Recently, Samantha Bee aired a segment of commentary on Gun TV, the new Home Shopping Network equivalent for firearms — which features friendly faces displaying a panoply of weaponry that can be ordered on the spot over the phone (the required paperwork comes later, when you pick up your purchase from your most convenient gun dealer). Though quintessentially no different than your local gun shop — the guns still have to be picked up from a physical gun dealer, the same paperwork has to be signed — there’s a level of low-key grooming and obvious, false innocuousness that accompanies the television-vending format (even when, as is the case with Gun TV, the whole thing is insidiously presented under the guise of gun education and “social responsibility.”)
Though physically retrieving the gun is just as “complicated” as it would be were you to buy it from a store (you know, leaving your house, driving a couple of minutes — complicated), the ordering is easy, and that’s what matters; you pay a 20% deposit on the spot, and this small percentage and the suggestion of a purchase is a persuasive symbolic (and financial) facilitator for gun ownership. Bee employed an easy but effective method of aiming her standard acerbity towards the subject — performing the monologue about it with squeaky excitement.
Last night, Amy Schumer released a bit of sketch comedy that comes at the subject from a different angle — the expected and effective sketch angle of imitation. The sketch itself obviously won’t sway gun nuts, but for those of us who’re already averse to the horrifying ease the American government has granted the act of murder, it’s a pretty galvanizing piece of sketch comedy. And its accompaniment with actual legislation Schumer’s advocating — that her cousin’s trying to pass — brings it out of the realm of sheer discourse or toothless comedy. It’s at once quite funny and manages — in its ending with an actual list of Congress members who’ve been funded by gun lobbies — to feel far too envenomed in its mockery to fail.
The sketch’s biggest achievement is its manner of capturing — by hardly heightening what you might see on GunTV — the atmosphere surrounding firearm commodity fetishism in the States. Of course, Schumer’s timing can sell even her more feeble sketches pretty well (as she does in the less-funny parts of this sketch — in the few moments where it begins to sound like a PSA, like when she’s revealing the specifics of certain laws to callers), but here, her aping of the pleasantries and falsely personal banter on home shopping channels is particularly unsettling. The way she cutely vocalizes the heaviness of the gun she’s selling, the way she kindly encourages a seemingly passive man with an odd amount of felonies to buy a gun until he says “great, I’ll get one for me and my mouthy c*** wife,” the way she calls a caller on the “no fly list” “sweet potato” all would seem perhaps a bit too obvious if the vending of guns in this format weren’t actually now a thing.
Indeed, the QVC-for-guns sketch could be a too-close reiteration of the Hallmark-commercial-esque sketch Schumer did with SNL, wherein various friends, lovers and colleagues present each other with sentimental gifts, which are, of course, firearms. But the fact that this sketch is airing a month after the debut of GunTV breathes new life and infuses more, needed venom into comedy surrounding American firearm commodification.
The chipper, sentimentalized circus of gun-vending via home shopping television is a new, highly transparent low for American death as capital – which somehow just isn’t transparent enough to not exist. The inherent oddity of home shopping network-style sales comes from how unnecessary and thus inconsequential so many of the products seem: watching QVC alone can often be a hefty dose of comedy because of the uselessness and sheer inventive, small-scale capitalist desperation of some of the products (my grandmother, for example, once tried to give me two “Car Seat Gap Fillers by Lori Greiner” — which you’re supposed to place as a buffer next to the seat of your car to prevent your keys or chips or whatever from falling underneath the seat). Seeing guns sold in a similar low-budget, down-home format leads to a conflated feeling between the harmless irrelevance of these standard products and, well, the very harmful relevance of guns. The transition from selling commemorative coins to guns in the sketch speaks directly to the creepily logical flow of sales television from vending the likes of brooches and overpriced tubes to shove between carseats to selling guns.
The fact that Amy Schumer herself has become an outspoken anti-gun activist — and one with the convenient connection (nepotism isn’t always bad!) of a cousin Senator (Chuck Schumer), with whom she’s been able to team up to advocate for new legislation — gives her a rare power, and it’s interesting to see comedy — which so often skewers an abstract or discursive ill — commingling with active politics. We’re seeing a comedian galvanized by a horrific incident that’s at once strangely personal and entirely removed from her experience, and she’s fighting back with a mixture of comedy and the strange power celebrity now has in politics.
“On Thursday, July 23rd, a man sat down for my movie, Trainwreck. I don’t know why he picked my movie. It is something I live with every day,” she said in October 2015 in an address in front of New York City Hall with Chuck Schumer, where they advocated for a bill that Sen. Schumer was sponsoring. They urged that they needed to close background check loopholes — the kind of loophole that seems to have facilitated the mass shooting at the showing of Amy Schumer’s film on July 23rd, 2015.
The catalyst for Schumer’s recent dealings with gun control may have, perhaps, been obscured by the recent mass shootings in Ohio and the shooting in Ohio this month or Kalamazoo in February, and, oh why not, the 42 other US mass shootings that came before it in 2016 (yes, the 42 that came before February). And in case the deluge of this particular brand of tragic news that’s only inevitable unless it’s very simply controlled has led the Lafayette shooting at the Grand 16 movie theatre to slip your mind: John Russell Houser, a man who’d previously been ordered by a judge to order a mental health evaluation, who’d been arrested for arson and domestic abuse, and who’d been staying at a Motel 6 chock-full of wigs and disguises, seemingly readying for escape, withdrew a Hi-Point .40-caliber handgun minutes into the Amy Schumer rom-com, fired 13 rounds, killed two, injured nine, and committed suicide. After the shootings and the ensuing investigation, it was reported that not only did he have a past of crime, but that this particular crime may have been partially hate-oriented. The Hollywood Reporter noted that his past discussions on a talk show, and claims about his views from former colleagues, pointed towards misogyny. From the article:
Houser vocalized his anti-feminist views about women in the workplace and abortion in frequent appearances on a talk show called Rise and Shine in Georgia in the 1990s. He spoke about a wide range of far-right topics and a popular theme was women’s rights. “Rusty had an issue with feminine rights,” former host Calvin Floyd told The Washington Post. “He was opposed to women having a say in anything.”
They note both that a great deal of discussion surrounding Schumer’s comedy is its feminist leaning, and that Schumer is Jewish — then reveal that the shooter had praised Hitler online, and had received a temporary protection order from his wife. It’s quite possible that this shooting stemmed from the murderer’s bigoted take on specifics of Schumer’s public image. Following the shooting, Schumer tweeted that she was “heartbroken” after hearing the news. What we’re seeing now, therefore, is the very strange, but certainly not unprecedented American occurrence of a celebrity responding to murders that did not hurt them directly, but that are forever entwined in an aspect of their work.
With the increasing politicization of pop culture in media discourse (something that’s gotten Schumer in trouble in the past), and with pop culture’s own recent turn towards self-politicization, celebrities and artists have now become — to the delight of some and the dismay of others who just want to be celebrities — political spokespeople. In a country where extreme ideologies are so easily weaponized with easy access to guns, representing anything publicly — which now most celebrities are almost required to do — bears so much more weight. Seeing a celebrity rise to that occasion by attempting to tackle the issue that violently intersected with their art not only as a matter of “fueling discourse,” but doing that alongside actual political activism, is exciting. This is the media burden that’s been ascribed to celebrities of late. Schumer is bearing it rather well, with wigs, toy guns, and an incidental familial tie to Congress.