Monday, December 17, 2012

On Scarborough, Guns and The Rest...

I really, really, really didn't want to end up having anything to say about the school massacre in Connecticutt beyond "this is terrible and I feel terrible;" but I happened to have the news on this morning and wound up "angry tweeting" about what I was seeing, so now I probably ought to flesh that out a bit.

What I was reacting to was this now-ubiquitious monologue by former Republican congressman turned MSNBC host Joe Scarborough saying that he now feels his earlier positions against any and all gun regulations (he was highly-rated by the NRA, and you don't get that by taking nuanced positions.) I don't doubt the sincerity and emotion behind what he said, and I admire a public person effectively saying "I've been wrong" on a national broadcast in principle. My "issue" was that he subsequently "moves on" from talking about guns (and mental-health access) to talking about "violent" movies, video games, etc... and yeah, I've gotta be that guy who goes "hold up a minute" on that.


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The thing is, I respect that people have emotional "just do something to make me feel less powerless!" reactions to horrible tragedies. I have them myself, and frankly I'm not of the opinion that such reactions are always bad for us - emotion can overwhelm logic, yes, but it can also overwhelm timidity. To cut right to the chase (because I really, really don't want to dwell on this) I'd say that "Fuck this. Enough is enough, we need to finally do something about this country's bullshit approach to gun laws!" is a POSITIVE emotion-driven reaction to this event... whereas "Culture of Violence! Delay the violent movies! Ban the violent video-games!" is decidedly NOT.

I'm aware that this opens me up to accusations of "hypocrisy," i.e. "Oh, so the stuff YOU don't care about can get banned, but leave the stuff you LIKE alone?;" but quite frankly the equivalency just isn't there as far as I'm concerned.

As I've said before, my politics are 99% pragmatic - I don't have some all-or-nothing "ideal" when it comes to things like regulation, I simply hold that things should be regulated to the degree that they require it. While I'm in favor of so-called "gun-rights" - and really, truly HATE seeing good, responsible firearm-owners among my friends (of which there are many) being demonized along with the genuine "gun nuts" in these instances - the fact is guns are incredibly dangerous and their sole purpose is to be lethal; so, YES - they should be subject to regulations and much greater regulations than they currently are. "Banned?" No. But controlled, monitored, tracked, limited, restricted, etc? Absolutely.

However, when it comes to "violent" media, the "requires regulation" part is simply nowhere close to comparable. "Violent" movies and video games are NOT designed to be lethal or to inflict harm, they are NOT in and of themselves dangerous. Furthermore, there has never been a provable, direct, cause-and-effect link between watching violent movies or playing violent video games and actual acts of violence. With guns there IS because what guns ARE is a tool for lethal force.

Yes, it can't just be about gun laws. There is a broader conversation that needs to be had, both about access to mental health care and the "culture of violence;" but art, music, movies, games etc. do not have a prominent or even noteworthy place IN that conversation - rather, they serve as a distraction (and, as is often the case, a diversion) from the real issues. The "culture of violence" in America is a real, serious problem, but the "culture of violence" is NOT Call of Duty, "Django Unchained," etc. America's Culture of Violence is the culture of a vague yet potent sense of existential, media-driven panic: "SOMETHING is coming to get me and I require a military-grade arsenal with no background check, waiting period or meaningful limitation of any kind to protect myself from... well, I don't know what from but FoxNews, talk-radio and Infowars SWEAR they're on the way and if you say otherwise you're one of them and that's why you want to take my guns away!" 
Are you kidding me?

Put another way? America's Culture of Violence is that the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle that the CT shooter used to kill 20 kindergarteners is marketed with the catchphrase: "CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED."

So yes, let's finally have a real discussion about the place of guns and the relevance of Second Ammendment absolutism in the 21st Century. Let's have more discussion of how we treat (in every sense of the word) mental illness. But let's NOT be distracted or diverted by the notion that movies, art, music, games or any other creative works belong "on the table" or even in the discussion. Because they do not.