Friday, October 10, 2008

Woman with a Gun (Part 1)

Much has been made in the six weeks since we were introduced to Sarah Palin of her gun-totin' ways, her life-long NRA membership (unsurprisingly the NRA has come out in support of the McCain-Palin ticket), her rather extreme views on gun control (or lack thereof) and her propensity for shooting things. For a while now, I've been interested in media representations of violence (or implied violence) and so Palin's predilection for firearms has me intrigued. What follows is the first part of a three-part analysis/exploration of the "woman with a gun" trope in popular/media culture. From politics to film to television and back to politics.

Part 1: They Shoot Wolves, Don't They?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit something before I even begin: I'm not really anti-gun, nor do I have a moral problem with hunting in general. I do believe in stricter gun control, including required background checks and permits to purchase both rifles and handguns, but I don't think firearms should be illegal. (Some states already have these requirements and some don't. If you look around, you can find up-to-date gun control laws on the internet with little trouble, but--just for illustrative purposes--this map of gun control laws by state is straightforward and succinct and gives you a general overview, even though it's a little outdated.) As regards hunting, I've never hunted myself and I'm not sure I'd ever want to hunt, but as long as hunters handle the animals humanely (i.e. not dragging out the chase or carelessly maiming) and use the animals they hunt for food and not trophies, I don't really have a problem with it. (It'd be pretty hypocritical of me to get up-in-arms over animals being hunted for food when I regularly eat meat. In fact, responsible hunting is probably more humane than what happens at slaughterhouses. But I digress.)

That said, we all know Governor Palin likes to hunt and she's happily asserted that "We hunt as much as we can, and I'm proud to say our freezer is full of wild game we harvested here in Alaska" (Newsweek). We've also seen the pictures of her with her spoils:

(The bear was actually shot by Palin's father, but now resides in her Anchorage office.)

You've probably also heard about her promotion of an aerial wolf gunning program, which is quite a bit more insidious than shooting the occasional caribou. The program, started by previous Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, was designed to control the population of wolves so they would leave more prey for human hunters:
Wolves, Murkowski believed, were clearly better than humans at killing elk and moose, and humans needed to even the playing field.But that was before Sarah Palin took Murkowski's job at the end of 2006. She went one step, or paw, further. Palin didn't think Alaskans should be allowed to chase wolves from aircraft and shoot them -- they should be encouraged to do so. Palin's administration put a bounty on wolves' heads, or to be more precise, on their mitts.
(Read the full article at Salon.)
Here's the ad against the practice paid for by the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund:

While hunting prey animals may be partially about "living off the land" and feeding your family (although I imagine the percentage of hunters who only care about food is small), the aerial wolf gunning program is solely an assertion of power. The mastery of (wo)man over nature. It not only enacts human dominance over animals for our own gains but also implies that we have the right to exert our superior weaponry and machinery however we please. It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to imagine where that kind of thinking can lead us (and has already).

And what of the image of Sarah Palin with a gun--from the faked bikini photo and Tina Fey as Palin pretending to cock an invisible gun on SNL, to the real McCoy (see the first photo above)? In the first two instances, the emphasis is clearly on sex appeal. Woman with a gun = hot.

And the latter case? The actual Sarah Palin holding an actual gun? Take a look at this very short video made by Palin supporters before the rest of the country even knew who Sarah Palin was (the video was posted to Youtube way back in July by the Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President folks, who are probably patting themselves on the back right about now):

What visual associations do they make with Governor Palin? Integrity. Sarah Palin is sworn in as governor. Leadership. Sarah Palin speaks with Army officers. Courage. Sarah Palin shoots an assault rifle. And then the kicker: "Republicans are much more open to strong women." Following on the heels of rat-a-tat gunfire, the only spoken words in the video make implicit connections between firearms/courage and courage/strength. So, again, we're back to guns as symbols of power (certainly not a new idea in and of itself). The photos speak: This woman can shoot and kill a 1200lb moose, a swift caribou or a vicious wolf, so she's master of the natural domain. She knows how to fire a rifle and doesn't blink, so she has the strength to lead and the courage to defend our nation.

But...there's more. Stay tuned for Part 2. In the meantime, what's do you think is the (theoretical) appeal of Sarah Palin and her guns? Why are they important to her image?


Anonymous said...

I take it you are not familiar with current firearms law. Since 1993, it has been federal law that any firearms transaction going through a federally-licensed dealer must have a background check completed for the buyer. This is just federal law, mind you. Many states have additional hoops to jump through for people who want to legally purchase a firearm. Criminals, on the other hand, don't seem to care for filling out the proper forms. said...

zvebab, okay...but that's not really the point of the post. In any case, I just said that I'm for stricter gun control including background checks and permits. Perhaps background checks are always required, but permits are not. For example, in Virginia--my home state--only machine guns have to be registered and you only need a permit to carry a concealed weapon.