Weapons are being fired all the time on television, but that happens on cop shows. Network programmers know the public will obsessively watch guns going off and bodies falling.
On the news, however, the issue of gun ownership is adjudicated independently of the glee that accompanies watching fictional people kill each other.
When it’s fantasy, the audience wants violence. When it’s real, the audience wants no violence.
Dealing with this schizoid condition would be a problem for the networks, were it not for the fact that there is a bridge between the two states of mind: “The good guys win.”
They win in every episode of every cop show. They always have. Decades of this operant conditioning lead the audience to expect it will happen in real life where crime, guns and cops are involved.
So in the wake of Sandy Hook, for the public, the resolution must belong to the cops. The idea that it might somehow belong to private citizens doesn’t sit right. The cops win by controlling the guns.
For the television-watching public, that fits. It makes sense. In every crime series, the guns of the cops turn out to be superior to those of the criminals, so to speak.
And in real life, it translates into: Take the guns from private citizens. Make the good guys win.
Logic is not part of this. The vision is of cops (and their allies) taking guns away from bad guys, who are then left powerless to commit murder. It’s simple, obvious, conclusive and satisfying… to a mind that’s been captured by television cop shows at a 9-year-old level and frozen there forever.
Bad guys had guns. Therefore, they could kill people. Now they don’t have guns. They can’t kill people.
The nonsense, illegality and unworkability of this vision are beside the point.
The myriad ways in which thousands of criminals obtain weapons is off the table as an issue. It’s too complex for a 9-year-old to consider.
As a corollary to this puerile solution to crime (take the guns), we have an equally insane command: The solution must apply to all 315 million people living in America.
Again, 9-year olds don’t pause to reflect on the logistics.
Enter the elite television anchor. Whether it’s the slick momma’s boy who crafts the image of a “post-Newtown era of gun control” (Brian Williams, NBC), a gray man who looks down his nose like a tightly wound FBI agent about to raid a warehouse full of weapons (Scott Pelley, CBS) or a blonde can of syrup dripping maple tears as she weeps for America (Diane Sawyer, ABC), the mission is the same: By gesture, facial expression and careful placement of not-quite-neutral words, let the viewing audience know that a corner has been turned, the way guns are viewed has changed once and for all, the tragedy at Sandy Hook is too deep and we cannot move on as before.
From the three networks, the message is delivered. This is a watershed moment for the culture.
It’s the 9/11 of guns.
Not only will we see new laws and new executive orders from the President. “All civilized people” will talk and think about guns differently, just as they changed their minds about wearing animal fur. This is the program coming out of the gate.
We’ll see it performed six ways from Sunday on the news and on news magazine shows. Forever.
However, there is a glitch. In the world of fiction, movies, television and video games, trillions of dollars are riding on the public fantasy about guns. How do you change the culture when people are still hungry to spend their money on vicariously living out the shoot-’em-up blow-’em-up legends?
What about Hollywood actors, who have made a handsome living portraying vicious pricks and relentless cops, blasting thousands of rounds from assault weapons? Do you expect them to boycott those roles in the future? What roles will they play to satisfy the audience’s desire to experience violence? Kung Fu masters fighting other Kung Fu masters? Animals tearing their prey to pieces on open plains?
How many comedies can you sell about four idiots taking a road trip to Las Vegas?
The elite television anchors will go up against the cop shows on their own networks.
The outcome won’t be decided in a month or a year.
Painting all gun owners as Neanderthals takes time. It takes a crazy concealed-carry Texas uncle here and there on sitcoms.
It takes a few dozen episodes of “Law and Order” in which parents leave guns lying around for children to pick up and tragically use.
It takes a Lifetime movie about a video game designer, who enters a moral crisis when he sees his game come to life on the streets of small-town America, as kids riddle each other with bullets outside a barber shop.
It takes a movie about a fur-wearing psychopath mowing down a gay household.
The shows people love will morph into updated teaching moments, as the networks pray their ratings will hold.
On cop shows, you’ll eventually see this sort of thing: members of a team of community organizers, working to rid a neighborhood of guns, are murdered one at a time by a rogue serial-killer cop who drinks heavily and has a psychotic fixation about the 2nd Amendment. Finally, a Department of Homeland Security squad blows the cop away — afterward expressing deep regret they had to use their 60 weapons with 600-round magazines.
Williams, who maintains his deep abiding empathy for men out west with guns, will give you this: “Today in Moosehead, Calif., police retrieved the very last gun owned in that town by a private citizen. But it came at a price.
“John Anger, who at the age of 84 had been living all of his years in the house where he was born, was sitting on his back porch cleaning his grandfather’s Bushmaster rifle when three children — cutting through his yard, as they always did every day coming home from school — saw Mr. Anger with his weapon, and obeyed those vital lessons they’d learned in school since the first grade.
“They called the police. And the police came. With the children safely out of the way, a squad of eight DHS-certified men and women issued an order to Mr. Anger, who unfortunately was deaf and wasn’t wearing his hearing aid, which neighbors later said he called an ‘annoying Medicare contraption.’
“Mr. Anger didn’t put down his rifle. This gave the police no choice.
“John Anger is now lying in the Soames Mortuary on McGillicudy Street, in Moosehead, the last person in that town to own a gun. He is gone, but the children are safe tonight in their homes with their parents.”
“60 Minutes” will run a story about a rich banker who lives on his large estate in Virginia and has decided he no longer wants to skeet shoot. Instead, he’s donating that acreage to a “research project,” in which former gun owners are re-educated in the ways of nonviolence.
If you think all this is frivolous, look at a few hundred hours of television from the 1950s and then compare the content to today’s network programming. You’ll understand that more than money drives the evolution of popular culture.
Influencing minds is an ongoing preoccupation of the television medium.
It’s all about creating a new culture when the order comes down to make it so.
Reality-formation. Fabric realignment in the matrix.
In the case of guns and violence, the blueprint for changing the culture has been on the drawing board for some time. The television networks have planned how to make citizens think about guns the way they now think about animal fur.
Sandy Hook was the green light to put the blueprint into effect.