Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Show Goes On


In 1927, while on a world tour, Aldous Huxley attended the screening of an American silent film in the outreaches of the British colony of Malaya. He did not mention the title of the film, but from his description of marital infidelity, jealousy and revenge, it is probably best forgotten. Huxley wondered what the Malayans must have thought of such Americans in their world of unimaginable prosperity and mechanical advancement being represented by such a preposterous movie.

Living in Asia today, very near where Huxley passed through 80 years ago, I notice the number of American television shows that are available to Asian cable TV viewers, and I wonder, as Huxley did, what people must think of Americans when every one of the dramatic shows being presented to them is a "crime drama" - CSI, NCIS, 24, Close, Leverage, and a few others. Practically all that Asian viewers see of American television - which is mistaken by some for American life - is crime, guns, and violent death.

But I begin to wonder, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on 28 June that a long-standing gun control law in Chicago is unconstitutional, in a nation where some have estimated that 200 million guns are in circulation, in which it is now legal to carry a gun into a restaurant in some states and into a bar in others, if all the crime and guns is all that far from the reality of American life.

I accept the authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. I am dubious of its ability to do so. The Second Amendment to the Constitution made perfect sense at a time when America consisted of backwoods and frontiers. In the absence of any authority greater than that of an overworked lawman, citizens had to defend themselves against threats to their lives and their property. Hollywood has re-created this period of American history in loving detail in countless films.

But today, the 4th of July, I have to question the patriotism of my fellow Americans who feel the need to own guns, who do not feel safe in their homes behind locked doors without a lethal weapon under the bed, who (unbelievably) do not even feel safe in restaurants or in bars without a gun on their belts. What kind of patriot is it who does not trust in their own government or their municipal police department to keep them safe? Or is the widespread ownership of guns, which always seems to be a politically conservative activity, something more insidious than simply the exercise of a Constitutional right?

I have expressed elsewhere my contention that if I felt unsafe in a particular neighborhood or in a particular town anywhere in America, I would simply move somewhere else where I did feel safe. I have friends living in parts of America in which locking one's front door is considered unnecessary. (I assure you that my front door would, nonetheless, always be locked.) I have even said that if there were nowhere in my country where I believed I was safe, I would emigrate. What is the use of a country where I had to live in fear? Buying a gun would definitely not make it all better.

There seems to be a kind of siege mentality behind gun possession and gun culture, a somebody-is-out-to-get-you belief that runs very deep. As a cinephile, I have perhaps seen far too many movies in my lifetime. I know for a fact that I have seen too many bad movies. It seems to me that Americans have seen only the bad ones, and all the crime-ridden television shows, and think they are living in them, like they're John Wayne or Dirty Harry. Why does Oliver Stone's film, Natural Born Killers seem more prophetic the older I get?

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