Gun control, gun control, gun control. In spite of this holiday season, I’ve heard the phrase “gun control” more than “peace on earth.” As an educator in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there would be few better presents for me than a national ban on assault weapons, body armor and high volume magazines. Yet I have to admit that while a national ban would be a tremendous political gift, I don’t see it as a watershed solution to our culture of violence. The discourse of gun control must quickly transition towards peace if we want substantive change.
So excuse me as I start my soliloquy with a brief commentary on Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained. Django is a spaghetti western that some people are calling a Southern because it’s also a slave narrative set two years before the Civil War in the Deep South. But, like most Westerns, the movie features nomadic gunfighters on a moral quest to deliver justice and order by rescuing good from the clutches of evil. Westerns are certainly one of the most American of genres, and consequently they embody visions of how we see ourselves. John Wayne, the Lone Ranger and Clint Eastwood are more than movie stars; they are American icons because of their roles in Westerns.
Django is a quintessential American character that just happens to be enslaved. His slave status accentuates how limited we’ve portrayed our American heroes. The master of pulp, Tarantino finds ways to expose the real cheekiness of American culture. In the case of Django, there is nothing more illogical, violent and even silly than racism and the institution of slavery. Likewise there should be nothing more heroic than the formerly enslaved killing off their white oppressors and riding off in the sunset.
What is fascinating about Tarantino and his fetish for violence is that he reveals our cultural wants and desires. Tarantino sees our national mores so well because he wears so much of his own on his sleeve. In the United States, to make things right you’ve got to get even. Getting even means blowing someone’s head off.
After one of the most unspeakable acts of mass murder and gun violence ever committed on American soil, the following days saw gun sales go up. Critiquing Tarantino for having too much gun violence is the national pot calling the kettle black.
Just as I paid for and enjoyed Django, we morbidly cheer when someone gets even using violence. As Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, eye for an eye forms of justice leaves everybody blind. In one of the final scenes after Django exacts revenge, his antagonist Stephen, played by Samuel Jackson screams, “You’re going to be the one who’s on those wanted posters.” The cycle of getting even never ends.
I don’t agree with most of the National Riffle Association’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre. But, I don’t think removing weapons of war is the ultimate answer either. America’s gun culture goes well beyond the NRA.
Gun control is a feature that presents our flawed sense of heroism like a Tarantino film. We’ll line up for that show. As for peace; well, peace is a character actor that just doesn’t seem to interest us.