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Hollywood takes aim

A few years ago I started noticing that a lot of the movie and TV posters I saw around NYC featured guns, often pointed outward, as if taking aim at those of us walking by. I started photographing the posters, thinking I might use them in some kind of project. I never did.

Then, about a month ago, I was on the subway with one of my six-year-old twins when he pointed to a poster for a TV show. “Dad, that poster is kind of scary. Why are they pointing a gun at us?” So it wasn’t just me.

In that moment, and in the wake of recent mass shootings, I decided to see if my theory that most, or at least many, movie posters featured guns was right. I found a site featuring dozens of 2015 movie posters and—sure enough—my suspicions were confirmed. Loads of guns. Moreover, the guns are often brandished toward the viewer.

Hollywood, 2015

Some of 2015’s movie posters featuring guns

Does this bother you? It bothers me.

For one thing, it’s just incredibly lazy, formulaic design work. Insert character with gun > add gloomy Photoshop effect > print. It’s the visual equivalent of “a dark and stormy night.” Then again, many of these movies are incredibly lazy and formulaic, so maybe the designs are apt. If anything, the work suggests an adolescent, almost prurient infatuation with guns.

As someone who cares about human experiences (User Experience is my bag), I see a casual disregard for society at large, and actual bystanders (including children) in particular: what does constant bombardment with this kind of imagery do to our collective psyche? Who benefits from seeing threatening images of gun-wielding aggressors on a daily basis? What does this kind of poster do to the spirits of the weary pedestrian, frustrated commuter, or exhausted parent?

Go ahead. Make my day.

More than anything, though, I see hypocrisy. Hollywood (if I may be so bold as to consolidate it into a single entity) likes to come down hard on guns and gun violence (yes, I’m aware there are some notable exceptions). At the same time, Hollywood is filling our public spaces—bus kiosks, cab placards, subway walls, billboards, etc.—with images of guns.

At least he’s not pointing it at us.

Note: I’ll sidestep the question of whether guns in movies inspire real world violence, other than to say I think it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest — as Quentin Tarantino has — that high-impact movies don’t have an effect on our tolerance of, and appetite for, guns. That said, I don’t think anyone went on a shooting spree after seeing Reservoir Dogs.

Perhaps the people in Hollywood who use guns to sell tickets would argue they’re not endorsing guns. Perhaps they’ll say that these images have nothing to do with our insatiable Gun Lust. (This past Black Friday alone, almost 186,000 background checks were filed—over two per second.)

If so, then those people are engaging in a little intellectual dishonesty: the sole purpose of a movie poster is to sell tickets, and a common tactic is an appeal to our baser instincts. If movie posters didn’t work—if they weren’t effective at inciting desire—they wouldn’t exist. In fact, advertising, product placement, media buys—none of it would exist.

A fetish with a history

A protagonist sipping a can of Coca-Cola is a classic example of product placement, as are characters who drive BMWs or wear Ray Bans. Likewise, guns in movie posters are a form of product placement: they become objects of intrigue, passion, and power. No specific brand is endorsed, but the ethos of the gun is.

So you’ll forgive me if I don’t perk up the next time a Hollywood mogul or celebrity takes a strong stand against guns. In many cases, the houses they live in, the cars they drive, the meals they eat — all of it is subsidized in some way by the use of the gun as a promotional vehicle.

Hollywood loves its guns.