The Way of the Gun

Mon Oct 28 2002 07:10PM -0600

I watched Bowling for Columbine last night. Although I thought about writing a serious essay about it, the movie pretty much speaks for itself, and one ought to form their own opinion about it anyway. There are also good even-handed reviews on the net, and more critical discussion of it in various forums (fora?).

Instead, I would rather talk erratically about some of the themes the movie mentioned, and I intend to convey only my impressions and some of the disconnected tangential ideas floating through my mind that it inspired.

The simple-minded and the obtuse will simply look at this film as another anti-gun propaganda piece, but any thinking person will see that there is nothing simple about this movie at all. While Moore's agenda definitely resonates with a more liberal viewpoint in general, if you actually think about it, he does not condemn gun ownership at all. There are much deeper causes to our culture of fear and violence, and he only gives his own impressionistic viewpoint.

But, here are some of the things that snagged my mind:

One of things he implicates as an explanation for our violent ways is our pervasive culture of fear. Marilyn Manson points out that this culture of fear and general dissatisfaction with how life is is crucial for the progression of capitalism.

There is also the sad history of slavery, hilariously elucidated in hyper-simplified fashion by a short cartoon in the middle of the film. And it is making me thinking of the ebbing and the flowing of immigrants to this country, a country made up almost entirely of immigrants (except for the very few Native Americans still alive). There has always been a tension between xenophobia and greed (manifest by need for cheap labor).

(As an aside, curiously enough, history always seems to start with the Pilgrims. A former English teacher of mine would have much to say about our Calvinist heritage. Maybe there is this persistent notion that only a small group can be elect. Maybe there is this continuing subconscious belief that just as how most must be damned and only a few can be saved, most must be stricken with poverty while only a few can prosper. Or something like that.)

And then there is imperialism, colonialism, and the short-sighted lunacy of American foreign policy, where sometimes almost simultaneously we are giving money and weapons to the same people that we end up having to kill. Another facile oversimplification would be to simply blame weaponsmakers and their greed (and I can't help but agree with that analysis) but I feel that Moore feels that nothing is ever that simple.

And then there is this interesting dilemma: September 11 casts a shadow within this film, and Moore hints at the subtle erosion of our Constitutional Rights by the current government. While the rabid anti-gun factions would like to simply abridge the 2nd Amendment, is this really the time to be disarming the People, snipers nonwithstanding?

There really is too much for me to even talk semi-intelligently about. Racism, capitalism, imperialism. Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and WWII. Rodney King and the L.A. riots. September 11th. Somehow Moore weaves it all together. They are not necessarily connected things, but there is something about all these topics that need to be explored even further. Why is violence the answer? What exactly do we fear?

I have very little more to contribute to this discussion at this point. In a sense, these things are all abstractions and in the end irrelevant. While Moore may have calculated the effect, he made sure to couch all these abstract academic ideas in terms of Real People. While the film might outline the litany of American Sins and while the film exposes the magnitude of our folly (culminating with the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center) and while the film points out the horrible, horrible things happening in our country and the incredible difficulty of making a difference, because of his commitment to infusing the film with humanity, he manages to give me hope. The underlying message of this film reminds me of my post regarding the 10th anniversary of the L.A. riots. (As an aside, Moore shows a shot of Florence and Normandie, the infamous intersection where it all began.) Yes, there are many horrible problems in this world. Yes, there are really evil people causing these horrible problems. But no solutions can be wrought until the People are together, and everyone is willing to pull their own weight. There is no time for blame, only for fixing things.

One reviewer summarizes the film this way: (I am paraphrasing) The message of this movie is not that guns are evil and they all should be destroyed. The message is that killing innocent people with guns is evil. This is key. If for some reason you can't make yourself understand this and believe this, then you are clearly part of the problem.

My mind is everywhere with this. I will stop right now, and try to gather my thoughts, and perhaps write something more coherent later. (But I probably won't.)

Oh, and check out this interview with Michael Moore

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