“He’s so cool. He carries a gun to school,” the lyrics blared from my earphones, as I was reading an article about how a famous rapper named Young Jeezy, was arrested last Sunday, for allegedly owning illegal firearms. Sadly, this was not the first time I had encountered the endorsement of guns and gun violence by pop culture. It is rampant in the American media and seems to weave its way through the cultural landscape into our daily lives via video games, Hollywood movies and even the music we listen to everyday.
Honestly, I am yet to hear about an incident where someone listens to a track about Glocks and Uzis and goes on a shooting rampage right after; hence I am not suggesting that the portrayal of weapons in the media is directly to blame for the innumerous gun related crimes that take place in the States. However, I do believe that the glorification of guns is fueling an ideation that is already present. In a recent study on teens, sexuality and popular culture published in Jamaica, the researcher demonstrated that teens who were more exposed to popular culture and media, were more likely to act out what they observed. The likelihood of performing the behavior seen was directly proportional to increased time engaged with these media, for example the video game Grand Theft Auto (Bethell-Bennett, 2013). This brings me to the topic of Westerns, where the only way to overcome the villains would be through violence, ‘and in the process give us precisely the kind of vicarious release we came here for in the first place: not just the violence, but the violence justified’ (Pevere, 2012). This is also exactly the approach gun advocates take to argue against gun control legislations because ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ (Pevere, 2012).
Moreover, the manliness of owning firearms, as depicted in the media, is also alarming. What these forms of popular culture tell men is that gun ownership is normal and guns are an extension of one’s personality. While some might argue that the illustrations are based on facts, since men are three times more likely to own guns than women (according to a Pew Research Center survey), the subliminal messages being sent by such portrayals are just reinforcing these notions. Furthermore, in studies conducted by the College of the Bahamas, men who own guns are more likely to act irresponsibly, including threatening members of their households with their weapons (Bethell-Bennett, 2013). So maybe it is high time pop culture starts presenting the other side of the story.
Guns and violence saturate many aspects of American-made entertainment. As a result, this also raises the question of what the ramifications might be in other countries with lax gun control laws. Ironically, America is often seen as the bastion of human rights by the rest of the world therefore prevalence of the gun culture might be sending out the wrong message to other countries struggling with gun control. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of sufficient research on the relationship between gun violence and popular culture. However, since it is a link that is difficult to quantify, it is unlikely that studies carried out on it would actually yield a definitive answer. House Democrats have recently proposed spending federal dollars on scientific research to look at the relationship between popular culture and gun violence as part of the gun control package they plan to push. I hope the proposal is approved so popular culture may finally start acknowledging its obsession with guns and violence and hence resolve what, in my opinion, is an exigent problem.
Giroux, H. A. (2013, January 17). Violence is Deeply Rooted in American Culture. (C. J. Polychroniou, Interviewer)