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Michael Maiello's picture

The Hero Fantasy

I know I've brought this up before but back in the 90s, when I worked at a chain book/video/music store, a dude used to come in with his family and a nine millimeter pistol in a shoulder holster.  The rules back then in New Mexico were that it was legal to carry an unconcealed firearm, though establishments were allowed to ban them and it was illegal to discharge a firearm within the city limits.  So, this guy with his military style haircut (but not the kind of body or discipline you'd associate with having completed the most basic basic training) would come into the store with his piece in full view.  The store owners didn't care to ban him.
 

Our store was in kind of a rotten neighborhood and was robbed by a gunman (I didn't have a shift that day, lucky me).  I was working the register when our armed customer said, "I bet you feel safer when I'm in the store."  What do you say?  The customer is always an imaginary vigilante?

I was getting paid around $7 an hour.  The money going into and out of the cash registers wasn't mine.  The owners of that money had instructed us to hand it over to any armed robber.  The police would take care of the robbers.  The owners of the company would call their insurers.

"Hand over the money and nobody gets hurt," says the robber.  "Deal!" we reply.  The point is to avoid a Tarantino-style gunfight gone wrong where customers and employees die in a pool of blood and uncarbonated soda syrup from the fountain near the exit.

It's weird enough that this guy imagined saving us from some armed burglar.  He imagined it so much that he articulated it to me.  He knew it was never going to happen so he mentioned the possibility, out loud in front of his wife and kids and wanted me to validate his fantasy.  His wife was, by the way, pretty freaking embarrassed.

Here's an Oregon State Representative who fancies that were he instead a Newtown teacher, allowed to carry his gun, that many lives would have been saved by his heroics.

This is all fairly natural adolescent thinking.  When you grow up with comic books, action movies and old stories about heroes who win the hands of their loves by defending their honor, such fantasies are likely to crop up in young minds.  And maybe some youthful thoughts and impulses never really leave us.

People who own guns for personal defense like to say, "I hope I never have to use it."  But do they all, really, hope that?  Deep down, do we trust that sentiment anymore?  Or do they secretly hope that they will have to use it and that they will do something heroic and extraordinary?  George Zimmerman patrolled his neighborhood, looking for a fight.  Whether or not Florida law protects him, do we believe that he didn't get what he was looking for the night he confronted Trayvon Martin on a darkened street?

How many people are out there, inwardly spoiling for violence?

Interesting perspective, and I bet you're dead right about the secret fantasies of gun lovers. But you leave us with the sense that these heroic daydreamers are ready to whip out their pistols and shoot up potential bad guys at the slightest excuse, and I'm not sure that follows.

Most people have wild fantasies, but very few attempt to act them out in the real world. Heck, when I walk down the street with a big umbrella, I imagine disarming some would-be mugger with an awesome ninja-cum-drum-major umbrella twirl. Were I to attempt it, I would almost certainly end up in the ER with a large umbrella in my left nostril if not a bullet wound to boot. I would like to think that I would use better judgment in the real world.

There's a reason those Tarantino gunfights don't seem to happen much. They're fantasies. While I'm sure there have been cases of non-psychotic individuals occasionally acting out their hero fantasies, I doubt that they make up a sizable share of the nation's gun violence.

But what's interesting about your perspective is the light it sheds on why guns are so damned popular. We gun-less liberals often assume that it's about fear. I can't tell you how many times I've heard urbanites wonder why folks in safe suburbia feel the need for firearm protection. But I bet that fear is not the main reason why so many Americans love guns.

PS Love the soda-syrup imagery btw

Probably more about power, or feeling powerful, no?  Is it an "I have a gun; therefore I am someone to be reckoned with, or can be any time I choose to be" mindset? 

I wonder how many gun-owners entirely conceal the fact that they own a gun?  Is there a point in owning a gun if one does so, that is, if no one else knows about it?        

I am reminded of a former (male) law professor who remarked, in a passing comment in a discussion on the constitutional status of the right to own a gun, "Some people act as though if you take away their gun you're taking away their you-know-what."  Seems consistent with a "power" theory about why some people own guns, with a gendered twist.   

Yeah, sounds like a bigger factor. Someone must have studied this stuff.

I think you'd be surprised how many people own guns or have a concealed carry permit that rarely talk about it. Talking about how many or what type of guns I own is boring. A gun is just a tool, like a hammer. I don't talk about how many and what type of hammers I own either. Some people like to talk about cars. Is chevy better than ford or toyota, engine size or other details. To me, I own a gun to hunt and I own a car to get from point A to point B. Both tools and I don't really care to say much more than that about them when I'm chatting with friends.

(comment deleted--you answered my questions below, ocean-kat)

Hunting. My father owned a shotgun and a rifle and occasionally hunted though most often his purpose was to remove animals that were getting through the fence of the large garden we had. We grew 90% of the vegetables we ate year round, freezing and canning for the winter months. As a teen he taught me to hunt and I hunted rabbits, squirrel, and ground hogs. As an adult for about 20 years I was doing other things and didn't have an opportunity to hunt but I didn't get rid of my guns. I just stored them away in the back of a closet. Now for the last two years I'm in a position to hunt so my guns are out of storage.

I'd pay so much money to see you execute the awesome ninja-cum-drum-major umbrella twirl--provided you were wearing your Carnaval suit.

I'm thinking about starting a superhero gig, but I haven't found the right sidekick.

How about The Blue Raja ?

I, of course, carry a large gold belt and an unbreakable feather boa wherever I go.  These weapons might complement your umbrella in a pinch.

Interesting perspective, and I bet you're dead right about the secret fantasies of gun lovers.

What do you mean by gun lover, is it synonymous with gun owner? Blanket stereotyping just makes it harder to reach the gun control goals most here at dagblog share. It tends to push away liberals like me. I support more restrictive gun control laws than are currently being discussed. I'm also a gun owner, mainly because I hunt. I consider the possibility that I might have to use a gun for home defense. I hope it never happens and I think it unlikely it ever will. I don't have fantasies of being some sort of hero in a shoot out with robbers, never, not ever.

Like most men, when I daydream I fantasize about sex and a gun is never part of those fantasies. I guess some gun owners fantasize about being a hero in a gun fight but I'd guess its a small fraction of gun owners.

Blanket stereotyping just makes it harder to reach the gun control goals most here at dagblog share. It tends to push away liberals like me.

I'm sure that's right.  Thank you for challenging the stereotype.

Mea culpa. Gun lover is a loaded term. I'm picturing a hard-core NRA supporter with a lot of guns who spends a lot of time shooting them (at targets, not deer). But it's a caricature and stereotype. I retract the generalization.

The reality is that almost 1 in 2 adults owns a gun in America today.  Either the country is composed of 50% gun nuts, or the liberal stereotype needs to be heavily revised - at least if people want to make actual progress on these issues.

When I was a kid, every summer we drove to my grandparents house, which took us through the desert along I-5.  One year, our car broke down while we in one of the more desolate places and were stranded for a few hours until a state trooper called in for a tow truck.

After that experience, my dad bought a .357 magnum and when we took the same trip the following year, he put into the glove compartment (which had a lock on it so my brother and I couldn't get to it): Just in case we were stranded again and bad guys decided to prey on us.  (in my mind at the time that meant a motorcycle gang).  My mom wasn't thrilled, but when along with the plan. 

After the initial conversation about it when he purchased it, the gun was never really mentioned.  It just was there, just out of sight.

Thinking back on it, I believe my father (who was in the military and hated it) was just doing what he thought he was suppose to do as the man of the house.  Protecting the family is as much a duty and obligation of the father as bringing home the paycheck.  Standing on the side of the road, waiting for someone to come rescue us along the side of I-5, I can bet he felt helpless, unable to provide for the family, to fulfill his role as the good father. 

Maybe he had fantasies of shooting the bad motorcycle gang terrorizing his family.  This was shortly after the movie Dirty Harry came out, so maybe he saw himself as Clint Eastwood with his .357 asking "do you feel lucky, punk?"  But then we have to start looking at to what extent men in this culture achieve or don't achieve a sense of fulfillment and high esteem of their self. 

Spoiling for violence, from this perspective, is not seeking violence for violence sake, but to finally fulfill a role that one has come to believe is part of who one is - a player finally getting to come off the bench when the coach calls his name to go out there in center field.

Good point.  Regardless of how infrequently the legitimate need for using it in such a situation might arise.  Seems as though the psychological aspect is important--it's about not feeling vulnerable, and males have predominantly been socialized not to show vulnerability, least of all in front of their families and certainly not on physical safety and protection issues. 

Of course, an AK-47 would not have fit into that glove compartment.  It sounds as though your dad would hardly have complained had the law barred him from owning one, as a civilian with no demonstrated need for one.  What did he think about the NRA?    

I don't know what his politics were actually.  He died when I was not quite a teenager, and he was the kind of "guy" who didn't say what was on his mind about "personal stuff." In fact, he was the kind who didn't say much at all. He probably would have been center of the road regarding gun control.  For a while he did get a hunting rifle (as well as a shotgun) and actually went hunting a few times.  Occasionally he would go to the firing range and take my older brother to do target practice.  But an AK-47 probably in his mind would have been over the top, and wouldn't see a ban on such as infringing on his rights.  At the same time, he probably wouldn't see the NRA as a particularly bad organization, although I doubt he would be compelled to join them (he wasn't a joiner). 

Thinking about it, the only time I remember politics coming up in the discussion was about the time when they moved into a new neighborhood just after I was born and being invited over by some of the neighbors - turned out they were members of the John Birch Society looking for new recruits.  He referred to them as whackos or something like that.

People who own guns for personal defense like to say, "I hope I never have to use it."  But do they all, really, hope that?  Deep down, do we trust that sentiment anymore?  Or do they secretly hope that they will have to use it and that they will do something heroic and extraordinary?  George Zimmerman patrolled his neighborhood, looking for a fight.  Whether or not Florida law protects him, do we believe that he didn't get what he was looking for the night he confronted Trayvon Martin on a darkened street?

How many people are out there, inwardly spoiling for violence?

BULL SHIT !

They are all a bunch of lily livered, chicken shit, yellow bellied cowards. Every fucking one of them !

That's why they are armed to the teeth. They haven't got the guts to actually stand up to anyone who is capable of defending themselves.  Which is why they continuously resort to intimidation.

Or hide away in some god forsaken mountain retreat some where.

They are scared to death of the world.

 

You sound as angry as me. Their right to sit and stroke a gun and play with it does not trump our society's right to safety.  We should not have to build our society around fears and irrational ideas of a few. 

Who is "they?" All "people who own guns for personal defense?" All gun owners? These dump insulting rants don't help at all.

I'm a gun owner. I support closing the gun show loop hole. I support a strict ban on assault weapons and clips over 10 rounds. I don't think a 3 day waiting period is long enough. It should be a week or two. I think any irresponsible behavior or misuse of a gun, like forgetting to remove the round from the chamber while cleaning it and firing off a shot, should be considered reckless endangerment even if no one is hurt. You should lose your right to own a gun for a probation period. I support gun control legislation that goes beyond what is being presently considered.

Am I one of the "thems" you're referring to?

Agreed. Going straight to the "they-ness" of the whole thing sort of misses the point (or makes it.) 

Of course, I grew up in a house full of guns--so like you, in this case, I'm both "we" and "they" on both sides of the debate....

Just now a Facebook post admonished "The President's family is protected with automatic weapons--but he wants to deny you the right to protect your family with semi-automatic ones!"

I have been thinking a lot about this--how the idea of being a "good provider" and protecting one's family has been perverted into a sanctioned anti-government paranoia, complete with the need for keeping a number of semi-auto weapons in one's home. I don't think it's exactly a hero fantasy--in some ways it's more of a job description gone awry. It doesn't make logical sense, but there it is--all these people keeping these weapons in preparation for an event that is so much less likely than other dangers...

 

This stuff comes from right wing talk radio and militia groups news letters and publications.  It is also comes from the loss of white male power in the country.  Angry white male culture that researchers talk about. I think it goes hand in hand with the gun culture. 

I agree--but I've always wondered how people attach so completely to the propaganda. I don't think it's exactly fear, power, or the need to be a hero. I think it's the biological/societal imperative for being a protector and "good provider."

People really believe that owning these weapons is somehow required of them, that it's part of their civic and familial duty. The weapons themselves make no sense, and the need to protect one's family in some sort of apocalypse pales by comparison with all the other dangers they pose, but people still own them and are proud of it. Even Nancy Lanza, a presumably intelligent woman living with an obviously troubled teen, bought into this idea, and paid for her folly with her life.

 

This hero aspect is a hard one to crack, I think. By crack, I mean understand, not break or otherwise render fragmented and powerless.

It's not like it's a cryptographic code, exactly; but that's a pretty good metaphor. But it may be that it's more like a thing with meaning obscured by moving the symbols that represent it out of a useful order.

Here are some of the signs associated with it, in the America in which I live:

Male.

Usually Caucasian.

Usually suburban.

Nominally christian; or at least believes in (some form of?) a punitive god, or a manifestation of said god that was viciously punished by, or for, a wretched species.

The hero, as a figure in mythology, is usually a solitary figure; this solitary strong-man (a kind of epigonian, but heavily armed, Hercules) is clearly a part of the American-christian myth.

I could go on; but it's been said before and no one bats an eye upon hearing the cliche about guns and penises.

The  American soul, or spirit, or psyche (or whatever you want to call it) has been analyzed along this line until all that it left is a grease spot where once stood the horse we rode in on.

All through college I waitressed in a Sicilian restaurant favored as an "after hours" joint by barkeeps, club and restaurant owners, waitresses (and show people from time to time.) And one got to know many of them by getting invited to after-after-hours parties once in a while. Seemed to me like all the moronic twerps with attitude (with, yes, I would say, penis inferiority complexes) packed, and all the attractive, confident macho men of the street didn't bother. Just mho. (Also too, that was waaaay before gangsta rap and when the only video game was PacMan, wink both which it could be argued, changed things some. ) Mr. Quentin Tarantino has always reminded me of every twerp I met back then, one of them even shared his last name.

Just ran across now, appears to be--er, how to say it? highly provocative?--on topic:

Guns and the Decline of the Young Man by Christy Wampole

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/guns-and-the-decline-of-...
 

Meanwhile, the phenomena you are talking about, of being a hero or saving people, certainly does not seem to apply very much to what we are learning about the Newtown attack--

this Hartford Courant piece from yesterday seems to have a lot of good details on the attack itself from "law enforcement sources"

No, that's not a hero, that's the dangerous evil guy fantasy of video games, he's not trying to save anybody, he's doing a "kill them all!" And I can't get away from thinking how alike it sounds to "dark knight" James Holmes, who is now being treated in hospital for banging his head against the wall.

I may finally be apologizing to Tipper Gore, changing my mind somewhat about violent video games and music. I used to pooh-pooh this because my two-closest-in-age brothers as kids "played army" like maniacs, visualizing battles in their heads, screaming aloud in their beds, for hours and hours. And they both grew up not wanting anything to do with violence or war except for hunting (the worst of the two on playing army won't even do that.)

But maybe, just maybe, the world of video games etc. highly affects those with certain mental defects concerning reality? .....I wonder what Tipper's opinion is now,  especially as mental health was another one of her favorite causes...

As to Lanza's story, we may never really know; the Hartford Courant article says he really did a number on his computer hard drive, sounds like it will be a miracle if the FBI can get anything off of it.

P.S. I am dying to say that culturally, Quentin Tarantino and his ilk has got a lot of 'splaining to do! Massacres = awesome has become something a bit more than tiresome in our culture...Got me thinking how shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy helped bring about more acceptance of gays, mho; so maybe some enterprising producers and directors (any playwrightsout there as well?enlightened ) can come up with a new viral meme:: massacres = not awesome? or in video games: massacres: you lose!) No coincidence that Ms. Wampole, the essayist of the link in another of my comments upthread, is a professor of literature? But in the end, it all gets absurd, because I guess I am talking about art targeted to the mentally disturbed?

Nicely put.

It's weird enough that this guy imagined saving us from some armed burglar.  He imagined it so much that he articulated it to me.  He knew it was never going to happen so he mentioned the possibility, out loud in front of his wife and kids and wanted me to validate his fantasy.  His wife was, by the way, pretty freaking embarrassed.

Here's an Oregon State Representative who fancies that were he instead a Newtown teacher, allowed to carry his gun, that many lives would have been saved by his heroics.

This is all fairly natural adolescent thinking.  When you grow up with comic books, action movies and old stories about heroes who win the hands of their loves by defending their honor, such fantasies are likely to crop up in young minds.  And maybe some youthful thoughts and impulses never really leave us.

This is a really incredible article, Michael. I have a friend in Pennsylvania who is a big gun collector. His family all had them and when I mean they had guns, they really had guns. AR-15s - stuff they would never need outside of patrolling Kandahar.

Said friend is actually the sweetest guy on earth. He wouldn't hurt a fly. He's really conservative, of course. Why does he have all those guns? I don't know. There was a point of pride in having them when the government didn't want them to (a "big government" thing, of course), I think. There was also the hunting element - but hunting didn't really explain the need to have weapons built for warfare.

Isn't fantasizing about killing people as away to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?

-- Wayne LaPierre

Filthy, filthy, filthy.

Wayne La Pierre plays Shooter, the Nutty Elf.

Oh this is what you were talking about.

hahahahah

Our store was in kind of a rotten neighborhood and was robbed by a gunman

In the 30's, had you been living in Cicero, Illinois , the hometown of Al Capone, you wouldn't have been robbed, because people feared, what Capone's gunmen would do.

It was reported that you were safer in the town of Cicero.  

In regards to prohibition and overturning the law, depending on what side you were on,

Capone was considered a hero by some.

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