Justified: Why do I find Raylan and his guns so sexy?

Hey folks, check out my recap of last week’s episode of Justified on the Charter Cable Deals blog:

Justified, ep. 6: Foot Chase

So the photo included with my recap, which I didn’t select, brings up something complicated about my love for Justified. On a visceral level completely at odds with my politics, I find Raylan Givens with his guns very sexy (heck, even Boyd looks kinda sexy in this photo). The marketing for the show capitalizes on the sex appeal of guns and Timothy Olyphant (he’s the definition of a tall drink of water, isn’t he?). I could argue that Raylan’s general decency, sense of rightness, and above all, his responsible use of firearms make the image of him and his weapons so sexy. I certainly don’t find all the other gun-toting characters on the show attractive in the same way. But still . . .

Ashley and I were talking about this the other day, and she pointed out that Raylan fits into the American mythology of the reluctant but deadly-accurate marksman – Destry Rides Again and Shane, for example (in fact, as Raylan himself points out in “Foot Chase,” he’s barely fired his weapon this season). That mythology needs to be unpacked, though: the idea that a gun in the right hands is a good thing doesn’t take into account the realistic, everyday murkiness of life; good and evil aren’t always clearly delineated (for me, this is the problem with the NRA’s Manichean notion that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun).

I’m sure my own beliefs color my reading of the show, but I feel like Justified comments on the corrosive effects of everyone having guns. There are so many moments on the show when an ordinary conversation or encounter takes a turn because someone reaches inside his jacket. Certainly others can argue that these scenes underscore the importance of individuals being able to protect themselves if they feel threatened. For me, these moments are about how quickly our social fabric can be ripped apart when any one of us can all too easily take another person’s life.

Obviously Justified isn’t the only show/movie that features guns so prominently. I always think of the scene in The Matrix when Neo and Trinity level the building lobby and everyone in it with their automatic weapons. I know I shouldn’t find it darkly thrilling and sexy, but, in an atavistic way, I do. So it is unsettling, but I also think it can be a useful starting point for a look at our relationship with and responses to guns – is it some sort of deep-seated evolutionary biology thing? Social conditioning? Can we separate our responses to media depictions of gun violence from our real-world beliefs? I don’t have any definite answers here; this is something I’m trying to work through for myself.

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