What the NRA is Really Doing When It Attacks “Elitist” Architecture
Late last month the National Rifle Association debuted a new sixty-second TV spot entitled “We Don’t Apologize for Telling the Truth.” The ad is narrated by the righteously angry pundit Dana Losesch, who lashes out at an unnamed, unspecified cultural elite. “They use their media to assassinate real news,” Losesch says, through clenched teeth (she’s that angry!). “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”
Over this grim Dystopian narration (imagine a world ruled by stand up comedians!), we’re treated to a montage of contemporary architecture and art: the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (designed by Frank Gehry), the (fake) New York Times building (designed by Renzo Piano), the fantastic “Cloud Gate,” affectionately known as The Bean, in Chicago’s Millennium Park (created by the artist Anish Kapoor).
All of these buildings and objects have varying degrees of delight embedded in them, but through the miracle of marketing, of editing, angles and skewed perspective, they’ve somehow managed to make something as lovable as The Bean read as a touch sinister. That’s not an easy trick to pull off. Babies are enthralled with The Bean!
As terrifying as it is, the NRA spot is also a fascinating piece of cultural anthropology. What exactly are we looking at here? The product of an extremely well-funded public relations/media/and propaganda machine, it’s a slick effort fueled by research and focus groups, advertising agencies, art directors and copywriters. It is, first and foremost, a media campaign. The images are well chosen. The editing is tight and menacing. They have found a Bogey Man: it’s those elitists who want to take away your guns! And their provocative symbols? The buildings and art they create and consume.
The real genius here is, they’ve taken a truth about contemporary design—its demographics skew overwhelmingly affluent, urban and select—and spun that into a conspiracy theory. The ad stirred up a shitstorm in the mainstream media (perhaps the NRA’s second intention) and it has for the moment disappeared from YouTube, forcing me to use the above clip from Tucker Carlson’s show. (Amanda Kolson Hurley wrote a wonderful piece on the alt-right’s recent fixation with modern architecture.)
Still, if there’s any consolation for non-arms bearing, Dwell and Monocle readers, it’s this: you weren’t their intended target. (They were just pissing you off for sport.) The commercial wasn’t an attack on modernism or architecture or cities, it was an attack on the people living in cities, who are overwhelmingly not dues-paying members of the NRA and who are much more likely to support some measure of gun control. The political enemy, in other words.
This was a message aimed directly at the well-armed choir. It had a specific job to do: keep the base from falling into a false sense of complacency. Because the last time that happened, following the election of their candidate in November, gun and ammunition sales actually dropped. (Obama would no longer be around to take away your guns.) This is all part of a marketing and sales effort. That’s the evil aspect about this spot. It only appears to be about cities and strange buildings and fancy architects like Renzo Piano (a foreigner!), when in fact it’s about something a lot more prosaic: state-sanctioned gun violence.
Featured image of Walt Disney Concert Hall, via Wikipedia Commons.