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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Emasculating Gun-Nuttery: Or, What Atrios Said

I couldn't agree more:
Obviously they're a scary crowd to mock, because they, you know, have guns. Which is part of the point. But it is time to up the mockery of the giant external penis of death crowd. They're ridiculous cowards at best, and sociopathic wannabee serial killers, or occasionally actual serial killers, at worst. Losers.
Well, I couldn't agree more, but I'll try anyway. I have argued that an underappreciated dimension of the extraordinarily successful assimilationist model of gay politics was not just the mass coming out of my post-Stonewall generation, but the derisive interpretative gesture of treating acts of aggressive homophobia as exhibitions of a closeted gayness themselves and then making that interpretation stick. The special power of Atrios' mockery above is that it is emasculating.

Indeed, Atrios' formula is multiply and incessantly emasculating: it first insinuates that the gun-toting gun-nut possesses a small penis (more to the point, the public gun as figure of fun robs even a mighty penile oak the symbolic heft of the patriarchal phallus), then it accuses the gun-toting gun-nut of a conspicuous cowardice, it goes on to accuse the gun-toting gun-nut of a deranged and hence incontinent selfhood, a paranoid selfhood precluded from the rationalization of a protective role, and then it equates the gun-toting gun-nut with being a "loser," illegible as leader, breadwinner, trustworthy comrade or civic-minded citizen. It goes without saying (I hope) that the set of connections implied and demands made by such a construction of masculinity could only ever be a kind of catastrophe, that a masculinity so construed even at its best would always be an immensely costly and palpably threatened bearing of selfhood given that men are vulnerable, error-prone, historically-situated, socially entangled beings prone to humiliation and hungry for connection as much as anybody else.

What Atrios' formula recognizes is that it is not strength but the fragility of masculine selfhood in this construal that is symptomized in the figure of the gun-toting gun-nut. Of course, it is because this construction of masculinity is ever more threatened that it seeks to be ever more threatening: it is only when heteronormative masculinity is no longer immediately or inevitably or naturally and hence pre-politically legible that it seeks to back itself in an anti-political hale of bullets, it is only when heteronormative authority is no longer ubiquitous that the figure of the gun-toting gun-nut dreams of proliferating to re-occupy public space. Like the conspicuous homophobe, the gun-toting gun-nut is compensating. It is true, as Atrios said, that there is danger in this moment when a loss of legibility is lived as an experience of being cornered, and especially when there are weapons involved: But to react to the figure with fear is to collaborate in the success of his compensatory gesture, while to react to the figure with mockery is to refuse him success in the most catastrophic imaginable way. Mockery renders the gun-toting gun-nut illegible in his masculinity in precisely the moment of his public assertion of it. Just so, mockery of the aggressive homophone no longer vouchsafes but threatens his once confident ritual assertion of heterosexuality.

There are, by the way, a host of no less emasculating compassionate or apparently compassionate interpretive strategies available to aid in the emasculating mockery of the gun-toting gun-nut: the gun as the cry for help, the gun as the infantile play for attention, the gun as sign of the traumatized victim incapable of the love he so desperately needs, and so on. More to the point, I believe our popular press should be larded with impressionistic anecdotes and true confessions illustrating this emasculating connection, Comedy Central and SNL should make endless hay flogging it for laughs, hapless exemplars should appear as stock characters in commercials selling insurance and cars and candy bars.

Emasculating readings of the gun-toting gun-nut, should they come to represent the prevailing commensensical reading of the figure will not only render the strategy less available to him in the first place -- becoming sites threatening exposure of failure rather than promising successful incarnations of agency -- but in becoming prevalent will have done no small amount of the work of demolishing this particular ritual materialization of the threatened and threatening bearing of would-be ruggedly individualistic heterosexual masculinity to the good of us all.

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