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Rented the movie “Couples Retreat” a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, not much more than a mediocre film (maybe two stars, max.) As is the case with too many movies today, the trailer makes it look much funnier than it actually is. I’m not even sure it should be classified as a “comedy.” But there’s a very interesting scene near the beginning of the movie. Without giving too much of the plot away, the movie focuses on four couples. One of the male halves of one couple, played by Jason Bateman, is trying to get the other three couples interested in going on the retreat of the movie title. He’s so anxious to get an answer that he enters the home of another couple (Vince Vaughan being the husband) after that couple has gone to bed. Bateman sets off the house alarm, and Vaughan reaches to his bedside, activates a small safe, and takes out a semi automatic pistol to go investigate. Ultimately, he realizes it’s just his friend and after yelling that he almost got shot, Vaughan puts the gun away. It’s never seen or referred to again. I got to thinking about this scene last night because it seems to represent a sea change in how gun owners are portrayed in popular culture.

Growing up in the 60’s or 70’s, even into the 80’s and 90’s, people who kept guns in their homes were routinely portrayed on television and in movies as nutjobs, psychopaths, maniacs, unbalanced, or just comically absurd.

There was a staple plot of many sitcoms and dramatic shows whereby the (sympathetic) protagonist (or protagonist’s friend) gets victimized somehow (buglary, robbery, assault, etc) and then contemplates buying a gun. The agonizing over the “should I buy a gun” question is used as a convenient vehicle to trot out every anti-gun argument possible. A couple of weak, pro-gun arguments are set up as straw men and then quickly knocked down (usually by the most reasonable and respected characters on the program).

Invariably, the protagonist realizes the error of his ways when he shoots/nearly shoots a loved one or close friend under highly contrived circumstances (sure, it’s normal to just sneak in a back window when you forget your house key!). This was a constant theme of television shows in the 70’s and 80’s, and even into the 90’s. I recall an episode of Beverly Hills 90210—yes, I watched it—from circa 1993 that had exactly this plot.

So I find it fascinating that Couple’s Retreat features a scene where a main character keeps a gun by his bedside and is not portrayed as a trigger-happy gun loving nut. In fact, of the four male leads in the movie, Vaughan’s character is by far the most “normal” and balanced.

It may seem like a small thing, but that’s kind of the point. Even Hollyweird seems to have finally gotten the idea that millions of Americans keep firearms in their homes for their own protection. And contrary to the hysterical ravings of the anti-gun crowd, are actually less likely to accidentally shoot someone than the police, or to use the guns on their spouses or family members. They’re just ordinary, normal people who believe in defending themselves.

Will we see a more balanced portrayal of armed citizens in the future? Anything’s possible—in Hollywood.

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  1. On a recent episode of The Good Wife, the law firm partner played by Christine Baranski bought a pistol, heard a noise and almost shot at what turned out to be her furry white doggie. And that scenario is what worries me most about owning a weapon.

    TV suburbs may have been gun-free, but rural people, such as Lassie's owners, were portrayed as routinely owning a rifle. And of course good guys like Sky King had guns – but they were, "from out of the clear blue of the Western sky."

  2. As a teenager I remember the kind of TV show that you referred to where they agonized over the “should I buy a gun” question. The TV show was "Family Ties" where the Keatons are burglarized, and Steven who as you may remember plays a PBS producer, decides to get a handgun after much wrestling, and of course almost shoots Alex who comes in late one night. They end up getting rid of the handgun, of course!

    Even as a teenager I knew where that story was going before it got there and I felt angry over what I saw as a misrepresentation. Back then I kept a .22 rifle in my own closet and I knew where my dad’s loaded handgun was kept. But we never played with any of them, nor mistakenly shot a family member or furry white doggie. Still haven't in fact!


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