Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fathers, Sons and Guns: An Interview With USC Sociologist and Author Michael Messner

 Jackson Katz (the film-maker behind Tough Guise) interviewed USC sociologist and author Michael Messner about his recent memoir King of the Wild Suburb: A memoir of fathers, sons and guns for Huffington Post. The beginning of both parts is posted here.

Fathers, Sons and Guns: An Interview With USC Sociologist and Author Michael Messner 

Jackson Katz - Educator, author, filmmaker, and cultural theorist

Guns are in the news every day in our society. They're the weapon of choice in countless "routine" homicides and mass murders. Motorcycle gang shootouts. Armed robberies. School shootings. Domestic violence rampages. Guns are a staple of our entertainment culture, a critical part of the story line in a seemingly endless number of TV shows, Hollywood films and video games. They're also the subject of ongoing and often acrimonious political debate. Guns -- and the violence they either inflict or seek to prevent --- are a major presence in our individual and collective psyches.
And yet in mainstream journalism and book publishing there is very little thoughtful discussion of one crucial aspect of the role that guns play in our lives: the relationship between guns and manhood. It's a stunning omission when you consider that men own the vast majority of guns, comprise the vast majority of hunters, and commit the overwhelming majority of gun violence. You'd think that with all of the gun violence in our society more people would want to take a closer look at the gender angle.

Alas, many people assume "gender" means women. The subject of women and guns does merit further inquiry and discussion. But men are every bit as gendered as women. It is long past time that the gun debate was infused with a sophisticated understanding of how gun use and abuse - from hunting to homicide - is tied inextricably to cultural constructs of masculinity across a range of class, racial and ethnic categories. Part of this understanding has to do with the emotional connection so many men feel to guns - and to the men they bond with around them.

Few people are better positioned to contribute to this effort than Michael Messner, long-time professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California and author of numerous books on masculinity, sports and politics. Messner's new book is a memoir about his experience with guns in the context of his relationship with his now-deceased father and grandfather. I spoke with Messner about the themes he develops in King of the Wild Suburb: a memoir of fathers, sons and guns. (Plain View Press, 2011). What follows is Part I, which largely concerns issues related to Messner's experiences hunting with men in his family. Part II will address further political questions about guns and their relationship to manhood in U.S. society.
Read the rest of part one.

Men's Emotional Connection to Guns: An Interview With Michael Messner (Part 2)

JK: Recently in the small town of Seal Beach, California a man in a custody dispute with his ex-wife went on a shooting rampage in a beauty salon, killing eight people -- including the ex-wife and mother of his son. On a Los Angeles talk radio program the day after the mass murder, conservative host Larry Elder interviewed Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. Pratt decried the calls for more gun control that typically arise after these kinds of heinous shootings. He said that the biggest obstacle he faces in convincing people of the wrongheaded approach of gun control were people's feelings. It's hard to argue with "people who don't think linearly," he said, "who go with their feelings" against guns. In other words, people like him who advocate for overturning most restrictions on gun ownership arrive at those views rationally and logically, while people who want stricter controls on guns are too emotional to think clearly. This harkens back to the tired, discredited, sexist belief that men are rational and women emotional. By contrast, your book provides insight into the emotional connection many men have to guns, a connection often rooted in their childhoods, and in their relationships with other men.

MM: Sure, we do need to think rationally and logically about the role of guns in our society. But to suggest that gun rights advocates are the rational ones in the national debate ignores the deeply emotional connection that many gun owners -- be they hunters or not -- often have with their guns. I illustrate this in my book by reproducing a loving letter that my grandfather hand-wrote to my dad on Christmas Day in 1934, on the occasion of giving then-fourteen-year old Dad his first rifle. This gift -- and the lessons about safety embedded in the letter -- were a deep expression of love. For the rest of his life, my dad kept that letter in his top drawer, with his socks. Emotions are of central importance on all sides of the gun debate. We can't wish them away in favor of some imagined Mr. Spock-like linear rationality, nor should we try to project blind emotionality on to one side while claiming rational clarity for our own camp in the debate. What we need is a rational public discussion that recognizes and respects the depth and breadth of emotions that swirl on all sides of the debate on guns and violence.
Read all of part two.

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