2nd Amendment Fundamentalism

In the month between Las Vegas (58 dead) and Sutherland Springs, Texas (at least 26 dead) I’d shut off the notifications on my phone, so now I get no automatic notices when things like mass shootings or baseball playoff games happen. This way, I spent yesterday blissfully ignorant of the shooting, and got to condense the usual routine of my reaction down to a few minutes this morning.

See, they happen often enough for each of us to have a routine, like what we do when we catch a cold,  or a bee gets in the house.

First I pore over the titillating details. I know that if mass shootings are by design a shocking genre of theater, then we are abetting them by choosing to be audience members, but who can help it? I struggle, but typically manage to stop mindlessly clicking on links about it – but not before I’ve read up on the cultural slant it’s going to take.

Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent.

“I wonder what they know about the shooter?” is a kind of code for “Is he a Muslim who snapped, or a white supremacist or what? What kind of fallout are we waiting for?” Many people made the case during the Las Vegas shooting that the coverage is very different when a white American does it, and that’s no doubt true.

The American Right went apeshit the moment rioters loosely affiliated with Black Lives Matter broke the law, let alone the horrible case of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had a long history of arrests and mental illness, bought a gun, shot his ex-girlfriend, drove to New York City, and killed two cops and himself. To the racist mind, this is proof that we should never-ever protest police treatment of minorities.

In all these shootings, including yesterday’s, the liberal asks, “How did this guy get a gun, and shouldn’t we try to make that harder?” I get that, but I despair of this horrific ideology that’s becoming more commonplace, of thinking of gun ownership as the source of our freedom. At each mass shooting, I think “Maybe this will open some minds,” but it’s dawning on me now that many gun enthusiasts actually like mass killings.

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Emmaus, Pennsylvania today.

Just look at the sticker I saw on a Buick in Pennsylvania last week, with a skull in the center: 2nd Amendment fundamentalists are a kind of heavy metal death cult. Like a teenage boy with an army jacket drawing photos of his automatic rifle all over his notebooks, the higher the death tolls the higher the stakes, the more euphoric he feels holding his gun.

Like other forms of fundamentalism, such as certain religions, 2nd Amendment fundamentalists use a fabricated notion of the past to build a false sense of right and wrong. As if paying taxes is what makes us contributing citizens (as opposed to the takers), and if we ever feel we’re getting a bad deal, then we can always get back to basics: me and my gun.

Joni Ernst is a member of the Republican majority in the Senate. Here’s how she won in 2014, a month before Ismaaiyl Brinsley killed two cops:

There is a radical, anti-government movement on the march, one that favors religious law over our constitutional traditions, and thinks killing like yesterday’s is an okay price to pay for our freedom to own military-grade weapons. It’s okay with vigilante violence as long as it’s being used against black people and the soft-headed liberals who sympathize with them.

And there is nothing comparable on the Left. Just compare the Democratic Party and Black Lives Matter’s reaction to the Ismaaiyl Brinsley shooting with the actual Republican support for the armed thugs in the Bundy standoff in 2014. They make us seem like the Rotary Club.

Let’s also never forget that if you’re locked in a room with an armed madman, then it’s you, not the madman, who has to figure out how to get out. The guy who did the shooting yesterday, like most of them, had a history of violence against the women in his life; one wonders what a “broken windows” policy toward domestic offenders would do to the violent crime rate.

I’m not holding my breath. There’s no easy way forward, and here we are.

Boyhood

Believe all the hype about Boyhood. It’s a monument. While it’s perfectly consistent with the rest of Richard Linklater’s work, it’s like no other film I know. Watching it last night was like watching both The Last Picture Show and The Squid and the Whale all in one. It’s full of Texana, but also portrays the American family with such clarity for the first time. At two hours and forty minutes – and I am a downright crank about films taking too long – I was sorry to see it end.

Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood."

Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

Shot over 11 years with the same cast, it’s a testament to the principle of the “forward momentum” device that this film works as well as it does, since all it really has to go on is the artificial momentum of the looming milestones in its hero Mason’s life. In most scripts, when the suspense that results from some clash of characters is coming up too light, writers are advised to add some “forward momentum” in the form of an occasion: a road trip, a pregnancy, or ticking time bomb, or a birthday party that all the characters have to attend, or anything that characters can anticipate.

Linklater deftly saves most of these for the last twenty minutes of Boyhood, but it never feels like a gimmick. Minutes before it ends, Mason asks his father, played by Ethan Hawke, what it (growing up) is all about, and his father says something like, How the hell should I know? They’re talking about life but they could be talking about the film. Linklater’s few missteps seem like the result of a filmmaker who lost his nerve and needed to graft some more narrative over his wounded story, most notably in the form of an immigrant laborer who reappears years later to thank Mason’s mother for her parental advice. The exchange telegraphs what was already a clear narrative thread, that family and strangers alike dispense advice to the young, but the young have a knack for sifting through the good  from the bullshit. Like Slacker, but much more subtly, since you’re watching the haircuts and not listening to the rambling, Boyhood is about the good and bad advice a kid grows up with, and the fits and starts of learning to value a father’s advice in particular.

If Richard Linklater doesn’t get at least a Best Director nomination, then I will never utter the phrase “Academy Award” again in my life.