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When a major obstacle is removed to our progress, idealist intellectuals like myself rejoice. I was introduced to one such obstacle in the early l970s, when a woman hiding from her abusive husband in our home told us “violence wasn’t the worst part.” Like the millions of other victimized women we have served in the ensuing years, she understood that the prevailing equation of partner abuse with domestic violence has little relation to her lived experience of oppression.
Despite progress in the care and treatment of mental health problems, violence directed at self or others remains high in many parts of the world. Subsequently, there is increasing attention to risk assessment in mental health. But it this doing more harm than good?
In this post, starting again with a few highly-plausible Kantian metaphysical, moral, and political premises, I want to present two new, simple, step-by-step arguments which prove decisively that the ownership and use of firearms (aka guns) and capital punishment (aka the death penalty) are both rationally unjustified and immoral.
Perhaps one of the most politically unpopular truths about violence is that it is young people who are most vulnerable to it, not the elderly or children, but youth. Global estimates from the World Health Organization are that, each year, 200,000 young people are murdered.
Now that the Internet has been with us for over 25 years, what are we to make of all the concerns about how this new medium is affecting us, especially the young digital natives who know more about how to maneuver in this space than most adults?
Although it is true that various novel media platforms have invaded households in the United States, many researchers still focus on the harms that the “old” media of television and movies still have on youth. The effects of advertising on promoting the obesity epidemic highlight how so much of those messages are directed to children and adolescents. Jennifer Harris noted that children ages 2 to 11 get nearly 13 food and beverage ads every day while watching TV, and adolescents get even more. Needless to say, many of these ads promote high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. Beer is still heavily promoted on TV with little concern about who is watching, and sexual messages are rampant across both TV and movie screens. None of this is new, but the fact that these influences remain so dominant today despite the powerful presence of new media is testament enough that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
When it comes to the new media, researchers are more balanced. Sonia Livingston from the UK reported on a massive study done in Europe that found a lot of variation in how countries are dealing with the potential harms on children. But when all was said and done, she concluded that the risks there were no more prevalent than those that kids have confronted in their daily lives offline. What has changed there is the talk about the “risks,” without much delving into whether those risks actually materialize into harms. Many kids are exposed to hurtful content in this new digital space, but many also learned how to cope with them.
2013 E3 – XBOX ONE Killer Instinct B. Uploaded by – EMR -. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
The perhaps most contentious of the new media influences is the emergence of video gaming, either via the Internet or on home consoles. The new DSM-5, which identifies mental disorders for psychiatrists, suggests that these gaming activities can become addictive. Research summarized by Sara Prot and colleagues suggests that about 8% of young people exhibit symptoms of this potential disorder. At the same time, we still don’t know whether gaming leads to the symptoms or is just a manifestation of other problems that would emerge anyway.
Aside from the potential addictive properties of video games, there is considerable concern about games that invite players to shoot and destroy imaginary attackers. Many young men play these violent video games and some of them are actually used by the military to prepare soldiers for battle. One could imagine that a young man with intense resentment toward others could see these games as a release or even worse as practice for potential harmdoing. The rise in school shootings in recent years only adds to the concern. The research reviewed by Prot is quite clear that playing the games can increase aggressive thoughts and behavior in laboratory settings. What remains contentious is how much influence this has on actual violence outside the lab.
On the positive side, other researchers have noted how much good both the old and new media can provide to educators and to health promoters. It is helpful to keep in mind that many of the concerns about the new media may merely reflect the age old wariness that adults have displayed regarding the role of media in their children’s behavior. In a recent review of the effects of Internet use on the brain, Kathryn Mills of University College London pointed out that even Socrates was skeptical of children learning to write because it would reduce their need to develop memory skills. Here again, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Daniel Romer is the Director of the Adolescent Communication and Health Institutes of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. He directs research on the social and cognitive development of adolescents with particular focus on the promotion of mental and behavioral health. His research is currently funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He regularly serves on review panels for NIH and NSF and consults on federal panels regarding media guidelines for coverage of adolescent mental health problems, such as suicide and bullying. He is the author of Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents.
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The theme of the American Society of Criminology meeting this November is “Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression.” The burden of violence and victimization remains markedly unequal. The prevalence rates, risk factors, and consequences of violence are not equally distributed across society. Rather, there are many groups that carry an unequal burden, including groups disadvantaged due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, place of residence, and other factors. Even more problematically, there is an abundance of evidence that there are marked disparities in service access and service quality across sociocultural and socioeconomic groups. Unfortunately, even today this still extends to instances of outright bias and maltreatment, as evidenced by ongoing problems with disproportionate minority contact, harsher sentencing, and barriers to services.
However, there is promising news, because advances in both research and practice are readily attainable. Regarding research, there are a number of steps that can be taken to improve our existing state of knowledge. To give just a few examples, we need much more research on hate crimes and bias motivations for violence. Hate crimes remain one of the most understudied forms of violence. We also need many more efforts to adapt violence prevention and intervention programs for diverse groups. The field has still made surprisingly few efforts to assess whether prevention and intervention programs are equally efficacious for different socioeconomic and sociocultural groups. Even after more than 3 decades of program evaluation, only a handful of such efforts exist. Program developers should pay more systematic attention to ensuring that materials that use diverse images and settings. However, it is also important to note that cultural adaptation means more than just superficial changes in name use or images.
Regarding practice, what is needed is more culturally appropriate approaches. In many cases, this means more flexible approaches and avoiding a “one size fits all” approach to services. Most providers, I believe, have good intentions and are trying to avoid biased interactions, but many of them lack the tools for more culturally appropriate services. One specific tool that can help is called the ‘VIGOR’, for Victim Inventory of Goals, Options, and Risks. It is a safety planning and risk management tool for victims of domestic violence. It is ideally suited for people from disadvantaged groups, because, unlike virtually all other existing safety plans, it has places for social and community issues, financial strain, institutional challenges, and other issues that affect people who experience multiple forms of disadvantage. The safety plan does not just focus on physical violence. The VIGOR has been tested with two highly diverse groups of low-income women, who rated it as better than all safety planning they had received.
The VIGOR also offers a model for how other interventions can be expanded and adapted to consider the intersections of oppression with victimization in an effort to be more responsive to all of the needs of those who have sustained violence. With greater attention to these issues, there is the potential to make a real impact and help reduce the burden of violence and victimization for all members of society.
Dr. Hamby attended an Author Meets Critics session at the ASC annual meeting yesterday morning. The session was chaired by Dr. Claire Renzetti, co-editor of the ‘Oxford Series of Interpersonal Violence’.
I am sure that there are some who still proclaim that psychology’s greatest achievement is buried somewhere in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic papers, whereas others will reject the focus on early childhood memories in favor of present day Skinnerian contingencies of prediction and control. Still others might vote for a self-actualizing, Maslowian humanistic psychology, which has been more recently branded as positive psychology. Having studied in all three of these areas in my lifetime, I have found these models to be hopelessly individualistic and ecologically incomplete.
Regretfully, piecemeal and person-centered approaches have dominated these psychological world views, particularly when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation. For example, our massive investments in prisons has done little to protect us, but rather has stigmatized and victimized a generation of our most vulnerable citizens. Just think, hundreds of thousands of people are locked up for petty, non-violent crimes, often involving drug usage. Being warehoused in total institutions only serves to unwittingly teach prisoners how to become seasoned criminals. When inmates exit these desensitizing settings, they are given one-way tickets back to the networks, associates, and ineffective programs that often further cement hopelessness and demoralization. Formerly incarcerated individuals need safe housing and decent jobs, but are only provided dehumanizing shelters and dead end job training programs. As a consequence, most psychological models perpetuate programs that are expensive, ineffective, and fail to address the social environments that provide so few constructive opportunities or resources.
Our efforts to curb violence have had similarly disappointing outcomes. We know that adolescent violent behavior, for instance, is positively related to factors outside of the adolescent, such as peer behavior, family conflict, and exposure to community violence. Our youth are exposed to media saturated with violence, where negative consequences for aggressive behavior are rarely depicted. The ready availability of guns further fuels an erosion in the social fabric of neighborhoods. A tipping point arrives when schools with the greatest needs are provided the fewest resources and where illegal gang activities provide the best job prospects. And yet our therapeutic models continue to ignore these contextual barriers and risks, and the failure to embrace more preventive frameworks dooms our efforts to control or eradicate crime and violence.
Psychological models that attempt to eliminate deficits and problems for individuals rarely address the causes that contribute to those problems. Such models often only produce cosmetic change that provides, at best, short-term solutions. These interventions are alluring because they promise to solve the most deeply-rooted problems with simple solutions, yet they fail at the most basic levels due to ignoring the “elephant in the room” of racism, neighborhood disintegration, and poverty. Such interventions can render people powerless to overcome their oppression or unable to break out of a cycle of crime or addiction.
Fifty years ago, the field of community psychology emerged out of a comparable crisis in the 1960s, a time of turmoil involving the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Although not well known among the public, community psychology’s vital ecological model provides a far richer framework for solving our nation’s problems than those involving psychoanalytic, behavioral, or positive psychology. This new field offers the powerful message of prevention as an effort to move beyond attempts to treat each affected individual. The field also promotes collaboration, actively involving citizens as true partners in efforts to design and implement community-based interventions. This discipline further rejects simplistic linear cause and effect ways of understanding social problems and instead adopts a more elegant, complex, systems approach that seeks to understand how individuals affect and are influenced by their social environments. In other words, community psychology provides a unique framework from which to examine contextual influences that have been absent from prior models dominated by thinking of problems as resting solely within individuals. As a field, community psychology is a contribution that stirs the imagination by charting a course that can provide structural, comprehensive, and effective solutions to our most pressing problems.
The story of peace is as old as the story of humanity itself, and certainly as old as war. It is a story of progress, often in very difficult circumstances. Historically, peace has often been taken, to imply an absence of overt violence or war between or sometimes within states–in other words, a negative peace. War is often thought to be the natural state of humanity, peace of any sort being fragile and fleeting. I would challenge this view. Peace in its various forms has been by far humanity’s more common experience—as the archaeological, ethnographic, and historic records indicate. Much of history has been relatively peaceful and orderly, while frameworks for security, law, redistribution of resources, and justice have constantly been advancing. Peace has been at the centre of the human experience, and a sophisticated version of peace has become widely accepted in modernity, representing a more positive form of peace.
Peace has been organized domestically within the state, internationally through global organizations and institutions, or transnationally through actors whose ambit covers all of these levels. Peace can be public or private. Peace has often been a hidden phenomenon, subservient to power and interests.
The longer term aspiration for a self-sustaining, positive peace via a process aimed at a comprehensive outcome has rarely been attained, however, even with the combined assistance—in recent times—of international donors, the United Nations, World Bank, military forces, or international NGOs.
Peace is also a rather ambiguous concept. Authoritarian governments and powerful states have, throughout history, had a tendency to impose their version of peace on their own citizens as well as those of other states, as with the Soviet Union’s suppression of dissent amongst its own population and those of its satellite states, such as East Germany or Czechoslovakia. Peace and war may be closely connected, such as when military force is deployed to make peace, as with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 and in Yugoslavia in 1999.
Both George Orwell (1903–50), in his novel 1984, and the French social theorist Michel Foucault (1926–84) noted the dangers of the relationship between war and peace in their well-known aphorisms: ‘peace is war’, ‘war is peace’. Nevertheless, peace is closely associated with a variety of political, social, economic, and cultural struggles against the horrors of war and oppression. Peace activism has normally been based on campaigns for individual and group rights and needs, for material and legal equality between groups, genders, races, and religions, disarmament, and to build international institutions. This has required the construction of local and international associations, networks, and institutions, which coalesced around widely accepted agendas. Peace activism supported internationally organized civil society campaigns against slavery in the 18th century, and for basic human dignity and rights ever since. Various peace movements have struggled for independence and self-determination, or for voting rights and disarmament (most famously perhaps, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).
Ordinary people can, and have often, mobilized for peace in societal terms using peaceful methods of resistance. A wealth of historical and contemporary evidence supports a popular desire for a broad, positive form of peace. Recent research indicates that its development will tend to be hybrid. A hybrid peace framework ultimately must represent a wide range of social practices, identities, as well as indicating the coexistence of different forms of state, and a widely pluralist international community.
This story may or may not be a fairy tale, though there are certainly fairies in it. However, unlike any of his Victorian forebears or most of his contemporaries, Machen manages to achieve, only a few years before the comfortably kitsch flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker, the singular feat of rendering fairies terrifying. With James Hogg’s 'Confessions of a Justified Sinner', Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Thrawn Janet’ and several of M. R. James’s marvellous ghost stories, ‘The White People’ is one of only a handful of literary texts that have genuinely unnerved me.
When the suspect in the attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina was identified, the authorities circulated a photograph of him wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and post-UDIRhodesia.
The symbolism isn't subtle. Like the confederate flag that flies over the South Carolina capitol, these are flags of explicitly white supremacist governments.
Rhodesia plays a particular role within right-wing American militia culture, linking anti-communism and white supremacy. The downfall of white Rhodesia has its own sort of lost cause mythic power not just for avowed white supremacists, but for the paramilitarist wing of gun culture generally.
The power of Rhodesia for paramilitarists is evident throughout the history of Soldier of Fortune magazine, a magazine that in the 1980s especially achieved real prominence. The first issue of SoF was published in the summer of 1975, and its cover story, titled "American Mercenaries in Africa", was publisher Robert K. Brown's tale of his visit to Rhodesia in the spring of 1974. (You can see the whole issue here on Scribd. Warning: There's a gruesome and disturbing picture of a corpse with a head wound accompanying the article.) For Brown's perspective on his time in Rhodesia, see this post at Ammoland.
SoF continued to publish articles on Rhodesia throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s. They also published articles about South Africa. Here's a two-page spread from the August 1985 anniversary issue (click to enlarge):
The introduction to the first article states:
SOF made quite a reputation in the early years of publication for fearless, firsthand reporting from the bloody battlefields of Rhodesia. Our efforts in that ill-fated African nation and our support of the Rhodesian government in operations against communist insurgents gained us two unfortunate, undeserved labels: racists and mercenaries. We are neither. On the other hand, we have never avoided consorting with genuine mercs to insure readers get the look and feel of Third World battlefields.
It's true that anti-communism was the primary ideology of SoF in the 1970s and 1980s and that they would take the side of anyone they considered anti-communist regardless of their race or nationality — they published countless articles supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Karen rebels in Burma (heroes of Rambo 4), and the contras in Nicaragua. (Ronald Reagan, he of the Iran-Contra scandal, supported white Rhodesia even longer than Henry Kissinger, causing them to have their first public disagreement. See Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge pp. 671-673.) But the kind of anti-communism that supported Ian Smith's Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa was an anti-communism that supported white supremacist government.
The second page there begins an article written by a veteran of the South African anti-insurgency campaigns, and it sings the praises of the brutal Koevoet (crowbar) unit in Namibia. Here's a passage from the next page: "It doesn't pay to play insurgency games with Koevoet. SWAPO had felt the force of the crowbar designed to pry them out of Ovamboland."
It's no great mystery why such campaigns would appeal to white supremacist groups, and why white supremacists would use the examples of Rhodesia and South Africa to stoke the fears and passions of their followers.
Consider the Greensboro massacre of November 1979. Tensions between the Communist Workers Party and the Ku Klux Klan led to the Klan and the American Nazi Party killing 5 activists. The neo-Nazi and Klan members accused of the crimes were acquitted. The head of the North Carolina chapter of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of America in 1979 was Harold Covington, who was implicated in the massacre but never faced criminal charges. Covington loved to brag that he'd been a mercenary in Rhodesia, though his brother claimed that wasn't quite accurate:
I suppose he wanted to move someplace where everything was white and bright, so after a yearlong stint at the Nazi Party headquarters, he wound up going to Rhodesia, and he joined the Rhodesian Army. In different blogs and writings, he was always bragging, "Oh, I was a mercenary in Rhodesia and I went out and did all this fighting." But to the best of my knowledge, according to the letters he wrote to my parents, he was a file clerk. He certainly never fired a shot in anger. He started agitating over there, and the [white-led] Ian Smith government said, "We have problems enough without this nutcase," and they bounced him.
The myth of the lost white land of Rhodesia has proved resilient for the paramilitary right. It plays into macho adventure fantasies as well as terror fantasies of black hordes wiping out virtuous white minorities. Rhodesia sits comfortably among the other icons of militia culture, as James William Gibson showed in his 1994 book Warrior Dreams, in which he described a visit to a Soldier of Fortune convention:
All the T-shirts had their poster equivalent, but much else was available, too. John Wayne showed up in poses ranging from his Western classics to The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and The Green Berets (1968). Robocop and Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry decorated many a vendor's stall. An old Rhodesian Army recruiting poster with the invitation "Be a Man Among Men" hung alongside a "combat art" poster showing a helicopter door gunner whose wolf eyes stared out from under his helmet; heavy body armor and twin machine gun mounts hid his mortal flesh. (157-158)
Anti-communism doesn't have much resonance these days, and so the support of Rhodesia or apartheid South Africa can no longer be couched in any terms other than ones of white supremacy — terms that were previously always at least in the shadows. Militarism, machismo, and white supremacy have no objection to hanging out together, and the result of their association is often deadly.
The moral outrage at the actions of Islamic State (IS) is easy to both express and justify. An organisation that engages in immolation, decapitation, crucifixion and brutal corporal punishment; that seemingly deploys children as executioners; that imposes profound restrictions on the life-choices and opportunities of women; and that destroys cultural heritage that predates Islam is despicable. What drives such condemnation is complex and multifaceted, however.
His killer is known, but the police refused to arrest him.
The police said they had no probable cause to arrest the killer, who claimed self-defense.
The killer was a Neighborhood Watch volunteer. He saw a black boy walking in the rain. He called 911. The dispatcher told him not to follow the boy. But he did. He approached him. They wrestled. Witnesses called 911.
Trayvon Martin was armed with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.
A black boy was shot dead in Florida. His killer walks free.
Please note that the theatrical version of Doom Generation was rated R for "strong vicious violence, graphic sexuality, pervasive strong language and some drug use", and I used the unrated version, so if you have a weak stomach for graphic representations of violence, are aghast at the sight of naked bodies, and/or don't like the English language at its most crude and vulgar, you really, really, really shouldn't watch this.
4.5 Stars Back Cover: Being mean ain’t in nobody’s blood. Reckon folks will argue that one until there’s no more moonshine on the mountains. But in Freedom Pen that’s what Sarah the Twerp believes. And soon she and her brother, Billy, are setting out on a courageous summertime adventure to free two pit bull pups [...]
5 Stars Hear My Roar: A Story of Family Violence Author: Gillian Watts; Illustrator: Ben Hodson Publisher: Annick Press 978-1-55451-201-0 No. Pages: 56 Ages: 6-9 .............................. ........................... It’s summer and Mama, Papa, and Orsa Bear are picnicking in the woods. Papa tells Orsa how they used to scare animals into traps by roaring. He challenges [...]
Looking back on my post about "Utopia and the Gun Culture" from January 2011, when Jared Loughner killed and wounded various people in Arizona, I find it still represents my feelings generally. A lot of people have died since then, killed by men with guns. I've already updated that post once before, and I could have done so many more times.
Focusing on guns is not enough. Nothing in isolation is. In addition to calls for better gun control, there have been calls for better mental health services. Certainly, we need better mental health policies, and we need to stop using prisons as our de facto mental institutions, but that's at best vaguely relevant here. Plenty of mass killers wouldn't be caught by even the most intrusive psych nets, and potential killers that were would not necessarily find any treatment helpful. Depending on the scope and nuance of the effort, there could be civil rights violations, false diagnoses, and general panic. (Are you living next door to a potential mass killer? Is your neighbor loud and aggressive? Quiet and introverted? Conspicuously normal? Beware! Better report them to the FBI...)
That said, I expect there are things that could be done, systems that could be improved, creative and useful ideas that could be implemented. I'd actually want to broaden the scope beyond just mental health and toward a strengthening of social services in general. I'm on the board of my local domestic violence/sexual assault crisis center, where demand for our services is up, but we're hurting for resources and have had to curtail and strictly prioritize some of those services. It's a story common among many of our peers not just in the world of anti-violence/abuse programs, but in the nonprofit social service sector as a whole.
What we have is a bit of a gun control problem, a bit more of a social services problem, and a lot of a cultural problem.
Gibson ends a chapter called "Bad Men and Bad Guns: The Symbolic Politics of Gun Control" with these words:
To argue ... that many of these murderers could have been stopped solely by increased gun control is to pretend that the social and political crises of post-Vietnam America never occurred and that the New War did not develop as the major way of overcoming those disasters. Paramilitary culture made military-style rifles desirable, and legislation cannot ban a culture. The gun-control debate was but the worst kind of fetishism, in which focusing on a part of the dreadful reality of the decade — combat weapons — became a substitute for confronting what America had become.
The desire to get rid of all the guns is understandable, but it is useless and counterproductive. 300 million (or more!) guns aren't going away, sales have been strong for at least 10 years, with at least 1 million guns sold legally every month (good luck finding reliable statistics on illegal guns).
Meaningful policy needs to be pragmatic. We've got tons of laws already. Additionally, the utopian desire to get rid of all guns only plays into the paranoid narrative the NRA uses to keep fundraising strong: "The liberals want to take your guns! Send us money to stop them! Meanwhile, stockpile because the liberals always win and they're going to ban all gun sales next week!"
Many people have called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban. I expect the gun manufacturers would be thrilled. First, because it would incite panic buying. Second, because it's primarily based on particular rifles' aesthetics, and the last time the ban was in place, the manufacturers found easy loopholes. So they get the best of all possible worlds: increased demand, which allows them to raise prices on items they've already manufactured, and then relatively easy design changes that don't cost them a whole lot of money and still allow them to sell lots of guns. Indeed, if anything, the ban increases the aura around such weapons, making them even more desireable to would-be killers. The NRA would love it, too, because they would finally be able to pin some actual gun control measures on the Obama administration, and their fundraising would skyrocket. They'd never say it publicly, but the gun industry and the gun lobby might as well stand there just waiting for the assault weapons ban to be renewed, saying, "Go ahead. Make our day."
Probably the most practically effective part of the ban has nothing to do with the guns themselves, but rather how much ammo they can hold before reloading: the magazine capacity limits. Ban all magazines beyond a certain capacity and no matter how scary the gun looks or how light the trigger action is, it's not going to be able to fire lots of bullets. To control guns in the US most effectively may mean controlling not the guns themselves so much as their components and ammunition.
Which brings us to a worthwhile question: What sort of practical gun policies might have prevented what happened in Newtown, Connecticut? The sad, frustrating answer seems to be: maybe none. Even a fantastically perfect system for preventing potentially mentally ill people from buying guns wouldn't have worked: the killer used his mother's guns. She bought them legally. She could, presumably, pass any background check. I'm all for better funding and implementation for the background check system, but let's not pretend it would have done anything in this case.
What about bans on high-capacity magazines? That has more potential. Such magazines would still exist, so the effect of a ban would not be immediate. It would have been entirely possible for the killer's mother to have some high-capacity mags that she'd bought some time before the ban, or bought second-hand. There are hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of such magazines out there. Even a draconian confiscation system wouldn't eradicate all banned magazines; it would create a black market. Still, we know from experience that high-capacity magazine bans do generally cause prices to rise and supply to fall.
Then there are the arguments from the other side of the issue: More guns! If you don't regularly spend your time among the core gun-rights-at-all-costs activists, you might think such a suggestion is a joke. It's not. It's the only direction in which the absolutist philosophy of the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and similar groups can go. And there's a core of a truth-like substance to it: crime rates generally have been falling. (But individual gun ownership may also be falling.) The fundamental problem with the MORE GUNS! argument is that it is based on a wild west mystique that assumes far too much competence among people in crisis moments and ignores how easy it is for mistakes to become deadly when guns are involved. Even if the premises of the argument were reasonable and desireable, it doesn't take a lot of deep thought for the practicalities to show their problems.
That's not to say that people don't successfully defend themselves with guns, or reduce the number of casualties in some situations, or even that the presence of guns does not deter some crimes. In plenty of such situations, though, if everyone were armed, the likelihood of the moment escalating into total, even more deadly chaos would increase. I'm completely in favor of more gun safety training (in a nation of guns, it makes sense for as many people as possible not to freak out when they encounter one), but I don't want to live in a world where everybody feels the need to be armed.
An important point to note, though, is that the current situation didn't just pop up out of nowhere. It was constructed over the course of decades, and the NRA is partly to blame. But they couldn't have done it alone.
There's an insightful post at Talking Points Memo, a letter from a reader who, much like me, grew up in the gun culture. The reader notes the rise in popularity of military-style weaponry since the mid-1980s.
I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends - all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives - for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol - with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements - effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks - e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends - might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”
Some of these people are my friends and acquaintances; indeed, when I inherited a gun shop and got an FFL to sell off the inventory, I sold some of those tactical guns to my friends, the fetishists. I certainly don't think they'll go on a rampage, but I do think they live in an alternate reality — a reality my father was very much part of, where black helicopters fly over the house to spy on us, where conspiracies and threats lurk in every social crevice, and where anybody without a bug-out bag is a moron who will die in the ever-impending apocalypse.
The TPM reader who notes this proposes the change in US culture happened sometime between 1985 and 1995. It's probably a few years earlier, but in general that seems right to me (and fits with the information and argument in Warrior Dreams). It was in the early 1980s that my father started selling fully-automatic machine guns, then moved to primarily military-style semi-automatics after the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act banned the civilian ownership of new machine guns and added a lot of regulation and taxes to existing machine guns, turning them essentially into collectors' items (many cars are cheaper to buy than a legal machine gun these days). Business was very good for a while, and the threat of the assault weapons ban helped sales considerably. When the ban was in place, those guns became even more desirable — much like banned books or banned movies, once somebody says, "No, you can't have that!" then people who never wanted it before suddenly become interested.
I haven't been able to find any reliable statistics on gun sales in the 1980s (good data on gun sales isn't easy to get, for various reasons), but 1984/1985 seems plausible as a critical mass point for the shift in gun culture — conservatives' push within the NRA to shift the organization's tone and political attitude had succeeded*, Reagan was President (the first President endorsed by the NRA), TV shows like The A-Team and Airwolf were popular, G.I. Joe and other military comics were common, various paramilitary books and magazines filled newsstands, and Hollywood had started making movies like Red Dawn and Rambo II.
It would be facile for me to end by pretending I have any easy or immediate solutions. I don't. Perhaps we need some feel-good measures, but I fear they make us think we've accomplished something when we haven't. There's a strong desire right now, it seems, to do something. But symbolic laws and security theatre won't help us.
Here's the final paragraph of Gibson's introduction to Warrior Dreams:
Only at the surface level, then, has paramilitary culture been merely a matter of the "stupid" movies and novels consumed by the great unwashed lower-middle and working classes, or of the murderous actions of a few demented, "deviant" men. In truth, there is nothing superficial or marginal about the New War that has been fought in American popular culture since the 1970s. It is a war about basics: power, sex, race, and alienation. Contrary to the Washington Post review, Rambo was no shallow muscle man but the emblem of a movement that at the very least wanted to reverse the previous twenty years of American history and take back all the symbolic territory that had been lost. The vast proliferation of warrior fantasies represented an attempt to reaffirm the national identity. But it was also a larger volcanic upheaval of archaic myths, an outcropping whose entire structural formation plunges into deep historical, cultural, and psychological territories. These territories have kept us chained to war as a way of life; they have infused individual men, national political and military leaders, and society with a deep attraction to both imaginary and real violence. This terrain must be explored, mapped, and understood if it is ever to be transformed.
In the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. began advancing the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to carry a gun, rather than the people’s right to form armed militias to provide for the common defense. Fights over rights are effective at getting out the vote. Describing gun-safety legislation as an attack on a constitutional right gave conservatives a power at the polls that, at the time, the movement lacked. Opposing gun control was also consistent with a larger anti-regulation, libertarian, and anti-government conservative agenda. In 1975, the N.R.A. created a lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, headed by Harlon Bronson Carter, an award-winning marksman and a former chief of the U.S. Border Control. But then the N.R.A.’s leadership decided to back out of politics and move the organization’s headquarters to Colorado Springs, where a new recreational-shooting facility was to be built. Eighty members of the N.R.A.’s staff, including Carter, were ousted. In 1977, the N.R.A.’s annual meeting, usually held in Washington, was moved to Cincinnati, in protest of the city’s recent gun-control laws. Conservatives within the organization, led by Carter, staged what has come to be called the Cincinnati Revolt. The bylaws were rewritten and the old guard was pushed out. Instead of moving to Colorado, the N.R.A. stayed in D.C., where a new motto was displayed: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.”
As parents, children, and communities struggle to come to terms with the events in Newtown last week, it is important for educators and parents to be aware of just how deeply children can be affected by violence.
Community violence is very different from other sources of trauma that children witness or experience. Most trauma impacts individual students or small groups, whereas the violence that was experienced in Newtown affected the local community and the entire nation. The lack of warning and the unexpected nature of these kinds of events, combined with the seemingly random nature of the attack, contribute to a change in individuals’ personal views of the world, and their ideas about how safe they and their loved ones actually are. The world comes to seem more dangerous, people less trustworthy.
Exposure to trauma can impact several areas of children’s functioning. Teachers may notice that students who have experienced trauma appear to be shut down, bored, and/or hyperactive and impulsive. Interpersonal skills might be impacted, which can lead to social withdrawal, isolation, or overly aggressive behavior. Students might appear confused or easily frustrated. In addition they might have difficulty understanding and following directions, making decisions, and generating ideas or solving problems.
Family members and educators are often at a loss in how to support students following an event such as what happened in Newtown. The following are guidelines on helping students exposed to community violence:
Teachers and family members should attempt to maintain the routines and high expectations of students. This directly communicates to children that they can succeed in the face of traumatic events.
Reinforcing safety is essential following unpredictable violence. Remind children that the school is a safe place and that adults are available to provide assistance.
Do not force children to talk. This can lead to withdrawal and downplaying the impact. A neutral conversation opening can be stated in this way: “You haven’t seemed yourself today. Would you like to share how you are feeling?”
Teachers can model coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, relaxation and demonstrating empathy.
Being flexible is a must following traumatic events. Teachers should allow students to turn in work late or to postpone testing.
Educators should increase communication with parents in order to provide support that recognizes a specific child’s vulnerabilities.
There are several websites that can provide additional information on supporting students who have been exposed to violence. These include:
Robert Hull is an award-winning school psychologist with over 25 years of experience working in some of the most challenging of educational settings, and was for many years the facilitator of school psychology for the Maryland State Department of Education. Currently he teaches at the University of Missouri. He is the co-editor, with Eric Rossen, of Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students: A Guide for School-Based Professionals.
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A while back, the Beat’s own Henry Barajas – tireless observer of Kickstarted comics that he is – took some time to preview a crowd-funded book by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jimmy Broxton, and Juan Santacruz. Sex and Violence, Vol. 1 was laid bare (spread-eagle, perhaps) to its supporters this past week, after reaching its funding goal. The only hurdle yet to cross is for Palmiotti, Gray, and cover artist Amanda Conner to actually sit down and sign the damned things. I was part of the crowd that funded Sex and Violence; I expect I’ll get my copy in the mail any day now. In that copy, and in everyone else’s, too, there will be my name (my government name, my “goes on job applications” name), thanked for helping to finance, well, sex and violence.
I wonder if this bizarre offshoot of buyer’s remorse is common amongst Kickstarter supporters. The thing is, it’s not exactly remorse. It’s more like Schroedinger’s cat, where a funded project exists in a quantum state of being both satisfying and regrettable until you get your copy and find out for yourself. “So, goofus,” the dialogue begins, “why did you throw money at it if you weren’t sure you’d be happy with it?”
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. I like Jimmy Broxton’s art, I guess. Getting an Amanda Conner art print or whatever else is pretty cool. As writers, Palmiotti and Gray have yet to grievously offend me, but then again, I’m not exactly snatching Freedom Fighters off the racks so roughly that the staples kink. It almost, maybe, makes a little more sense when I take the long view and consider the status quo of adult-people comics today.
Joe Casey, agent provocateur, just released a comic called Sex, which I saw praised on Twitter as “the most 2003 comic of 2013.” Brandon Graham’sMultiple Warheads, a book I love without qualifiers, started as a porno gag strip in an NBM anthology. Matt Seneca’s Very Fine Comix debuted with Daredevil 12”, a XXX Marvel comic spoof; Jane Mai just put out Blumpkin Spice Latte, a zine that’s 99% dick talk (with the best title of 2012). Sex is in the air in comics, these days, but it’s kept its edge, sticking mostly to the dim corners or weird vortices of the market.
Violence, of course, is the foundation modern comics were built upon, and the sword that they live and die by to this day. I shouldn’t even need to point out examples, but the “big moments” in the Diamond-distributed scene always revolve around bloody carnage. Think Damian Wayne, freshly skewered. Glenn from The Walking Dead: turned into a piñata. Avatar Press is its own thing entirely. Both Mark Millar and John Romita’s certified hit Kick-Ass and Frank Cho and Joe Keatinge’s upcoming Brutal have promo art that looks jacked straight from the cover of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. DC Comics’ big multimedia tie-in for the quarter isn’t just a fighting game, it’s a fighting game built by the people who make Mortal Kombat.
So in this rough-sex-and-eyeballs-popping milieu, Sex and Violence seemed like a romp. Sure, it was being pitched as tawdry, sleazy, exploitative, and unshakably macho despite itself… but sometimes the grindhouse is the place to be. All of this is very much after-the-fact justification, but it seems to add up. But that just takes us back to Schroedinger’s cat. It could be fun and trashy. If could just be trashy and a little sad. I paid my admission, so the least I can do is find out.
There are two halves to Sex and Violence. You’d think that with the title structured the way it is, this duplex approach would lend itself to a sex story and a violence story. It almost does (one tale is certainly more violent than sexual, and vice versa for the other), but not enough to comment on the idea at any other point in this piece. The book starts with “Pornland, Oregon,” illustrated by Jimmy Broxton. In what starts as a sideways riff on the movie Hardcore, a young woman is made a deep web sensation forevermore by being murdered in a snuff film. As it turns out, in one of those funny coincidences life likes to play, her grandfather is a retired Mafia hitman, and all expected murders and executions follow in due course. The second story, drawn by Juan Santacruz, is “Girl in a Storm,” about a lesbian NYPD officer who becomes obsessed with spying on her beautiful neighbor, and has to deal with the small complication of that neighbor already having a woman to keep her bed warm. Things, as they must, get more sordid from there.
So is it any good? Jimmy Broxton’s minimalist (and very British, in a way I can’t put my finger on) style sells “Pornland” rather well. Abetted by Challenging Studios’ color palette of blue, grey, purple, and what I can only call “various shades of Dave Stewart red,” Broxton makes “Pornland” into something not unlike the crime media of the 70s, when character actors could still look like the bottoms of feet: Get Carter, The Outfit, The Squeeze, some imaginary episode of The Rockford Files with more exposed breasts… In fact, the plot of the thing is pretty much Get Carter with some serial numbers filed off, and things like “a vaguely sympathetic hero” and “romance” bolted on like a new spoiler on a Gremlin. That’s not bad, mind. If you’re going to be something in the avenge-young-relative sub-genre, Get Carter is really what you want to be.
On the other hand, “Girl in a Storm” is just… there. The story strains to be Brian de Palma, which is a noble ambition until you realize that Brian de Palma is usually straining to be other people (in this case, a Sapphic voyeur version of Rear Window) – it’s a well that quickly dries up. Juan Santacruz is a veteran superhero artist, and that’s a downside here. Instead of a claustrophobic, psychologically maladjusted story of obsession, passion, forbidden desire, violence, and all those other things that we pretend not to love, the leggy all-but-baby-oiled figures and brightly-lit colors give the whole thing a plastic shine. The look of the strip – which, in a strip about looking, is really the most important thing on multiple levels – isn’t enough to elevate an uninspired script, and both sides end up worse for it. If “Pornland” is Get Carter, “Girl in a Storm” ends up as a post-depilation-culture take on something like a Christina Lindberg movie, and not one of the really twisted, memorably corpse-mutilating ones like Thriller.
So this is what’s going to have my name tucked away in it, until we’re all dead and beyond. I don’t feel particularly embarrassed about this, I suppose. I probably should, and the sting is probably lessened by my name being so generic as to sound like an ethnic take on “John Smith.” Only half of Sex and Violence is really any fun – a statement more true than I intended it to be when I typed it – and I overpaid, based on that math. It’s not egregiously offensive (by comic book standards) and it’s not a work of genius. It just exists, and me with it, twins conjoined at the donation. It’s hard to work up a head of steam one way or the other when both pleasure and disappointment come mild.
LTZ sells comic books, and infrequently contributes to the Beat. He even more infrequently contributes to his own site, Nowhere / No Formats. He tweets about how hard this rigorous schedule is at @less_than_zero.
As I watched yet another body count trend upward in a recent movie, it inspired me to list the top five things that bore me as a viewer/reader. These clichéd and overused tropes are supposed to wow, but leave me snoring. This list applies to fiction as well as movies.
1) Gratuitous sex scenes, aka sex with a stranger.
It’s stupid. Why should I care? The encounter between two people who truly long for each other, who have been kept apart then finally come together, is far more intriguing. Couples who have a history that reunite or make up are more interesting than random rutters.
2) Random violence.
Killing one character I've grown invested in is more compelling than blasting away with an automatic weapon downing characters I don’t know or care about. It's a fact of human nature that genocide in a distant land doesn't register until the battle is brought to a person's front door. The closer the character who dies is to the protagonist, the higher the story stakes. As much as I love cozy mysteries, there's almost a disconnect when it comes to the victims. The best cozy mystery makes me care that the victim died.
It’s a turn off. As much as I appreciate special effects makeup artists, they can use their talents to make cooler effects that don’t involve rolling heads or spurting arteries. In books, I really don’t need paragraphs of gruesome details. I scan past them. Same with torture and battle scenes. They make me cringe. I'm a grown-up. I have experienced loss and pain. I get the drift. The reality that people are bestial and kill each other is disgusting and horrifying enough. We never followed Anne Frank to the concentration camp, but the reality of the horror of that story scarred me for life. Why? Because I grew to know and like her and that made what she went through personal rather than abstract. If you want to impress upon your readers true horror, make it personal.
4) Drawn out panoramic shots.
Whether it’s a prolonged movie clip or endless paragraphs describing the setting in excessive detail, I have a tendency to fast forward or skim read past them. Take a picture; it lasts longer. Have you ever sat through an endless slideshow of someone else's vacation? Make description short and make it count, then move onto the point of the scene. It's even better if the setting has an impact on the scene.
5) Adults or teens that behave like out of control toddlers.
Book or movie, I have no patience with these characters. I wouldn't hang out with them in person. I don't waste page time with them either. If this character is the protagonist, I put the book down and it goes on my discard pile.
What tropes inspire you to flip pages or quit reading?
The struggle for food, water, and shelter are problems commonly associated with the poor. Not as widely addressed is the violence that surrounds poor communities. Corrupt law enforcement, rape, and slavery (to name a few), separate families, destroys homes, ruins lives, and imprisons the poor in their current situations. Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, have experience in the slums, back alleys, and streets where violence is a living, breathing being — and the work to turn those situations around. Delve into the infographic below and learn how solutions like media coverage and business intervention have begun to positively change countries like the Congo, Cambodia, Peru, and Brazil.
Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros are co-authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Gary Haugen is the founder and president of International Justice Mission, a global human rights agency that protects the poor from violence. The largest organization of its kind, IJM has partnered with law enforcement to rescue thousands of victims of violence. Victor Boutros is a federal prosecutor who investigates and tries nationally significant cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, and international human trafficking around the country on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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The common stereotypes about battered women are wrong and not based on up-to-date science. Here are five common myths about battered women and the real truths about the realities and complexities of domestic violence.
Battered women keep domestic violence a secret.
Reality: Countless research studies show that most battered women disclose their partner’s violence to at least one person—about 80% to 90% of victims in many studies. Victims not only tell, they often tell multiple people and agencies. The problem is not that women don’t tell, it is that they do not receive useful help when they do disclose.
Victims just need to call the police.
Reality: Police officers cannot offer a cure-all for domestic violence. Police arrest perpetrators less than half the time when they are called to the scene of domestic violence incidents, according to the most recently available national data. Worse, arrested perpetrators seldom go to jail—approximately five out of six perpetrators arrested for domestic violence never serve any jail time.
Battered women don’t seek professional help.
Reality: Despite the limitations of police and victim services in many communities, battered women seek help at rates that are similar to people facing other problems. Battered women report to the police at rates that are similar to many other crime victims, and also similar to the helpseeking of people with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Battered women just need to leave.
Reality: All sorts of dangers can increase when women try to leave, including separation violence, stalking, and increased homicide risk. Further, custody battles and other risks can, in some ways, pose even greater threats to women’s well-being and that of their children. We all wish that there was a simple solution like walking out, but the reality is far more complex.
Most women need professional help to cope with domestic violence.
Reality: Most women cope with the problem of domestic violence with informal helpseeking. In nationally representative data, it was ten times more common for women to go to a friend or family’s house than to a domestic violence shelter.
If you want to help women who have been victims of domestic violence, listen to their assessments of what is important, respect their values, and help them come up with a plan or seek resources that address all of the complexities and realities of domestic violence.
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Image Credit: Violencia de género. Photo by Concha García Hernández. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
At the Daily Beast, Cliff Schechter has a piece titled "How the NRA Enables Massacres", which, despite some hyperbolic language, is worth reading for the general information, as is his piece on a visit to the recent NRA convention. Schechter isn't reporting anything new, and the pieces are superficial compared to some earlier writings on all this, but it's always worth reminding ourselves that gun massacres in the US are part of a culture that has been carefully manufactured, protected, nurtured, enflamed.
I've written a lot about guns and gun culture here over the past few years. Writing those posts from scratch now, I would change occasional wording in some of them, clarify a few points, etc. (the hazards of writing on the fly), but you could take almost anything I've written previously and apply it to the latest massacre.
The place of hegemonic masculinity in this type of event is especially clear this time, but it's been present before and is a common component to why this sort of thing happens. It's a racialized hegemonic masculinity, too, the deadly scream of the angry white man — a sense of entitlement thwarted. In the book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, Michael Kimmel writes: "As men experience it, masculinity may not be the experience of power. But it is the experience of entitlement to power" (185).
The NRA and the gun manufacturers have become experts at stoking that sense of entitlement and profiting off of it. At every possible moment, the NRA, the manufacturers, and their minions point out as many threats to power as they can imagine, and then they offer their commodities as tools for stabilizing and strengthening that power.
Although several of these paramilitary killers went after former co-workers and bosses, and some even killed their families, most targeted a distinct social group... Thus, Huberty seems to have considered the Latinos at the San Ysidro McDonald's to be Vietnamese. Patrick Purdy was found to have been a white supremacist; his choice of Asian schoolchildren was not an accident. Canadian Marc Lepine shot only women. (237)
Gibson's chapter "Bad Men and Bad Guns: The Symbolic Politics of Gun Control" is useful reading for these conversations, and reminds us of the deep history here. Most importantly, it helps show why so many past efforts have been ineffective (though profitable for both the NRA and the gun control organizations). What would have stopped the mass shootings? he wonders. Most of the proposed and enacted legislation would not have. A more accessible and effective mental health system might have helped in some cases. But:
Most of all, stopping the madmen would have required understanding that they were not isolated "deviants" who simply invented their mayhem out of thin air and looked and acted completely differently from the "ordinary" people in the mainstream of American culture. On the contrary, in their killings they gave expression to some of the most basic cultural dynamics of the decade — in the face of either real or imaginary problems, declare an enemy responsible and go to war....
To argue, then, that many of these murderers could have been stopped solely by increased gun control is to pretend that the social and political crises of post-Vietnam America never occurred and that the New War did not develop as the major way of overcoming those disasters. Paramilitary culture made military-style rifles desirable, and legislation cannot ban a culture. The gun-control debate was but the worst kind of fetishism, in which focusing on a part of the dreadful reality of the decade — combat weapons — became a substitute for confronting what America had become. (263-264)
A year after Gibson's book was published, Timothy McVeigh drove to Oklahoma City and showed exactly what the angry white male paramilitary culture stood for.
Siege imagery pervades and energizes that culture, as demonstrated with the Cliven Bundy affair. One shift it has taken after the end of the Cold War is toward a more general apocalypticism. Instead of yearning for war with the Russians, now the paramilitarists yearn for the breakdown of contemporary society. Like the world's most overzealous Boy Scouts, they are prepared. This is a power fantasy and a religious fantasy: all the "bad" people will be wiped from the Earth, and the "good" people (prepared, armed, ready) will inherit it and thrive. Or something. The details of eschatology don't matter as much as the process of preparation, because that process is a way of reclaiming some sense of power and protecting a feeling of entitlement: I will survive because I deserve to. There's also a sense of revenge in apocalyptic yearning, too: Once the apocalypse comes, you'll no longer be able to laugh at me, dismiss me, devalue me. You'll need me, because I will be ready and you will be miserable.
RICHARD SLOTKIN: We produce the lone killer. That is to say the lone killer is trying to validate himself or herself in terms of the, I would call the historical mythology, of our society, wants to place himself in relation to meaningful events in the past that lead up to the present. BILL MOYERS: You say “or her”, but the fact of the matter is all of these killers lately have been males. RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, yeah, pretty much always are. BILL MOYERS: And most of them white? RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah. Yeah, I think, again this is because each case is different, but the tendency that you've pointed out is true and I've always felt that it has something to do, in many cases, with a sense of lost privilege, that men and white men in the society feel their position to be imperiled and their status called into question. And one way to deal with an attack on your status in our society is to strike out violently.
American gun culture has always been racialized and gendered. From later in the conversation with Slotkin:
RICHARD SLOTKIN: ...And Colt-- one of Colt's original marketing ploys was to market it to slave owners. Here you are, a lone white man, overseer or slave owner, surrounded by black people. Suppose your slaves should rise up against you. Well, if you've got a pair of Colt's pistols in your pocket, you are equal to twelve slaves. And that's “The Equalizer,” that it's not all men are created equal by their nature. It's that I am more equal than others because I've got extra shots in my gun. BILL MOYERS: But you write about something you call “the equalizer fallacy.” RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, the equalizer doesn't produce equality. What it produces is privilege. If I have six shots in my gun and you've got one, I can outvote you by five shots. Any man better armed than his neighbors is a majority of one. And that's the equalizer fallacy. It goes to this notion that the gun is the guarantor of our liberties. We're a nation of laws, laws are the guarantors of our liberties. If your rights depend on your possession of a firearm, then your rights end when you meet somebody with more bullets or who's a better shot or is meaner than you are. BILL MOYERS: And yet the myth holds-- RICHARD SLOTKIN: And yet-- BILL MOYERS: --stronger than the reality? RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, yes, the myth holds. And it is stronger than the reality. Because those guns, particularly the Colt is associated with one of the most active phases and most interesting phases of expansion. And therefore it has the magic of the tool, the gun that won the west, the gun that equalized, the whites and the Indians, the guns that created the American democracy and made equality possible.
The angry white men may be a minority of gun owners, and just one of the audiences for the NRA and the manufacturers, but they are the audience most valued, because they are the people who will keep buying no matter what, the people who will, from fear and anger, amass a hoard of deadly tools. The NRA and the manufacturers have cultivated that audience, have encouraged that fear and anger, and have profited greatly from the murders. We should give no credence to their crocodile tears; every massacre means they can return to their favorite profit lines: Now the liberals and feminists and Obama-lovers will come for your guns. Now you will lose your power. Now you will be robbed of what you deserve. Stock up. Prepare. Defend yourself. Be a man. Ready — aim — fire—
In my current WIP, I want to up the action and make this a physically exciting story. So, I bought a great ebook, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques by Ian Thomas Healy. It’s great, as I said, and breaks down the actions into easy components that can be easily mastered. Even for me, it’s easy.
Healy says that great action scenes put characters into motion and the “effective description of that motion is what makes the difference. . .”
I get that part. But here’s what stumps me: “At its most basic level, an action scene is an expression of plot or character development through violence.”
Violence. As in people hitting each other, shooting at each other, killing each other. Yep. That kind of physical violence.
It’s been a long, long time since I was in a knock-down drag-out fight. That was with my younger brother when I was about 15, and we were fighting about whether the overhead light was on or off while we watched TV. I never had the chance to play football, which is a pure Show-Don’t-Tell version of testosterone. When my daughters played soccer, I cringed when they played tea party on the field: Oh, you have the ball? Well, take your turn and when you are finished, I’ll take my turn. Teaching aggression (much less violence) to young ladies is hard.
Our society trains women to avoid violence. We teach our daughters aggression now on a soccer field, but step off the field and it’s tea party time again. Women writers are at a disadvantage in writing action scenes.
Because Healy says that a great action scene needs violence.
Heck, I can’t even work up a good case of Road Rage.
Motivation. The hardest thing for me is to motivate the characters. I can block out the action and get the characters fighting. I’ve seen enough action movies to be able to do it. (Go watch The Transformers latest movie if you want non-stop violence. Wow. It must take up 75% of that movie.)
But WHY are these characters resorting to violence? (See, even our language makes it hard to use violence: “resort” implies that violence is a last option and the choice to use it is not easy.) Why would the characters use fists, swords, guns or other weapons against someone else? Healy helps with blocking out the sequences of actions and building them into longer sequences. But he says little about the character motivations.
In one sense, this is an escalating of tensions. Almost any motivation would work: revenge, for example, could easily escalate into violence. Two rivals for a fortune in gold could escalate an argument into violence and death. For violence to take place, there’s a line that needs to be crossed. Polite society demands that people restrain themselves, and that self-control must break for your characters, shoving them into a no-holds-barred action. Violence. It’s an escalation and it’s a letting go of social restraints. It’s a willingness to take action and a determination to get something done—no matter what.
Sounds like a good way to increase the tension and stakes in a story. Yes, often action stories are physical stories, without much in the way of characterization. You’ve heard it said that you either write an action story or you write a character story. A cross-pollination though, could create an intriguing mix. This time, I’m shooting for a story with better balance between action and character.
Cinematic. In some ways, this mix will be more cinematic. The sights and sounds of the action are crucial to the success of the scene. And yes, as I am writing, I am trying to visualize the actions in my head; I’m trying to see it as if it is on the big screen. Healy’s title is right on, violence—action scenes—are cinematic.
Thanks to Healy’s advice, I am making lists of what he calls “stunts,” or isolated pieces of actions, that will build into “engagements,” or movement across a setting, which will ultimately build toward some climactic “resolution.” I am taking baby steps in building a chapter with interesting action, um, violence.
Look out. I’m strapping on my boxing gloves, er, getting ready to type the next chapter of this new action-adventure story.