Out of my cold, dead hands

In the last part of Extremists Week, our fearless correspondent Kiwizoidberg looks at the favourite films of the gun lobby

“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That's never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors
“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That’s never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors

Amat victoria curam: victory favours the prepared. When SHTF and it’s TEOTWAWKI, will you be ready? Will you grab your bug-out bag and head for the hills, or retreat to your fortified bunker? And how are you going to defend yourself from everyone else who ignored your warnings and thought you were crazy?

Welcome to the world of the Doomsday preppers. This group of people is made up of individuals, families or even communities who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). They may be crazy, but their paranoia has driven them to take action. They have stocked up on water and tinned food and developed skills that they believe will help them survive whatever the world may throw at them when the shit hits the fan (SHTF). How they think the end comes about varies, but preppers are planning to survive and are willing to defend themselves by any means necessary. When this includes firearms, we have the makings of a gun-nut. The term can be interpreted as pejorative or affectionate, depending on your point of view.

When I see or hear the term ‘gun nut’, I imagine someone like Burt Gummer in Tremors (1990). Burt and his wife have a respectable arsenal in their cellar which comes in handy when the graboids invade their town. Back when the film was released, Burt seemed a likeable enough kind of crazy. Nowadays, you are unlikely to find any charming gun-nuts in film. Instead, you get characters like Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) in the basement scene from the War of the Worlds (2005), someone out of touch with reality; unstable and highly dangerous.

What is this fear that drives the preppers, and what role has film or TV played?Disaster movies are almost as old as cinema. When the genre hit its absolute peak in the 40s and 50s, it did so when WWII was a fresh memory, and when fear of nuclear weapons and Soviet infiltration were at their height. The Roswell Incident of 1947 led to sightings of UFOs everywhere – not least on celluloid. Pretty soon the latent paranoia of Hollywood B-movies was reflected on TV through shows like The Twilight Zone. Prepper lists of favourite films tend to include ‘Panic in the Year Zero’ from 1962, which tells you something about the longevity of this particular cultural crisis, and maybe why we’ve seen so many disaster movies recently.

Protect and Survive
Protect and Survive

The paranoid B-movie style went overground in the 70s: the decade of the conspiracy thrillers. Although most of these thrillers contained little or no gun-play, the stories of political corruption, government cover-ups and a general distrust of Washington played exactly to the prepper mentality – particularly after Watergate. Charlton Heston, later the poster boy of the National Rifle Association, was star of The Omega Man and Earthquake. In the former, he is the last man on earth after a plague wipes out humanity. The latter is a Ronseal disaster movie. They are united in thinking some survival skills would come in handy.

In the eighties Cold-War politics inspired a wave of action movies. Perhaps this genre more than any other kick-started the culture of gun-worship. A new wave of stars was born, with acting skills secondary to how big a gun you could carry. Sylvester Stallone went from the boxing ring to John Rambo and showed that one well armed and trained man could hold out against a small army. Chuck Norris made the transition from martial arts to one man army, playing more or less the same character in multiple films, and single handedly repelling a Russian invasion in Invasion: USA. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s made the transition from body-builder to gun-toting killing machine (literally) in The Terminator and went on to become the go-to guy for action heroes.

Hollywood has an uneasy relationship with gun culture. On the one hand, there is the near-fetishisation of guns in action movies. Conversely, many of the actors in these roles take an anti-gun stance. After the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, a group of celebrities got together for a short video called ‘Demand a Plan’, advocating stricter gun regulations. Unsurprisingly, a counter-video soon followed, pointing out the hypocrisy of actors like Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) and Jeremy Renner (Bourne Legacy) telling people one thing while their day job glorified the opposite.

The NRA’s response was that the fault for the shooting and others like it lay with the violent images portrayed in cinema, television and video games. The hypocrisy is there on both sides. American Rifleman, official magazine of the NRA, this year published its list of the 10 Coolest Gun Movies. This inconsistency may have been pointed out to them later, as the list is no longer available on their website. The list can still be viewed at this Talking Points Memo website. Their list is:

1. Red Dawn
2. The Terminator
3. The Alamo
4. Die Hard
5. The Godfather
6. Zombieland
7. The Matrix
8. The Delta Force
9. The Road Warrior
10. Tremors

I wouldn’t expect to see The Godfather on a list of gun movies, but most of the other choices make sense in some twisted logic. A common theme is that of repelling invaders, mostly using guns as defensive rather than offensive weapons.

In America, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms provides gun-nuts with the means to acquire the weapons they needed to look out for their own. The effect of films on gun enthusiasts is difficult to gauge, but gun sales are expected to hit record numbers in the US this year. Perversely, gun sales increase in the wake of shooting sprees, possibly fuelled by fears that the Government will introduce tighter gun legislation. Despite constant warnings by gun associations that Obama is out to take their guns away, nothing could be further from the truth. Gun legislation has never been a priority for the current administration, but fear has driven more gun sales.

"You wanted to see my long form birth certificate? Well, here it is motherfuckers!"
“You wanted to see my long form birth certificate? Well, here it is motherfuckers!”

This fear has been nurtured over time by a multitude of disaster movies. TEOTWAWKI can come about in a number of ways. Natural or unnatural;, of alien, human or undead origin. One of our greatest fears is that someone (or some thing) will take away what we have. Some people are willing to take whatever steps necessary to ensure that won’t happen. More often than not, this involves lethal weapons. Tapping into public fear and with the knowledge that people love a good Armageddon, studios will continue to churn out disaster movies, only now with bigger budgets and better special effects.

TV shows like Jericho and The Walking Dead draw from the same pool as the movies mentioned. The National Geographic channel have aired two seasons of a TV show dedicated to doomsday preppers called appropriately enough Doomsday Preppers. It’s hard to tell at times if this is scripted as it borders on mockumentary, I’ll leave it to you to decide. There is a version of preppers filmed in the UK, so the crazy is not isolated to one side of the Atlantic.

Whether these preppers and gun-nuts are right or wrong, only time will tell. I’ll be keeping an eye out on e-bay in case Tommy Gunn ever decides to sell his zombie-proof van.

1 thought on “Out of my cold, dead hands

  1. “Chuck Norris made the transition from martial arts to one man army, playing more or less the same character in multiple films, and single-handedly repelling a Russian invasion in Invasion: USA.”

    Not true – whatever your view on the movie, it does acknowledge that there’s only so much one man can do (witness the scene showing the aftermath of an attack on an amusement park that our man Chuck couldn’t prevent). Hence the finale seeing two groups of warriors fighting it out in downtown Atlanta (!) while the main goodie and the main baddie go one on one.

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