Site icon Joanna Campbell Slan

Guns, Culture, and the American Way

Culture involves at least three components: what people think, what they do, and the material products they produce. Thus, mental processes, beliefs, knowledge, and values are parts of culture. Culture also has several properties: it is shared, learned, symbolic, transmitted cross generationally, adaptive, and integrated.
   —  John H. Bodley, Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System, 3rd ed. 1999
I would add that culture is also about what we value and what we find acceptable. Somehow, our national culture has decided that violence is an acceptable way to settle a dispute.
About ten years ago, my son Michael and I were watching a movie together. It’s called The Valet, and it used subtitles because it was a French film. The story involves a car parker, a valet, who falls for a pretty young thing who is beholden to an older, wealthy man.

At the dramatic high point, the valet storms up to the older man as he sits in his expensive car. The old guy (OG) opens the car down and gets out. Now the valet and OG are face-to-face.

“Here it comes,” I said. “Boom. He’s going to whip out his gun and shoot that old man.”
“Yeah,” said Michael. “Make my day.”
He didn’t. The valet yelled at OG, shook a finger in his face, and finally slapped him.
It felt strangely unsatisfying. Later Michael and I talked about it. We could have both sworn that violence would ensue.
Because that’s how we’ve been taught that problems will be “solved.”
So it’s not about the gun. At least, not entirely. The gun is just a means to an end. It’s about our mindset, our willingness to believe that might makes right. That bad guys should die. That the good guy will triumph, even if he has to take another man’s life.
And what does that say about me? About us?

Because I’m also to blame here. I have my characters use guns in my books. That means I am definitely part of the problem!
It says we need to hit the reset button. We need a national commitment to rethink who we are and how we solve problems.
Do you agree?
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