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March 7, 2013

Feeling Railroaded by Guns, Survivalists, Domestic Terror?

With gun control facing an uphill battle in Congress and the NYT running a feature today about more coziness between the gun lobby and Congress, I was thinking about the meaning of this survivalist photo from the newswire. (It was taken last December but published recently in a “picture of the week” gallery at NBC). The way we’re inclined to identify with the kid (and all the mil-green and cammo clothing), it feels like the photo is a pushback to all the fear and hysteria generated by the (largely anonymous = headless) gun lobby and its protection of the Second Amendment. I was thinking it might be a pushback, too (boys with their toys), to how much the militias and domestic terrorists have become the objects of media obsession.

And then, what about the parental dimension? And, childhood? And old fashioned innocence and imagination? And is the photo, by way of the kid, actually a deeper dive on “survivalism”?

On the composition, specifically, I like how the roll mat, facing us on top of the green backpack, looks like the barrel of a machine gun or rocket launcher. Things do get more ambiguous from there, though. For instance, it is pointed at the kid. (Fall in line, or else?) But then, is that the front of the kid’s tent? (In which case, shoot me now?). I’m wondering about the additional contribution of Thomas the Tank Engine. As opposed to “The Little Engine that Could,” say, isn’t that character more hung up on his own self-importance?

(photo: Brian Blanco / Reuters caption: A young boy sulks because his sister got to carry the rifle that he wanted to carry as members of the North Florida Survival Group gather for a field training exercise in Old Town, Fla., Dec. 8, 2012. The group trains children and adults to handle weapons and survive in the wild. The group passionately supports the right of U.S. citizens to bear arms, and its website states that it aims to teach “patriots to survive in order to protect and defend our Constitution against all enemy threats.”.)

  • Colin Nicholls

    The kid appears to be too old to be playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. Should the adult have grown out of playing soldier?

    • Karen D

      that’s funny. As the mom of a former Thomas devotee (three years Thomas free), I was thinking the exact same thing. Also made me think of the immature appeal of the toy and how, even if I understood and used guns (which I don’t), I would never think to hand my child a gun during the time he was in Thomas’ clutches.

    • bresson2

      Yes. The photo seems very suggestive of the toxic yin/yang imbalance of our culture. The overweight boy, playing with a small child’s toy that’s way too young for him, seems the product of an indulgent, coddling yin. The adult is all toxic yang, a headless, leg-and-midsection-based, male force with revolver and rifle in crude phallic readiness. Perhaps the one causes the other??

    • Christine Lorenz

      I’m guessing the Thomas riding toy belongs to a younger sibling who is not in the picture (the multiple tents suggest a family camping trip). In families where these kinds of things are often scattered around, bigger kids are constantly negotiating their roles by differentiating themselves from younger kids. At the same time, they have to live up to the ever-increasing expectations of their parents, while watching their younger siblings live what looks like a much more carefree life. The young guy in the picture looks to me like he’s in a conflicted moment — camo’ed up to head out with his dad, but maybe not quite ready. Maybe he just got yelled at. In reality, he’s probably pretty used to seeing the guns. It’s our own reactions that we see in his face that make the photograph speak for more than what was actually transpiring in that moment.

    • William

      Yes ..I am agree.

  • McQuiggle

    I’ve seen that boy’s expression on a thousand cynical workman’s faces, he’s too big to be astride Thomas, ‘the very useful engine’ and central character in a children’s series highlighting a British wartime social-democratic ethical system, which functions by virtue of each one performing his duty within a cooperative enterprise. The failure of individual characters to meet this demand form the dramatic arc of each episodic fable within the series. It’s interesting that this smiling, bright-eyed symbol of cooperative effort, which is central to the image in that it is the only civilian object, of unnatural and yet everday color, is here repurposed to express this overgrown youth’s diminished possibilities. He is being required to cheerfully sacrifice childhood to do his bit for the larger war effort.

    • William

      Ok..u r right..

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