OSD 157: Assault pixels
Do young people get to participate in culture?
Here’s a pitch for a TV show targeted at teenagers. The show’s set at a coed Catholic high school. The kids struggle against a traditional upbringing, torn between, on the one hand, the sometimes-good/sometimes-overbearing expectations placed on them, and on the other hand a sometimes-good/sometimes-reckless teenage urge to transgress. Some of them drink. There’s a little drug use. They have their first sexual experiences. One of them comes out as gay. The show builds towards all the kids moving away to new towns to go to college.
You’d never see this show in the US today. It’s been done so many times that it would be too boring to air.
If you were in, say, Saudi Arabia, you would also never see this show. But for completely opposite reasons: it would be so repugnant to prevailing norms that even having the idea for it would be suspect. Good people aren’t supposed to think that up, let alone want to see it.
To illustrate the depth of the cultural gulf, the plot points that would run afoul of Saudi law and/or culture are: a coed school, a Catholic school, drinking, drug use, intimacy outside of marriage, homosexuality, and kids moving out of the house to go to college. In other words, every plot point. They’re so boring in the US that nobody would watch, but so offensive in Saudi Arabia that the creator would go to prison.
Cultural artifacts are a statement about what’s normal in a society. And the cultural artifacts that don’t exist are a statement about what’s abnormal.
We saw a similar culture clash this week, with the twist that the discordant cultures exist simultaneously in the same place — namely, throughout the US.
Remington (or, more accurately, the insurance companies holding the bag for the post-two-bankruptcies-in-two-years husk of a company that used to own the Remington brand name) settled for $73 million with the families of nine Sandy Hook massacre victims. It was an eight-year road to this outcome. We wrote about the details of the case (and why Remington’s finances forced it to settle) back in “OSD 128: Nobody needs an assault lawyer”:
The lawsuit kicked off in 2014, but the trial hasn’t started yet — since 2014, the parties have been arguing about whether the PLCAA should prevent the trial from starting in the first place. Even by landmark lawsuit standards, that’s a very long (and very expensive) preamble. After nearly seven years of both sides racking up wins and then reversals, a judge made a final ruling that the trial will be allowed to start.
That’s based on the idea that Remington’s advertising for its guns is so inherently dangerous that the company can be held liable for those ads. This is a creative tactic to route around the PLCAA. It uses laws about ads and trade practices, rather than the negligence angle that the PLCAA forecloses. The Connecticut Supreme Court overruled a lower court to hold that the PLCAA doesn’t block this lawsuit from proceeding.
As soon as there was a final word on the case being allowed to go to trial, Remington immediately offered to settle.
That was back in August 2021. Remington initially offered a $33 million settlement, that has now been negotiated up to $73 million, and the lawsuit is over. The procedural legal bits are interesting, and covered thoroughly in OSD 128. What we’ll cover today are the cultural bits.
@2Aupdates captured a slice of it here:
Magazines taped together are called jungle mags, and have been a thing since World War II. It’s an impromptu way to increase ammo capacity. There’s a famous picture of Malcolm X standing guard at the window of his home, with his M1 carbine’s mags set up jungle style.
That’s all to say that jungle mags are exactly the sort of niche factoid that a good video game designer would pepper into their game. Or that a gun ad would include as a little historical wink.
In a culture that’s familiar with guns, that’s cool. In a culture where guns are alien, it’s suspect. Because if your foundational premise is that guns are malign, then the better the cultural references get, the worse you feel that is.
This news coincided with a push from the governor of California to codify the idea that guns are inherently harmful. As is tradition, step one is to think of the children:
From the governor’s press release (bold emphasis ours):
The Administration also worked closely with the Legislature to introduce AB 2571 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), which proposes to identify certain categories of weapons, for example, semi-automatic weapons or firearms of a certain caliber, that cannot be marketed to minors under any circumstances. In addition, Governor Newsom highlighted AB 1621 by Assemblymember Gipson to further restrict ghost guns in California by bringing the state into compliance with a proposed new federal rule that would cause many gun kits and “80 percent receivers” to be regulated the same as fully functional firearms and finished receivers. Under the legislation, these couldn’t be sold without a serial number or without the buyer undergoing a background check.
“Gun manufacturers view our children as their next generation of customers, and target them with slick and manipulative advertising. The advertising for these weapons is shameless. Children in California are not allowed to buy or own a gun, yet they are advertised across all forms of media with cartoons, video games, and social media. I’m proud to stand with Governor Newsom on these important reforms — enough is enough,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan.
That sounds like an argument about which ideas are acceptable to share with children. But look closer, and it’s actually an argument about which ideas are acceptable, period.
You can think of it as Saudi authorities stumbling onto Sixteen Candles.
There might be a knee-jerk temptation to resist Bauer-Kahan’s characterization. After all, “advertising to children” sounds very mustache-twirling. But it’s not like Knights Armament has an account manager at Nickelodeon. All that’s happening is that kids are allowed to access platforms and media where guns aren’t actively stigmatized — specifically, they’re allowed to play video games and watch movies. So how “no advertising guns to children” actually works on the ground is “creators must either ban kids or stigmatize guns”.
There’s a textbook begging-the-question fallacy baked into that. Allowing young people to see non-stigmatizing depictions of gun culture is only bad if you assume that guns are inherently bad. For some people, that's axiomatic. But there are ~80 million gun owners in the US. For many of them, introducing kids to guns is as normal as introducing them to cars. In other words:
If that seems too zealous, remember that there is no “don’t spread your ideas to children” option. Exposing children to an idea is an action. Not exposing children to that idea is also an action. Culture is just a hivemind’s choices about what to signal-boost, what to signal-dampen, and what to be indifferent about. There’s no objective right or wrong here, it’s just the integral of millions of little choices.
Beware of any set of ideas claiming that they’re the natural default, and that it’s the “other side” who’s indoctrinating people. The truth is that everybody’s “indoctrinating” everybody, all the time. There’s a word for that: society. To live with other people is to be exposed to their ideas, and for them to be exposed to yours.
That’s a feature, not a bug.
This week’s links
Good talk all around. Shawn’s point at 1:01:00 about new shooters and intrusive thoughts is a unique insight and a great way to think about newbies’ anxieties.
“It’s basically two days of running, rucking and shooting,” Bob said. “All for a chance to get smoked, get a t-shirt and a barbecue dinner.”
Company receives “nice platform, it would be a shame if something happened to it” letter from crew that controls their territory.
Each one is noteworthy for its own reasons.
Concealed carrier saves a child being mauled by two dogs. Illustrates how dynamic and unpredictable a DGU can be.
Father fires a shot at people who burst into his house at 4:30 a.m. They turn out to be police looking for someone else. Father is charged with attempted murder, children taken, infant injured without explanation while in police custody. Generally applicable thoughts at “OSD 155: Gun rights and the police”.
Man robbed at drive-thru ATM, fires at fleeing robber, kills 9-year-old bystander. Guns are for saving life, not ego. You are morally and legally responsible for every shot you fire.
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