I am a nerd. I enjoy nerd conventions. In March, I visited my first gun show in St. Peters and was almost disappointed in how similar the two events were. The dealer room was too crowded and hot. Everyone was wearing “funny” graphic t-shirts. I even saw a few familiar faces: Spiderman holsters; Darth Vader grips; Pokemon Go military patches. There really should have been no surprise, since both are rooted in consumerist escapism.
By “consumerist,” I mean this is primarily engaged through the art of consumption. People consume movies and bullets alike. An industry’s primary motivation is to entice a person to not just consume their product, but to buy more later. Additionally, industries push the person to incorporate the product into their very identity, such that consuming said product becomes how they feel they are. The reason people consume is, typically, to escape their own lives.
Looking Down the Barrel
The beauty of escapism is that it lets you feel different from how you currently feel. More importantly, it lets you feel like you have control over your own life. A fantasy enables one to feel as if they can get the outcomes they want. It creates agency. Escapism, more often than not, is a power fantasy where Clark Kent steps into a phone booth, stops Lex Luthor, and woos Lois Lane.
Gun culture runs the very same way. Without access to alien biology or bat-themed technology, a firearm is the easiest way for a person to empower themselves. The ability to immediately kill someone grants a lot of weight in a negotiation.
This preoccupation with guns has been built out of the very birth of America. The Revolutionary leaders, without any real organized army, scrabbled for whatever civilians could shoot straight, as well as those who couldn’t but were willing to learn. The right to bear arms enabled America to manifest this and thus became an essential part of the country’s identity.
“Don’t Tell Me What to Do”
In 2014, game designer Zoe Quinn was accused by an ex-boyfriend of sleeping with a game journalist for a good review. The scandal, called Gamergate, created a conversation regarding the ethics of game journalism. However, a common thread blamed Zoe for using her femininity to cheat the system. From here, the discussion expanded from gaming to media in general, with the discussion about whether women and minorities deserved representation.
Opponents of Gamergate argued that the media of nerd culture was fine and never needed to be altered to suit the increasingly diverse nerd community. They did not want to give up the media that they had spent their lives happily consuming. This fear of losing the white, straight, cis-gendered, male hegemony over culture drew many individuals towards conservative politics.
People will, and have, fought tooth and nail to keep what makes them feel powerful. The people most invested in nerd culture, the consumption of which dominates their identity, have the most to lose if it changes. These people so devoted to their own escapism are usually extremely alienated, suffering great disconnect from the world around them. This kind of alienation and dedication to self-empowerment is just as present in gun culture.
Rebellion requires some kind of opposition that incorrectly runs the world and disconnects the individual. It could be nature, crime, war, or government. The hero, using guns, overcomes the opposition and reconnects with their surroundings.
Would You Like Great Power?
At the gun show, I met a seller named Ron. We started to chat about the show. I asked him what makes a gun show successful. He said, “There are three factors. Third most important is weather, no one likes driving in rain. Second is location, no one wants to have to drive too far. The most important is politics. It all comes down to how people feel about guns, period.”
I do not want to give the impression that all of gun culture is rooted in fear. Like any culture, it is complex and multifaceted. However, the major difference between nerd and gun cultures is the way in which they have faced criticism.
In the aftermath of Gamergate, supporters of diversity won. The number of creators who were women, people of color, or LGBTQ exploded in media from TV to comics to video games. More importantly, the changes have paid off. Diversity is becoming the norm as nerd culture further integrates into the mainstream, bringing the national culture to a turning point.
Gun culture, on the other hand, has doubled down. The NRA, which represents most major gun manufacturers, has drummed up every aftermath into an apocalypse. Everything is the last chance, particularly the last chance to purchase what will make you feel strong and safe. The opposition is stronger than ever, so you need to arm yourself appropriately.
So buy your guns now.