Image via LA Times, Mike Bruce / Hammer Museum. These gun-shaped sticks were collected by the son of artist Rachel Whiteread as a substitute for the toy guns he was forbidden to own.
One thing that really struck me when I was conducting interviews for my MFA thesis was the high number of people who were drawn to firearms through play and fantasy. There was the gun curator who started as a Civil War reenactor, another who specialized in ornate weaponry after a childhood admiring medieval knights, and one whose love of firearms originated with his fascination for the ray gun of Buck Rogers. But it isn’t only curators who are interested in the fantasy component of weapons — the most popular objects on display at the National Firearms Museum were the light sabers for Star Wars.
The theorist Kendall Walton has written about the ways that we use objects and play and fantasy in order to understand abstract ideas and the purpose/potential of objects. He writes:
“We are constantly inventing new games of make-believe and communicating them to each other. This doesn’t mean that we actively participate in these games. Many of them are prop rather than content oriented; our interest being not in the make-believe itself, but in the props. Thinking of the props as props in potential games of make-believe is a device for understanding them.”
I think that to many people, guns (or the idea of guns) are merely props for thinking about relationships of power and our moral obligations to others and ourselves. So many children are drawn to toy guns or biting their breakfasts into a gun-shape for similar, if less sophisticated, reasons. What they’re really doing is thinking through different power relationships. They’re trying on ways of interacting with others and the world.
That’s my theory, anyway.