Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet, one of the first scenes features an Asgardian showing off the collection of souvenirs that he procured from Earth to two attractive women who look like they would be impressed by that sort of thing. Of course, as soon as he pulled two automatic weapons out of the pile, there was little doubt in my mind where the joke would lead (paraphrasing): “I got these from a place called Tex-sas.”
It’s funny, isn’t it? That Texans are internationally known for being cowboys and having big guns? The movie and that line were released in theaters on November 3rd. Two days later, 26 people were killed by a gunman in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. By the time this article is released or soon afterward, there will probably be another mass shooting in Texas or somewhere else in the US.
While it’s ridiculous to claim a line in a movie has any connection to such a horrific act, what’s not ridiculous is pop culture as a whole influencing the way we see guns, and how Texans in particular seem to be irrevocably associated with them. Firearms are practically cartoonish. In fact, I can’t think of a single form of fictional media that doesn’t portray guns as either something to use to make you feel powerful (The Brave One), something that’s just a natural prop and not the dangerous instrument it is (any action movie), or something that shouldn’t be feared and doesn’t cause any real harm (such as when characters in cartoons get shot and just get soot on their faces… not blood).
Let’s assume that most people around the world really believe everyone in Texas is a gun-toting, racist redneck who drives a pickup truck. Believing certain myths about the state is counterproductive, especially when you’re talking about stopping mass shootings. Guns have been associated with Texas in popular culture for so long that we’re letting perception start to shape reality.
In reality, most Texans do not own or have access to a gun. Most Texans aren’t stupid enough to open carry their firearms in a supermarket or restaurant, or leave them in a car overnight. Many Texans favor common sense gun control, such as requiring mental health and criminal background checks. But will we ever see an action movie with the hero exploring a desolate State of Texas, struggling to find a gun? Not a chance.
I’m not saying movie producers and writers can’t have their fun from time to time, but let’s be honest: everyone around the world heard about the latest mass shooting, saw it was in Texas, and wasn’t really surprised. Maybe not as surprised as they would have been if it had happened in Hawaii. Being stereotyped as gun-loving good ol’ boys is a lazy approach, but it was tolerated when people weren’t being mowed down at church.
You know what I’d like to see? A Texan on the big screen without an accent who doesn’t pull out a gun or even know how to shoot, but still manages to live an interesting life. That’s just as accurate a depiction of the “real Texas” and it’s much more appealing than any image that makes us a little less shocked when a Sutherland Springs happens.