Death of the Critic

Gun Porn - Our Fascination with the Firearm

Written by: Tom Blaich


We love guns. Big and small. As long as it goes bang, we want to be able to sit and watch. Guns are ingrained in the American culture and they fill our media to the brim. It is hard to play a game or go to the movie theater without seeing a few of them. It has gotten to the point where the depiction of guns in movie and games crosses the boundary into the real world. You can see it in gunstores across the country, where teenagers stare at racks of rifles and pistols, lusting after the high-tech weaponry like a dog with a bone.

Before I started my current job, I worked in a sporting goods store for three years. I stood behind the gun counter for countless hours to field questions from ten year olds about
Call of Duty. “Is that an AK?” A tiny hand would point over the counter at a rifle locked in a cabinet, their eyes barely above the glass of the countertop. The rifle they point at is a WASR-10, a legal AK imported by Century out of Eastern Europe.

I’d tell the kids that while it technically was, it wasn’t automatic, and I could watch the enthusiasm in their eyes die as I crushed their dreams of blasting away with a Russian assault rifle. But kids weren’t the only ones, and I can’t count the number of times someone would come up with a question about a gun they had seen in a movie or used in a game, wanting to fondle it and point it at people until they were scared off by the pricetag.

Guns are a weird product. They are one of the few things that we see in media that are actually branded. Long gone are the days of old-school
Counter Strike, where games had to make up gun names for weapons that we all recognized. Now if you pick up a modern shooter, you’ll see your standard gamut of guns: M16s, M4s, AKs, MP5s, and more.

The more tactical they look, they more gadgets we can slap onto them, the better. It’s why every new shooter has a part of their marketing devoted to the weapon customization, and more and more games are adding in weapon inspection animations, so you can show off how cool your gun looks.It is the same idea as the oft-used “gearing up” scenes that fill actions movies, where our heroes slap guns together while they make clacking gun noises and strap grenades and knives all over themselves. They are there purely to look “badass”, masturbatory self-indulgence peppered with gunpowder and high explosives. Admittedly, I’m as guilty as anyone else of liking it. It works.

There is nothing wrong with finding guns cools. They are pretty cool. The weird thing is how they are marketed to us through media, with name brand weapons and attachments sprinkled all throughout our games. Put a holographic sight on your M4 in
Call of Duty, and you’ll see the EoTech logo emblazoned across it. If you like it, you can walk into your local gun store and ask for one by name. Five hundred dollars later, you’ll be out the door. If it is good enough for fictional special forces, it’s good enough for me. You like the way an FN57 or P90 goes bang? You can see the Fabrique-Nationale names on them, and for only a few thousand dollars, you can call one your own.

It is why there is such a huge market for weapon mods in PC games, which add in countless photorealistic, name brand firearms to dozens of games. Check out Steam Workshop or ModDB and you’ll see thousands of them. You want to add a bunch of cool, 21st century, high tech assault rifles to Fallout 4? There are dozens of options, even on consoles.

It seems like we are all Naked Snake from
Metal Gear Solid 3, as he practically orgasms while examining a custom .45. I get that “it’s incredible” and “the feeding ramp is polished to a mirror sheen” but it feels like he needs some alone time with his new friend as he grunts and groans over the shiny new gun. Yet if you have the same slow motion shot of guns firing in an action movie, and you’ll have us all held enrapt by the pure, visceral gun porn that is playing out.

It is no surprise in the American culture, where the Second Amendment is held as highly as the Bible in some communities. The absurd fetishization of firearms is mirrored in the media that we make and that should be of no surprise to most people. But we have to wonder what effect it might have when it leaves children lusting over futuristic machine guns.

We have built a culture of excess in the firearms community, where companies strive to make a bigger, more powerful, and more tactical looking gun. And we buy into it, hook, line, and sinker. It happened famously with the Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 magnum revolver after the release of
Dirty Harry, which reportedly tripled in retail price overnight after the movie’s release. “To this day, whenever a Dirty Harry movie airs on TV or Cable, Model 29 sales surge.” (American Rifleman) You can account the popularity of Uzis, an Israeli made PDW submachine gun, to the desire for a cool gun that actors could use with one hand, and it’s hard to find an 80’s action movie that didn’t feature at least one.

The way that firearms companies use games and movies to market guns to us feels off, like it’s all a calculated ploy to get us to spend as much money as possible instead of making a fundamentally
good experience. Using this kind of strange product placement to advertise Pepsi or Coke is scoffed at, but why is it ok when it’s Heckler and Koch?

The first thing my father ever taught me about guns is that they are dangerous. To hold a healthy fear and respect for them that can never serve you wrong. He didn’t own guns, but he still taught me the four basic rules of firearm safety. It seems now that people are seeing them more as toys than what they really are: A tool designed to kill.

Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

You Might Also Like:

Anatomy of a Scene - Sicario

I Miss the Old Kanye

blog comments powered by Disqus