Struttin' with Iron
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Struttin' with Iron • Posted: May 08, 2010 15:20:28Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Picture three kids, around 12, one with a bike, the other two without, but one hops on behind, and the three of them head off into late afternoon sun to visit friends.

Now, imagine a kid, maybe 12, . . . with a gun.

Finally, answer me this, and be honest, would you ever have imagined the same kid in both pictures??

Given prevailing stereotypes, I'd guess probably not. But in fact, one kid in the picture above has a gun under his shirt, stuffed into his belt, right above his "dick". And I'll tell you how I know.

I was sitting in a parking lot eating left-over pizza. Afternoon sun glared off my bug spattered windshield and, most likely, two kids sitting on a concrete loading dock behind a Shop Rite Supermarket didn't even know I was there. They talked while dangling their feet, just like normal twelve year-olds on a nice Spring afternoon. One of them even hopped off the dock, grab a rock, and pitched it, not at anything in particular, just to heave it and burn off some energy, like any healthy kid would do. Then something not so usual happened. The two observed a couple of their friends approaching from my left. Faces lit up and the two moved to meet them. At first, I didn't think anything of it, I just watched.

One of the two kids that approached was somewhat bigger and older than the first two by maybe a year, the fourth was skinnier and younger by maybe a year. The bigger kid was in a medium gray T-shirt and wore a red cap with bill turned up and to the side. The skinnier one wore a red T-shirt. The two from the loading dock were in matching white T's.

As the four approached each other, one of the two in white lifted the front of his shirt to reveal a gun stuffed in his pants, a big gun, a dark green 45 automatic. He stopped abruptly, pulled it out, cocked it so that the shinny internal barrel glistened in the light for a second, then very seriously pointed it at the approaching bigger kid and said "POW, you're dead".

The bigger kid never flinched, but grinned and said, "Awesome, you got me". All four kids then ceremoniously hugged each other, each in turn, while the gun was returned to its hiding place beneath the one kid's shirt.

I could not hear the ensuing conversation, but it didn't last long, hardly long enough for me to choke on my pizza and consider grabbing my camera, wondering if any movement I made might reveal my presence and risk getting myself shot with more than a voiced "POW". As I surreptitiously pulled my camera from its bag, the four kids ritualistically hugged each other again and parted, the bigger one and the skinnier one leaving from the direction they'd come, the two in white T's moving back to their perch on the concrete dock behind Shop Rite. Within another minute, two more kids showed up with bikes. One stopped for maybe a second to say "What's Up?" then took off. The other lingered for a minute or two. Then the kid with the gun hopped on back of the bike and all three took off. I managed to grab one image.

How does a twelve year old kid get hold of a 45 automatic? And what primitive forces are at play prompting the need to publicly display such a weapon?

The gun, I would guess, came to the kid from a parent. Not intentionally, perhaps, but carelessly. The parent flaunted it in front of the kid. The kid, behind the parent's back, then took possession and in turn flaunted it in front of his friends. There was no fear in that kid's demeanor. He showed no concern with being found out. His only preoccupation was enjoying the prestige such a weapon could bring displaying it to peers.

But why was the kid so in need of garnering prestige? Was there not any other reason for him to feel good about himself? Sports? Academics? Even computer games? Hard to say. For certain, peer culture has always been a powerful motivator amongst that age group. It's the age when peer popularity outstrips interest in almost everything else. It's also the age when gangs and gang membership take on overwhelming significance. Anything that has the potential to elevate prestige, and hence popularity amongst fellow peers, is dearly sought after, including the magical talisman of power, a gun.

Many years ago, that same dangerous and mystical time in the development of youth was charted and explored by University of Chicago anthropologist Victor Turner in his book The Ritual Process. I call your attention again to his insights to suggest it would behoove us all to employ them now in bringing on yet another new generation of youth, least too many of them lose track of reason to engage in earnest efforts to further develop an ever more well-integrated, efficiently run, and psychologically fulfilling society, the ideal place we'd all like to live. For if we don't, it seems highly probable tribal imperatives basic to our nature will prevail. And, we will for several more generations suffer war amongst our competing selves.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
66.4 mm 314 mm
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