killed for good: not by drowning, not by stab wounds, but by a bullet. in the heart . When my father went to see this film at the cinema, my mother was pregnant with me. In the end, he found himself shouting at the screen, “Kill her! Shoot her!”

In any cowboy movie, thriller, detective show, film noir or action movie, the scene ends with a gunshot. A gun is the thing that kills the “bad guy”, it’s what ends the car chase.

It’s a pretty easy feeling to accept when you’re put in the position of encouraging someone to die onscreen over and over again.

We know the shortcut for this so well: it’s in our culture and it’s in our heads. When I visited the UK some time ago I had a conversation about the different relationship with guns in popular culture that made me realize it was an invention specifically American. The person I was talking to explained to me that in England children are discouraged from playing shooting games. If a child imitates a gun with their hand, they are told to stop. It’s a small detail, but it’s so evocative of the difference between their culture and ours. In the UK, the use of firearms is a last resort. It’s not glamorous and it’s not relied on to stop a potentially dangerous situation. In America, even those of us who are staunchly supportive of gun control laws are playing into this uniquely American fantasy of ex machine gun. A part of us even believes that guns are the only way to counter gun violence. Who can forget the season 4 arc of “Bojack Horseman” where journalist Diane Nguyen feels empowered – amid a series of fictional mass shootings around which the citizens of Hollywood can only recite “thoughts and prayers” – after going to the shooting range? She courts controversy by buying her own gun and writing about the empowerment she feels just by having it – until another mass shooting is committed by a woman, forcing the country to finally enforce stricter gun laws. The moral of the story? “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns.”

Right now in America, it’s becoming clear that this country’s hatred of women and its love of guns are roughly equivalent. For a disturbing number of Americans in positions of power, the right to have an abortion is seen as a more deadly and ideologically immoral issue than free access to guns. I am of course not the first to point this out: the two freedoms necessarily dialogue, dealing as they do with life, death and control over the body of others. But the truth is today’s guns do something that nobody imagined they would be able to do when cinema was born and invented all these tropes about the honor and the glory of the American who seizes pistols. They can make death so impersonal, so remote, and so easy, it barely feels like killing.

Guns can make death so impersonal, so remote, and so easy that it barely feels like killing.

Some scholars say that the truly horrifying thing about the First World War – the first truly industrialized war – was not the death toll or the disgusting conditions of trench warfare, but the invention of mustard gas, a substance invented by the Germans that could be sprayed to blister skin, ruin lungs and kill thousands. The best part? You didn’t even have to go near the people you were trying to kill. You didn’t have to face them, risking a moment of human recognition. The A-bomb had the same effect, and raised the same questions: what happens to the human race once we can start mass-killing each other without even looking at each other?

I sometimes wonder about the distance between us and the stories we glorify. No mass shooting is ever Hollywood’s fault, or the video game industry’s fault, or the fault, ultimately, of anyone but the shooter who has taken it upon himself to right a perceived ideological wrong. . But I can’t help but notice the complicity I feel when I watch violence on screen and encourage someone to be shot, killed, punished. There’s a reason I believe some people deserve to be killed: it’s a story in my head, and it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the story of this country, really. For centuries, we thought we were the good guys with guns. We were John Wayne or Gary Cooper, made beautiful in close-up, shooting – literally – for the people we stole this country from.

I guess I just have to wonder why this story is still so romantic to so many people, including myself. Maybe because for so long we’ve been told not to question it. After all, why look too closely at the original sin of your country when it can only engender bad humor?

The time has come, however, to do so. ♦

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