Mass Shootings and Toxic Masculinity: The Legacy of American Culture

In the land of the free...

Credit: Rambo 3 via Giphy

If you are reading this, it means that there’s another mass shooting occurred. The shooter was probably a man and the tragedy probably took place in America. We should not be surprised: mass shootings and toxic masculinity are the legacy of American culture.

Entertainment plants the seed of violence in boys’ psyche.

Not surprisingly, Hollywood had a tremendous influence on my male ideals when I was a boy. Rambo, The Terminator and many 80’s and 90’s action movies blockbusters were prominent in my entertainment consumption. All these films gave me a strong sense of what a hero looks like: the strong silent type, that uses guns and violence to fight for what’s right. From this type of entertainment, I also developed a strong taste for knives and for weapons of all kinds. A good portion of my “toys” were comprised of guns and rifles’ replicas which I would buy based on what my “heroes” would use in movies. With my friends, we would play “police against robbers”, or simply play “war”; we would pretend to be fighting an imaginary enemy or to kill each other. We would re-enact the popular scenes of our favorite movies. My experience is the one of most men my age as they were growing up. Movies are the #1 point of entry in shaping masculinity standards, but not only. They also start a slow process of desensitization towards violence, and a glorification of weaponry. Make no mistake, Hollywood is one of the best marketing allies of guns manufacturers.

As I aged from late teenage years to pre-adulthood, my icons changed. Good bye Rambo. Welcome Tony Soprano. Tony Montana. Jimmy Conway. Mafia world. The law of silence. Still guns. Still violence. Add to the mix, money, power, domination, substance abuse and the degradation of women’s image and you have the full package of toxic masculinity. The glorification of this narrow version of manhood is an integrative part of American culture.

Being a father in America woke me up.

It would be unfair and overly simplistic to blame toxic masculinity on Hollywood alone. After all, men violence exists all over the world. However the leadership of the United States of America in both mass shootings and toxic masculinity is undeniable. When I moved from France to New York 10 years ago, being able to be a gun owner in the U.S. was not particularly shocking to me. I have even considered getting a gun myself, as the notion being to protect yourself can seem reasonable on paper. But as the time passed, the morbid banality of what mass shootings have become, took a toll on me. As a father, witnessing such inaction despite countless children being murdered at school from the bullets of assault weapons became unbearable. In my anger and empathy for the parents that lost their children in horrible circumstances, I cannot help but looking for connectors and for causes to explain this madness. The two answers I found are simple: I found men and I found America.
  1. One fact that is pretty revealing is that men are the common denominator for the overwhelming majority of mass shootings in America. In a Politico article written in January 2018, it is written that “Of the 96 mass shootings committed since 1982, all but two were committed by men.” While the causes and motivations of mass shooters may vary, men are responsible and it needs to be addressed.
  2. And then, you have America. And to explain America’s exceptionalism in guns availability and its deadly consequences, pictures and charts speak much louder than words.
As I am looking at all these elements from distance, I connect the dots with ease. From entertainment to gun availability, the issues of mass shootings and toxic masculinity are clearly intertwined and American culture is to blame for it. As I said in the first paragraph of this blog, we should not be surprised. If you still have any doubt, I would like to invite you to revisit the way America was created, or to audit the imperialistic nature of the country’s foreign policy of the last 50 years: violence is at the core of the U.S. DNA. The citizens are at the image of the country’s culture. So is the current president. Do I need to say more? Actually, yes I do. While gun control MUST be enforced in this country, the long-term in depth work to change the culture of toxic masculinity must be tackled with the same sense of urgency. As fathers, we must be at the forefront of change.

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