Mark Dery on America's toy gun culture


Responding to the Jared Lee Loughner tragic shooting spree in Tucson, Mark Dery puts America's toy gun culture in his crosshairs. The title of the essay says it all, "Gun Play: An American Tragedy, in Three Acts." Above and referenced by Dery is Negativland's "Guns," a cut-up of 60s toy gun commercials. From Dery's essay at Thought Catalog:
 Wp-Content Uploads 2011 01 Daisy-Bb-Gun-Ad Growing up in ’60s America meant reliving the tragedy of the Native-American genocide as farce while shoveling in your Swanson Salisbury Steak TV dinner: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Death Valley Days, The Rifleman, The Virginian, The Big Valley, Branded, Have Gun–Will Travel, The High Chaparral, Rawhide, Wagon Train–the list of prime-time westerns seems endless, in hindsight. These and dozens of shows popped out of the same mold schooled Americans in the lesson that there’s no problem so complex it can’t be resolved with violence. (A lesson taken to heart by cheerleaders for American exceptionalism and architects of imaginary empire like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and William Kristol, who wrote in their manifesto for a “new American century” that the United States must assume its rightful “constabulary” role in global affairs, capable of outgunning the best-armed posse in town.) PTSD’d by race riots and Vietnam war protests, the America of the ’60s rejuvenated its dream of itself by returning nightly to a Disneyfied version of its frontier youth.

For boys–even boys like this author, whose liberal-ish parents fulminated against the soul-scarring effects of “violent toys”–growing up in that America meant dreaming of guns. Cap guns, whose sweetly acrid smell is a grace note in memories of my boyhood summers. The impressively realistic toy Peacemaker in the Sears Roebuck catalog, with the tie that lashed its holster to your thigh for gunslinger cool and those little pellets that made smoke trail convincingly from the gun’s barrel when you fired it. The Johnny Seven One-Man Army, a super-gun whose sheer overkill–it rolled a grenade launcher, anti-tank rocket, anti-bunker missile, rifle, machine gun, and automatic pistol into one mega-weapon–launched a million power fantasies, making it the best-selling boys’ toy of 1964. Daisy BB rifles, like the one my friend came within a whisker of blinding his kid brother with one languid, directionless afternoon when his parents weren’t home  (why weren’t the parents ever home, in ’60s Southern California?). And of course real guns, like the .22 my older buddies, longhaired brothers who embodied cool itself, used to obliterate beer cans. Later, when their father died by his own hand, I thought of the locked gun case in their family room, a shrine to quiet menace, and of cans lined up for execution in the summer sun, jumping to life at the instant of impact.

"Gun Play: An American Tragedy, in Three Acts"