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Jun 13, 2007

It's Not A Hand Gun, It's Military: Fleet Week #3



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Girls and guns. Kids and guns. Teens, sex and guns.

Today, I offer the last in a series of posts featuring images by photojournalist Nina Berman of this year's Fleet Week naval extravaganza in NYC.

In the first post, I noted the public's unremarkable response to American militarism and the public display of weaponry.  In the second post, I focused on military recruitment and race.  Today, I'm interested in a more narrow aspect of these gun-saturated images, which is the prevalence of hand guns in these exhibitions.

I was interested in how these three images, all emphasizing the hand gun, have a slightly different pull.  In image #1, are we witnessing a loss of innocence, or, in our violence-saturated culture, simply the lack of it?  In #2, factoring those facial expressions; the girl's "girlish" and incredible "Go Nuts" top; the face paint (kids love face paint); and the fingers on the triggers, I'm wondering, is this the new cover of the American family album?  And, in #3, besides the appeal to gangster chic, there is no escaping the double entendre of "a boy's equipment."

Granted, the military came to NY for a (PR) show of hardware.  And who could deny that the small arms weapon is a necessary implement in any military arsenal.  What I'm curious about, however, is how -- just weeks after the Virginia Tech shootings (and the lost opportunity to have a public debate about hand guns) -- neither the military, the police, nor the anti-gun Mayor seemed to have much reservation about discouraging the public (no just looking?), and especially, children, from getting their hands on a piece.

>>If you have questions or comments for Nina, she is available to answer in the discussion thread<<

Other Fleet Week posts:
Asking Questions About America:
Fleet Week #1
Black Boys With Guns:
Fleet Week #2

Nina Berman website.
Nina's Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq

(image: Nina Berman/Redux. NYC, New York, May 25, 2007.  Used by permission)



The slope is getting slippery.

You have really discovered something here. I have seem many recruitment stands and meet-the-military booths in the past. They always gave me pens and key chains and posters and stickers. I have NEVER seem weapons indiscriminately passed aout among the urban wolfpacks before. It is a change in the military recruiters marketing department. Taking a page out of the Auto dealerships playbook. Take it for a test drive. They don't ask for your driving record or proof of insurance or mental competence before you grab the wheel and set out for a spin. They only care about your signing your name on a contract at the end of the day.

Grand Theft Auto in Real-Time. Like, Wow! I've never had a real one of these in my hands before.... Yes, I can definately see myself mowing down goathearders and ragheads with one of these. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam....

I suppose the NRA is besides itself with excitement and pleased with the returns on their investment in Bushco. All those guns! It is a good example of how American society allows a minority opinion with sufficient financial backing to degrade the culture.

I think maybe this means the opposite of what you intend? "neither the military, the police, nor the anti-gun Mayor seemed to have much reservation about discouraging the public (no just looking?), and especially, children, from getting their hands on a piece." Aren't you saying, they have no reservations in encouraging the public...?

In terms of the whole series, I am not outraged that Americans are calm about the presence of soldiers in their midst, the subject of the first post. Since the end of the Vietnam war, the educated elite and most of the Democratic party have been hostile to very concept of American power. The military has been the elephant in the living room; We not only pretended it wasn't there, we were contemptuous of it. As a consequence, we allowed the war-mongering conservatives to claim it for themselves. I regard the war in Iraq as one direct consequence of liberal unwillingness to take responsibility for American power. I regard the current situation as a first step in recognizing that the US is powerful, and that we need to use that power responsibly to support our values and interests.

I think the second series is disappointing. It represents, to my mind, dated liberalism. A number of other posters reiterated the Vietnam era charge that the volunteer military consists of exploited black men and immigrants. This isn't true. The majority of the volunteer army are white, middle class, rural and southern which is why the military votes for GWB. They are also the people getting killed in combat. Liberals like to get all indignant over the exploitation of people of color by the dominant white culture, but I don't think the photo series did anything more than play on stereotypes. Black men with guns, oh, my. In other threads, we have seen plenty of pictures of young white men who are also either scary or exploited. Racism is real, but I would submit that the attitude that there is something uniquely immoral about the military recruiting young black men reflects a white-centric world view.

This third series, on the other hand, is just creepy. Handguns are dreadful and yes, we should find these images disturbing. It is like the increase in the number of states that permit conceal and carry laws. Are we really safer? My only hope is that, as they have f**ked up everything else they have touched, Bushco will end up crushing America's love affair with guns.

Blake, maybe, someday you'll realize that referring to urban youth as "wolfpacks" is the first step in allowing people to demonize and dehumanize their fellow citizens to the point that they honestly don't care if they shoot themselves up in their "inner city" neighborhoods, or die (in their stead) in a senseless war in far off land. Funny though, how they seem to care when they turn those guns on lighter skin at home.

I don't know what's going on here. You've selected photos by a single photojournalist. I think that's on a different order from photos selected and published by editors or by the webmaster of official sites like Whitehouse.whatever. I don't know whether the basic message is "Here's what Fleet Week shows about an aspect of American culture" or whether it's "Here's how a very good photojournalist conveys her view of what Fleet Week shows."

In Fleet Week #1, I was struck by the implicit sexualization masquerading as wholesome patriarchy. The teenaged girl in shoulderless top and short shorts holding the gun and smiling at the camera -- does it remind you of Bonnie and Clyde or of a girl dreaming of winning a beauty pageant holding the equivalent of the winner's bouquet? The tall male authority figure towers over her, but doesn't look at her or at the gun. The young boy isn't just holding the gun. He appears to be figuring out how it works. Son is learning to be Daddy. Or maybe he's holding it like a guitar, militarism as rock stardom. Behind him the soldier is laughing, but relaxed. Both soldiers are presences who do not need to interact with the civilians. They do, however, hem in the male civilian in the background.

I admit, at least part of my reaction here is from my experience on Memorial Day. The Armed Services had set up booths on the state capitol grounds, and I was surprised at the hyping of weaponry to teenagers and children. And curious about the posing with the weapons that the teenagers liked, both girls and boys.

In Fleet Week #3, the sexualization has gotten much more explicit. The halter-topped girl holds the gun with one hand while she poses the other across her bare midriff and muses with a slight smile. She is lit in the center with a dark unfocussed background. She's the object. The barechested man grips the assault gun with both hands and seems to be looking at it with satisfaction. He's on the left with the people in the background virtually all at the point of the gun.

I'll stop because I'm starting to freak even myself out. About where I started -- what's going on -- I think there would probably be a difference if what you've shown as Week #1 and Week #3 were reversed; rather than the movement from the rather wholesome view of militarised ordinary people toward the more intense glamorized/mythologized militarists, you'd get a movement in the opposite direction. It would actually probably be less disturbing.

PTate in FR: I don't understand your argument that the educated elite and most of the Democratic party have been hostile to very concept of American power, considering the Democrats in office have been just as militaristic (Operation Desert Fox, Operation Allied Force) as Republicans since the Vietnam War. Which educated elites are you referring to? I think that notion about Democrats is just more wingnut spin.

Thanks, nihil obstet.

In Buddhism, there is a concept called "right livelyhood". The idea is that what you do to support yourself should not cause harm to yourself or others; if possible, your livelyhood actually has a positive impact.

This is something to aspire to, but the concept alone can inform our choices and opinions.

I look at these recruiters and I get the chills. Seeking out young people and changing them into combatants is horrific. Pimping weaponry to children is scraping the bottom of the karmic barrel, indeed.

These images are very powerful. I see the guy in the middle shot (bizarre shot, btw) and I can hear the voice in his head, "Hey this is NICE. I could blast the crap out of [the mailman/ that bitchy lady at the bank / my landlord / those gang-bangers who spraypainted my shop window / etc, etc]. ...I should get me one of these!" The little girl is just as scary - I saw his gun pointed at her head originally, then I saw that SHE has a huge pistol of her own and she's looking at him like she might just blow a hole in HIS noodle!! The face paint and the "go nuts" tee shirt pushed me over the edge.. with connections to "going postal", Lord of the flies and Taxi Driver all in one image. Wow.

I am thinking about the law of unintended consequences here. The intent is to interest youth in military service. This will have the same result as handing out joints at the high school parking lot or bags of heroin at the methadone clinic.

FYI: I posted three more images from the Fleet Week series at HuffPost.  Was also wondering, no questions for Nina?  (Since Monday, you've had some fascinating points -- both technically and thematically -- about the photography.)

Thank you, Michael and Nina. These pictures, as painfully self explanatory as possible, nevertheless make for quite the insightful viewing- and should be run in all media whenever the nation is "outraged" by yet another senseless gun atrocity at the hands of youth.

What strikes me about this series is the apparent lack of seriousness in the people interacting with guns. They are held and related to as toys.

When my children displayed this level of callowness handling realistically sized and weighted replicas of handguns, I decided to not bring them along to the shooting range to handle the real things.

But with my children I emphasized a few points: Guns are always loaded. Even when you know that they aren't loaded, they are still loaded. Never point it at something you don't want to shoot. Handle it with concentration and care.

The folks in the photos don't seem to be exposed to any kind of training at all. Though I bet the weapons involved have their firing pins removed, and so on. But no training: Lectures would be a bummer, just lemme play with them.

I expect a level of curiosity and excitement about the guns, but I would want that tempered with respect for the power of the weapon.

Okay, I've ha a couple of Grey Goose Martinis, and I will now revisit my initial entry to the new BagNews offering.

I said at first "the slope is getting slippery."

I was reacting to two things: the camera angle, and the issue at hand.

Waiting to hear the other opinions, I have now come to compile a word association reaction to the photos and the sublime messages:

Girls Gone Wild.

Girls gone feral.

Babes in arms.


Lord of the Flies Re Dux

And then I just ran out of air when I envisioned the future generations' of troops committed to the next 50 years of "securing" Ira--q-n-pick a consonant-stan."

I have to echo what Darryl Pearce (downthread) and Doctor Jay have voiced. I had, before I ever picked up a gun, the three rules of gun safety hammered into my head -- which anyone who knows them will tell you are THE THREE RULES, never to be broken.

(1) Always treat any weapon as though it were loaded, at all times. Even if you personally have just unloaded it, nevertheless continue to treat it as though it were loaded.

(2) Do not, ever, cover any object or individual with the muzzle of your weapon unless you are prepared to destroy the object or kill the individual.

(3) Do not place your finger on the trigger, nor release the safety, until your weapon is pointed safely downrange towards the target.

What I see here are people breaking all three rules at the same time. Even if the guns had been made safe in advance, I would have been horrified to see that, and I would have thought that it bespoke a lack of military professionalism to allow such to occur. Those people who are being encouraged in dangerous habits may one day pick up a live weapon in an uncontrolled situation, and that may result in catastrophe.

There are several variants of the safety rules -- I now personally follow and teach an even more rigorous five-rule system, but everyone who will be around guns should know and remember the basic three.


marquer, you are totally right.

Doc Jay...I have to ditto to your comments.
As a safety certified handgun owner and trained martial artist, I have to agree that the lack of ethics and gun safety regarding gun handling appears to be a remarkable theme amongst these photographs. Photographs are just that, and it's difficult to truly know what each of these people were thinking, saying, doing while handling these weapons, however, it appears that the rules of gun safety are not at the top of their thoughts.

As an aside, I live in a Company town where a federal govt weapons lab is the Company. We've recently been experiencing a whole slew of Big Brother related changes to our community including guard gates along main thoroughfares (that were never required during the Cold war, but are, apparently, needed now), cameras installed over primary roadways, and witchhunt-type screening of all staff employed by the Company. Last Saturday, we had a community festival in which members of the Company came out with their fully armoured humvees equipped with machine guns, and they laid their arsenals out for all to see, touch, and ask questions about. While I decided not to let my two very young daughters partake in THAT booth, I was actually quite surprised to see similar non-chalance, machismo, and blatant idiocy amongst my fellow neighbors when it came to these weapons of huge destruction...I guess my only point is that it's not just in NY.

The Navy came to town to give pleasure (not take it, as has been intimated in an earlier thread). Are we that surprised at the reaction of the seduced young women, girls, boys, and powerless men? Because who among us can resist really good foreplay?

"Ladies, who's next? Who wants to touch my gun?" (giggles from the crowd)

If you go over to see the gun in the first place, it probably takes no more than 45 seconds of lip service to get you on your back. Or, depending on your preferences, it's not the handgun that makes your knees weak, it's the handjob.

Now, shouldn't we be wondering where the sailors are in these pictures?

Nina: Where are the sailors????

if guns are responsible for killings, then my fork is responsible for me being fat.

The US Military is on it's way to relative obselesance.

The trend toward privatization has made it to the Armed Services, have you heard of Blackwater USA?

Coming to your town soon, a corporate Praetorian Gaurd at your service.

Not to late to invest in a franchise if you missed out on Haliburton.

Our current situation will seem quaint 5 or 10 years from now.

Better stock up yourselves.




show me one post where someone said guns are responsible for killing. All I've seen is discussions about the firearms being sexualized, the immoral recruiting techniques of the particular Marines in the photos, and gun safety and education.

Now as far as your fork. It isn't responsible for you being fat. It wasn't designed to make you fat. But it sure does make it easier for you to become fat and stay fat. And if you stopped using it so much you probably wouldn't be so fat.

Also the fork wasn't invented to make people fat. The firearm WAS invented to make people dead. See the difference?

I looked at your pictures at Huffington Post.

I'm trying to imagine the reaction if that were a little Palestinian girl holding an AK-47, instead of a little American girl, in which case I guess it's cute and patriotic?

Nina: Where are the sailors???? Posted by: readytoblowagasket

I'm with readytoblowagasket: where arethe sailors? My memories of Fleetweek in NY in the 1980's and early 90's was a vision of whiteclad sailors wandering through lower Manhatten, bewildered and looking, no doubt for action of a benign nature, not pimping weaponry. Something quite ominous has happened in the interval between then and now.

Violence, as an ethos for America is firmly embedded: the confluence of street use with military use of weapons.

"Also the fork wasn't invented to make people fat. The firearm WAS invented to make people dead."

The firearm like the fork was invented to help you live. They are tools for specific purposes and either can be abused.

They both could be used to kill.

I wouldn't want to bring a fork to a gun fight though.

There are still plenty of sailors who can be seen on the streets of Manhattan during Fleet Week enjoying the city and having a much needed break. I chose to photograph the scheduled activities presented by the Navy as I had never attended any of these events and I was interested in seeing what went on. I also went on the ship and saw very similar scenes to those posted on bagnewsnotes but the images seemed redundant and so I did not offer them up.

A Navy public affairs officer who was at the Times Square scene told me this was the first year they did the weapons event in Times Square, but it had been done before in Central Park as had the helicopter landings.


c'mon Donaldd,

The argument that the fork and the firearm are merely tools that can be abused is specious. One can kill with just about anything from a Tupperware bowl to a USB cable to a dry erase marker. All of them are tools, and all can potentially be a weapon, but not one of them was designed to kill. Firearms were conceived and invented to kill. Every single advancement in firearm technology increases it's lethality. Can you kill a person with a fork? Yes. Can you walk into a classroom and kill 31 people in less than 10 minutes with a fork? No. You need a pistol or two and a backpack full of ammo.

Why do some people have such a hard time acknowledging that distinction?

Sorry if I am too late to catch Nina, but I enjoyed the photo series very much. What interests me about this series is the way in which these people express their relationship with the gun through the poses they adopt. Every single individual in this series is posing (with the exception, I believe, of the young boy in the first pic).

In this latest batch of photos, the girl in the first shot seems to treat the gun as an indication of wealth. Her pose recalls in me a certain aristocratic flare, the gun an accessory such as an expensive fan. The gun becomes an accessory of beauty, but one that appeals to an aesthetic of power through material opulence. She is displaying the gun, but does not seem to indicate any function for it beyond appearances.

The juxtaposition between the poses of the second and third photo are interesting. The man in the second assumes a Rambo image, holding the gun low ("shooting from the hip" - a terribly inaccurate method of firing the weapon). In the third photo, however, the youth is cocking the gun and pointing it at the ground, demonstrating a certain "expertise" (when compared with the other man) in the handling of the weapon. Is this a generational gap in the perception of war? As the realism of war movies has increased, the phenomenon of Rambo-like heroes mowing down waves of enemies while running and shooting from the hip has made way for much more realistic portrayals such as Black Hawk Down. Does this legitimate it by inoculating us? What happens when we replace the fantastic image (Rambo) with the more realistic image (Black Hawk Down)? Do we become more critical of the event depicted or do we learn to reconfigure our fantasy within these new imaginative spaces? It seems to me that the answer to this question has important implications for the way we might respond to the images of a real war.

Also important, are the boys in the last photo even contemplating war? Or do these pistols complete the image they've already dressed up for: the drug-running gangster? Did they gravitate naturally towards the pistols? If Nina is still available, it would be interesting to hear her impressions of the reaction of inner-city youth to the pistols and assault rifles.

Of course, other images in this series might contradict my suspicion of a generational gap. In the second batch of photos shown, the boy in the last photo (#5) is clearly not expressing a relationship of competence with his weapon - merely a relationship of power. This recalls the more Rambo-esque imagination of weapons and war.

The boy on the left in photo #4 of the same batch immediately brought to my mind the photos of martyrs plastered around Palestinian cities. Why is he replicating this pose? Maybe it is also part of inner city "gangster" iconography as well (I wouldn't know), but I find it intriguing that he has picked up two weapons and struck this pose. In Palestine, it is always striking to me that these photos rarely depict the fighters in relationships of competence with their weapons. Often, they have pistols and ammunition belts strapped to their legs and chests, so loaded down that they could never fire any of the many weapons they are holding. Like the girl I first commented on, the weapons become objects without function beyond their appearance - in this case the aesthetic of power through, literally, firepower. For Palestinians, the futility of infantry weapons against Israeli technology and training might be a cause for explanation. Why has the youth in this photo, however, made the gun function-less? Why has he chosen an image that definitely does NOT replicate the image of a U.S. soldier?

Guns... and face paint! Two great tastes that taste great together!!! I Love Guns and I love Face Paint. I love to paint my face and fondel my gun. Then I paint my gun and fondel my face. Well you get the picture?! Its what me and my family do. That's right since the beginning of America. My family has painted their faces and fondel their guns then fought the Revolution, the Civil war, Spainish-American war, WW1, WW2, Korean war, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War (that was my contribution), and Iraq/ Afghanistan (my lil brother's contribution, 3-tours). I believe Amercia should be more like Israel, buy a house... it comes a M16A1. At 18 years of age... male or female. You do your duty to country! And you get a free gun when you are done with your service. I love America! My family has proudly stood up for Her... Why don't you?

Having grown up around firearms and having served in the Military, I still find the images in your post a little disturbing. Especially as the weapons are being handled apparently in a very public area by kids under very minimal supervision. I assume that all the weapons have been deactivated in some way. Nonetheless, the relaxed attitude that comes through from the images is not a good sign.

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