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Jewish World Review July 5, 2000 /2 Tamuz, 5760

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes
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Consumer Reports

Patriots and bleeding hearts

The reaction to Hollywood's latest blockbuster suggests that America's love affair with the gun is still going strong -- EVERY SUMMER crop of Hollywood films reveals something about America, and this year turns out to be no exception. Consider The Patriot, the new blockbuster about that most American of events, the War of Independence.

Observers in the media have been saying for a year now that the Columbine High School killings marked a turning point in America's gun culture - that new concerns about children and guns were driving the nation away from its old gun-loving past. Some of this revisionism could also be expected to show up in Hollywood films, where American culture is manufactured. Particularly when it comes to a topic so close to the national identity as the Revolution.

But The Patriot undermines that thesis. It features a blood-streaked, hatchet-wielding plantation owner, played by Mel Gibson, who shoots, chops and maims his way to victory against Lord Cornwallis's redcoats. And it is not only the adults who are out for blood in The Patriot. Four of the main character's sons, including a twelve- and a thirteen-year old, also do their share of sharpshooting. "Aim small, miss small," the thirteen-year-old mutters to himself before firing into an unwitting crowd of British regulars.

Columbine indeed.

In fact, the flying heads and gushing limbs featured in The Patriot seemed to sit just fine with American viewers, who plunked down $21m over the last weekend to see the film. Reviewers were upset neither by the movie's anti-British angle - the subject of so much discussion in the UK - nor by its gunfire. They commented that the film was ideal fare for the Fourth of July holiday.

The papers also reported that 5,000 US soldiers posted in Bosnia are viewing the film, which features a special intro from star Mel Gibson just for them: "Hi Fellas, how are things in Bosnia? I'm glad you're there. I hope you enjoy this film because I enjoyed making it. It deals with personal freedom, which some people take for granted - enjoy!"

President Clinton, who spent the spring advocating raising the age of legal gun sales to 21 from 18, plans to take in The Patriot on Friday.

Just about the only relevant party to miss out on the Patriot discussion seemed to be the National Rifle Association, whose offices were shut for the holiday. But maybe that's because the NRA folks were out shooting themselves: the voice mail machine at the NRA Virginia office informed callers on Monday that while the lobby was closed, its shooting range remained open for business.

Some of the polling on the matter suggests why the press were wrong in their estimation of concern over firearms. While voter support for European-style gun controls spiked after Columbine, the numbers have receded since then. A Gallup poll that found 61 per cent of citizens supporting "strict gun control" in 2000 also showed that number dropping over the course of the decade - it is down from 71 per cent in 1993.

Or maybe Americans just aren't taking policy very seriously these days.

Another Gallup poll, conducted for the July holiday, found that most Americans are generally satisfied with the state of affairs in the country. Which would explain the fact that the box office success of The Patriot this week is being dwarfed by that of the summer's number one movie, The Perfect Storm. The film, about a fishing expedition that falls casualty to an Atlantic hurricane, is also perfectly policy-free.

JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times . Her latest book is The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.


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