In the shadow of the gun

I loved (and still do love) the shoot 'em up Golden eye, before that Quake and before that Doom. I remember looking up the guns featured in those games in various magazines and later, once it became available, the internet. Whilst you might think but those are only virtual guns which need not concern us when we are talking about real life due to the dark art of marketing this is simply false.

No one ever bought a pack of cigarettes and expected to have themselves transported to a desolate fence in the American west, to a Harley with Marlon Brando or to a soft porn scene with Sharon stone. However these and various other little images of cool people doing funky things accompanied by their cigarette props slowly add up to skew our perception. Tobacco advertisement was in many ways brilliant. It converted a disgusting addictive habit that lined the pockets of massive American corporations and was as mainstream as TV into a rebellious act of defiance that somehow made you interesting and unique. In the UK I am delighted to say that after numerous scientific studies demonstrating it's negative effect we banned smoking advertisements. Film and Television advisers started to head off legislation aimed at them by advising directors to avoid smoking scenes. Despite justified calls of censorship this purging of smoking imagery was slowly accepted.

As a result of this the perceived "coolness" of smoking has noticeably dropped especially in the young who these days don't even know who the Marlborough man was. Cigarettes are pretty much as available as before it's just not as many want to smoke. There was some feedback to help this process along. As the public lose their love of cigarettes they accept more anti-cigarette rules (warning labels, no smoking in enclosed public spaces, ...) that help reduce the love further. Basically health scientists are actually winning the war over perception of smoking in the UK in most communities.

Compare this to guns. In 1994 I was in America and past a gun section of a supermarket (yeah Europeans these really exist) and I remember looking around at all those neatly arranged gun and searching for the Golden eye guns. I actually remember wondering how the firing actions would compare to the virtual depiction. I even wanted my photo taken draped in as many guns as possible Rambo-style (the store clerk permitted the draping but not the photo). I have little doubt that a very small hidden part of my conscious thinks guns are super cool despite growing up in northern Ireland which provided daily stories of the nasty truth about guns for literally decades.

Would my perception have been different if we banned guns "advertising" or the mention of guns in media. Maybe but its not going to happen easily. Many of the most popular game series would become impossible. Even the very first Mario had bullet bills. Damn near all film genres would be rendered totally unrealistic: action, war, historical, gangster, zombie, superhero, thriller, horror, ... . Many cartoons would at least need massive changes.

It's about this point you are hopefully starting to realise just how omnipresent guns are. They pervade culture and I mean stable gun shy European culture, not gun obsessed cultures like America or parts of Africa. It's not even possible to ask to only portray gun use in a negative light. Could you make a film about the French resistance in which every one who fired a gun was negatively affected? Well what about how the news on current events is reported? Hell will freeze over before "our side's" (who ever that happens to be) soldiers victories are not portrayed as being awesome freedom enhancing events made possible by brave gun-toting heroes.

If we really want to reduce the occurrence of massacres we have to start making guns and love of guns less acceptable in general culture. A noble aim but one that makes the decades old fight against smoking culture look like well shooting fish in a barrel. Then again we did win against against big tobacco.