When I first saw the Christmas card sent out this year by Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a sense of instant revulsion and disgust pulsed through me. With its blood red and gun-metal black color scheme, the card from the Las Vegas Republican seems the antithesis of what Christmas is supposed to represent – the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, aka, “The Prince of Peace.”
In the photo, each member of the Fiore family is packing heat – right down to five-year-old Jake, who is holding a Walther P22. Perhaps slowing down a bit, grandma appears to have opted for the light-weight Extar EXP-556 semi-auto. Nothing like the easy trigger pull on older fingers. My personal favorite is the pistol-grip Serbu “Super-Shorty” .12 gauge shotgun being held by Fiore herself, guaranteed to splatter enough blood, brain matter and viscera around the holiday dining room to make it look like a cross between a Museum of Modern Art gala and an Arkansas slaughter house.
It would be easy to simply keep rippin’ and raggin’ on the Fiores, whom I do not know from Adam – or even Eve. Perhaps they are wonderful, patriotic, God-fearin’ folk, though with the arsenal at their disposal they clearly need fear no one else. The larger question is: How did we arrive in a society in which the family of an elected official sees such a card as not only acceptable but appropriate?
How have we reached a point where we have more to fear from lonely, isolated kids with easy access to semi-automatic weapons than from the Russian or Chinese armies? Or even ISIS?
My wife, who is often very wise, especially over the dinner table and a second glass of cabernet, blames it on wantonly violent, incredibly realistic video games. The lack parental supervision plus thousands of hours spent mostly by young, white males “inside” these games numbs them to reality and gruesomely realistic carnage becomes a part of their everyday experience – like going for ice cream, she says; and she further notes that recruiters for radical Islam are using the same techniques to prep similar awkward teenage boys for actual battles whether in the Middle East or here in the USA.
Certainly, that may be a component, but it seems to go deeper. We see it in the television shows we push to the top of ratings (from Gunsmoke to Miami Vice to 24 to Homeland and The Walking Dead); and in the films we laud (from The Wild Bunch to Blackhawk Down to American Sniper to the ultimate violent guy flick, The Godfather, in which Michael takes care of “all the family business” while attending the baptism of his nephew, before having the boy’s father killed). We hear it, too, in rap music that glorifies brutality toward women, rape, drug use, gang violence and the murder of police officers.
CNN, FoxNews and the rest feed us non-stop brutality in endless loops 24-7-365, and we eat it up with our roast beef dinners, prime-time popcorn and breakfast cereal.
Even in the world of sports, football has overtaken baseball as our “National Pastime” in no small measure because of the violence of it is more satisfying to our cultural nature than the subtle skills required of the boys of summer.
This week I was struck by the difference in literary policing in European and American writing as I simultaneously read The Lake House by British author Kate Morton and The Redeemers by Mid-South author Ace Adkins. The former is a modern and essentially bloodless drawing room mystery and the latter is a crime tale set in a fictional hard-scrabble north Mississippi county. The differing levels of violence and even extreme language could not be more disparate or more telling about society on the east and west side of The Pond.
Yet, it is all too easy to point fingers until I look in my own mirror. My novel Wolf’s Run contains no less than 12 acts of deadly or potentially deadly violence, and the pivotal issue is finally settled by dynamite and a deer rifle. The plot revolves around a possible murder.
Assemblywoman Fiore told FoxNews she doesn’t know why people were opposed to the photo, saying that Christmas is a “family affair” and that firearms make great gifts.
When Wolf’s Run came out in 2010, we pushed it hard in the Christian fiction market and only secondarily as a mainstream mystery/suspense novel. Even now we are re-marketing it as a “wonderful faith-centered Christmas gift.”
Insert here, rueful laugh at my own hypocrisy.
Perhaps the Fiores are simply more honest about their inner-savage than gun-owners such as myself who are more circumspect in our firepower. They display with Christmas joy and abandon the latent threat of violence and even death that every firearm represents, rather than sit alone in a lamp-lit study building at least a dozen acts of deadly violence into a word-processor world of my own creation. And out it comes, slick as gun oil, ready for sale. A few more acts of fictional bloodshed spattered across the American consciousness. What does it matter? — as long as Jesus loves me, this I know.
In truth, by what we choose to create or consume we all have had a hand in building the violent society to which we are both addicted and inured.
To paraphrase the doddering, angelic messenger Clarence in the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life — every time someone dies violently in America, an angel gets his or her wings. If so, then the heavenly hosts must be full … and weeping.
Louis Hillary Park is an Ole Miss journalism alum who spent some 30 years in the newspaper business in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. He now is involved in web site development and social media marketing. His first novel, Wolf’s Run, came out in 2010 and is available at Amazon.com; his second novel, Hard News, is scheduled for release in fall 2016. He resides in Palm Beach County, Florida with his wife, Joyce. He can be reached at LOUIS_PARK@pba.edu.