21 Feb 2018
The events of the past couple of weeks have reminded me of something. It’s a file that I’ve kept floating around my desktop for years. I think it was orginally published in either BoingBoing or Wired, or both, but I can’t find the original links to it. The earliest copy I have in my archives says 2007, so it must have been from around then.
I’ve kept it hanging around because it’s an absolute masterpiece of propaganda. The production values, artwork, storytelling and copywriting all come together in such a beautiful and persuasive way, along with a heaping pile of dog-whistle and just-plain-calling-the-dog racism, Nancy Pelosi hatred, thinly veiled anti-Semitism, fear, othering, fear and more fear.
Give the whole PDF a read, if you’d like. Awful and amazing.
So Many Excuses
I was reminded of this because of a conversation with a friend about guns, and how she finds so many of the pro-gun arguments so eminently reasonable. The NRA spends tens of millions of dollars a year on efforts to not just harden the positions of their most ardent supporters. They also soften up otherwise upstanding liberals’ willingness to fix this problem. This is the best, most persuasive category of political argument you can make. This ad, with a message suggested by messaging master Anat Shenker-Osorio, that Always Forward ran during the AL Sen election last year (with a different visual) was in the same category. It’s a positive ad encouraging people to vote for Doug Jones. But because of how it draws the contrast between him and Roy Moore, it was also suppressive (not in a mean or nasty way, just in a clear, contrasty, educationey kind of way):
The NRA’s overall yearly budget for this kind of thing runs to a quarter of a billion dollars, most of it raised directly from the gun manufacturers, whose interests they represent far more faithfully than those of individual gun onwers. But their impact goes far beyond even their bloated budget. They get politicians - Republicans for sure, but also Democrats that cower before this messaging onslaught - to repeat their messages ad infinitum for them. All that effort buys a lot of real estate in our brains.
It’s all lies. There are no good reasons for making military weapons available to heartbroken 19 year olds. There’s only an endless, ever expanding list of cleverly worded, focus-grouped, poll-tested excuses for not fixing the problem. There’s just continuing with the status quo and more dead kids, or there’s change.
My sense is that like most Americans, most gun owners aren’t individually super prejudiced. They probably have higher than average amounts of sorority racism. The problem is that their racial fears and resentments can absolutely be played on, like with the mailer above. This summarizes it neatly:
This ad doesn’t even mention gun owners or gun rights because that’s not what the NRA is about.— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) February 25, 2018
The NRA is about making one half of America believe that the other half of America hates them, so that they’re angry and scared and buy more guns and make gun manufacturers richer.
Another example of the NRA’s bone-deep racism was their absolute silence when police murdered school cafeteria worker Philando Castile in his car, with his four year old in the back seat:
Valerie Castile said her son deserved better, describing him as a dedicated public school employee beloved by the thousands of children he served.
“He loved the kids. He never took the summer vacation. He knew all those children’s names and all their allergies,” she said.
“He was a good guy. He went through a rigorous process to get his gun. He told the truth and let the officer know he had it. What happened to my good guy? He was shot down like an animal. He was still in his seatbelt,” she said. “That car was his coffin.”
I have a much bigger problem with leaders of organizations like the NRA and politicians like Trump that play on these fears than the poor suckers who get taken for a ride by it, like this guy (my favorite ammosexual), who thinks the best solution to 17 people being gunned down at a high school is this:
Buy guns.— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) February 25, 2018
Join the #NRA.
Be merciless to weakheart traitors who would betray your right for a NYT tongue bath.🤔
The Myth of Redemptive Violence
It’s also reminding me of something else that goes back a bit farther, to 1250 BC or so: the ancient Babylonian creation myth of Tiamat and Marduk.
In the beginning, according to this myth, Apsu and Tiamat (the sweet- and saltwater oceans) bear Mummu (the mist). From them also issue the younger gods, whose frolicking makes so much noise that the elder gods cannot sleep and so resolve to kill them. This plot of the elder gods is discovered, Ea kills Apsu, and his wife Tiamat pledges revenge. Ea and the younger gods in terror turn for salvation to their youngest, Marduk. He exacts a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart; he then splits her skull with a club, and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full length, and from it creates the cosmos.
This is from Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (p. 14). It’s an amazing book. Lots of Christian exegesis! So, not for everyone. But the first couple of chapters in particular are amazing and strongly recommended.
The Myth of Redemptive Violence underlies an enormous amount of media produced in the US. It’s the basic structure of nearly every superhero and action movie. The preponderance of data I’ve seen seems to indicate that violent media doesn’t have much to do with mass shootings. That seems accurate to me. What I haven’t seen data on, but strongly suspect, is that this onslaught of repetitive storytelling does make fixing the problem a lot harder. Any story a culture tells itself as frequently and as grandly as we tell this one has got to have some effect.
A list of 72 A/A+ NRA Rated Congressional Representatives in Vulnerable Districts
So what to do, in the face of all this opposition and all these clever excuses? There are only three options: the status quo, making the problem worse (i.e. by arming teachers, probably the most ridiculous response to a tragedy of my lifetime), or we do something about it. The bravery of the survivors seems to be creating an opening for doing someting about it to finally happen.
My belief is we need to stay focused on the fundamentals: The laws are broken, we need to change the laws, the current Congress has clearly indicated its complete inability and unwillingness to do so. It’s unpopular to suggest this, I know boycotts are satisfying to a lot of people for various reasons. But boycotting the NRA or any related companies will have at most a marginal effect.
We have to vote them out.
Over at Always Forward, I quickly built page of pro-NRA congressional representatives in districts that should winnable this year, with donation links to their opponents. If you’re frustrated and tired of excuses, please donate to them now.