Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Academic Out Group

I attended a talk today that reminded me of why I'm at times not a big fan of university life and culture. The speaker opened his talk on the politics of gun control by showing some images of sport shooters and their guns. Some of the images were of children shooters, in various poses with their weapons. The speaker's intention, as I perceived it, was to get some quick laughs at the expense of the people depicted in the images, essentially to get the talk off to a rousing start. And it worked, based on the laughter I heard around the room.

Now, I have never engaged in sport shooting, nor have I ever fired a gun for any reason. It strikes me, however, that such activities are reasonable ways to pass leisure time, if one enjoys that sort of thing. Who's to say that firing bullets at a target is really all that different from, say, kicking a soccer ball at a goal? Yet imagine if the speaker had presented images of immigrants, perhaps children, from El Salvador playing soccer in a dusty suburban field surrounded by pupusa trucks, with the idea of eliciting laughter at the ridiculousness of the goings on. Would anyone have found it funny?

Maybe I'm missing the point, though. The speaker was really just reciting out of the NRA play book, saying exactly what the gun group tells its members. "They are coming for your guns." Fair enough. The joke's on the NRA and the NRA can handle it.

I can't escape the feeling, however, that behind the humor is really derision for the lifestyle of recreational guns itself. The unnamed targets, to lay it out there, are white, working class southerners, a racial and socioeconomic "out" group in the world of today's elite academia. The pervasiveness of this kind of stereotyping and outright prejudice is sad anywhere in the world. For me personally, it is especially sad when it occurs within the confines of our institutions of higher education.



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