Monday, January 08, 2007

Child's Play

Pharoahe Monch personifies a bullet in this new internet-only video "Gun Draws," a public service announcement on the consequences of our highly violent society..

Pharoahe Monch "Guns Draw"

This is an uber-creative, on-point and devastating critique of modern gun culture. It's so good by the end, that one can easily forgive the acting and dialogue miscues at the begining. Pharoahe Monch paints his picture with the weapon itself, taking on a bullets perspective (which he's adorned previously on "Stray Bullet") but dressing it in the common clothes of a street-cop. Bullets aren't just used by angry men, troubled kids or revengeful spouses - they happen to be the means of our collective protection as well.

The suspense is maintained in the first scene because we are never entirely sure how it will end. We begin almost sure it will result with some violence originating with the drunk and disorderly father, but soon we feel the tremor of doubts. Maybe it will be the wife, out of protection? Perhaps an accident of some sort involving the kids? And even when the young boy picks up that gun and points it at his parents, you are almost relieved at the possibility he'll shoot the dad and get it over with. When it ends up being his sister, it's not only shocking, but it clues you into the basic premise of the song and video - you can never predict exactly how and when a gun, even if legally posessed, will be used.

We can assume that the little boy who pulls the trigger has grown up around these sort of violent outbursts from his dad, aimed at his mother. So it's not surprising that these sorts of actions, the way in which his father releases frustration, would eventually influence the way the child himself deals with anger. The prescence of the gun only helps to underline the possibility of violence. What is the point of the weapon if not for protection? Thus when children are scared, they are actually conditioned to seek such violence as means to safety - it's what the weapon stands for, what it represents.

Monch references this with clips from Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry , who happens to be a strong gun advocate. But at the same time the rapper is aware of a similar association between hip-hop and gun violence. This isn't the first song to use the sounds of gunfire as instruments in the beat, but it may be the first anti-gun song to do it. By becoming the bullet himself, donning the outfit of the means to the kill, Monch stays in the classic gangsta rap ruthless persona - directly recalling the cinematic style of Eminem's "Guilty Conscience" video. But this is his critique of that stand-point, he is well aware that Biggie and Tupac where partially shot by their own insistence on glorifying the bloody world of gangfeuds.

Yet as he says early on, you can't blame the bullet for the crime. There is a process, an instituionalized amplification of the power of the gun to serve and protect. Every army officer holds one in TV commericials, and all our manly heroes carry them in their belts. The irony and sad fact that Monch emphasizes with the Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and J.F.K. montage is that guns have been prominently used to silence those who where actually serving and protecting our society.

The hypocrisy of the gun-totting police officer is perhaps the strongest image of the entire work. Like the father who waves his weapon around his family as evidence of his power, guns are used mainly as deterrents - as instruments of fear. The problem with this method is that a gun is a real thing, it's a deadly weapon - and as Monch so bluntly shows us - it will often fall into the wrong hands (as if any hands where the "right" hands for a gun). Especially when fear is being promoted so openly. Rather than fighting our collective feeling of insecurity - which is the essential root of most crime - the police are ordered to constantly walk around with fear by their side. The cycle results in little kids killing each other and themselves, but it's possible to stop this before it starts. It's not just a personal issue, but one that must be dealt with on every level all the way up to the top.

A recent TIME Magazine feature, "Why We Worry About the Wrong Things?," revealed that the greatest risks to our health are bodily diseases. Yet instead of taking care of our own bodies we are in constant fear of other people's bodies (which in-turn actually hurts your health). The best method of protection from guns is self-confidence - it's the first step. If you aren't scared you won't need to pull the trigger. Which isn't to say that you will automatically stop the world from using their own guns just by believing in yourself (homicide still accounts for 18,000 of the annual deaths), but if you don't need a gun around the house to feel safe then your kids won't need one either. And it's that feeling of safety that we're ultimately after anyways.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie