HOLLYWOOD’S ‘GOOD GUY WITH A GUN’ FALLACY
THE ENTERTAINMENT industry has played a huge role in promoting the idea of the invulnerable action-hero cop, to the detriment of civilians and police officers.
In 2015/16, when I set out to explore how Hollywood had portrayed policing over the past 100 years, I noticed stark changes in the way the entertainment industry handled stories in which cops used their guns.
Initially, Dragnet and Naked City portrayed such incidents as rare and deeply regrettable. Fictional cops were profoundly grieved when they shot and killed criminals. These shows inevitably vindicated the officers’ decision-making, but still suggested the circumstances were unusual and a serious breakdown of order. Cops weren’t supposed to regularly face life-or-death violence.
These assumptions did not last, worn down by the crime wave that began in the 1960s, and later, by the demands of Hollywood’s relentless appetite for blockbusters.
In movies such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, cops were pitted against increasingly violent antagonists. Facing off against hyperviolent drug dealers or murderous thieves, they could dispense with the hand-wringing about whether it was wrong to kill their antagonists. And the iron law of franchise-making meant that, while these cops might get bloodied and smoke-stained, they’d never be in mortal peril. If our heroes were to be killed or disabled in the line of duty, what would become of Hollywood’s sequels?
In the real world, there are no action co-ordinators designing mass shootings to ensure that only dispensable extras are killed and that bullets always whiz past our heroes. Shoot-outs are shattering in real life.
Becoming a cop gets you a badge, a gun and training, but it does not guarantee that you will be a superior marksman or have superior fire-power. (The same risks apply to civilian who imagine they might become heroic good guys, given the chance.)This fantasy of the police officer – or any armed civilian – as an unkillable one-man army is a fairy story. Promoting the “good guy with a gun” as a solution to the US mass shooting nightmare will not give us fewer or less deadly mass shootings, but more martyred cops, sacrificed on the altar of our political stalemate. Politicians should stop telling this lie. Hollywood should reconsider making a profit out of it.
The Washington Post