We need to talk about Arrow.
In a slight departure of format, last night’s episode of the television show Arrow took a break from actively trying to locate the season’s antagonist Prometheus to have a discussion about gun violence. While I wish it could have been an entire of episode of Olicity flashbacks in honor of Valentine’s Day, I was not disappointed. (OK, maybe a little.)
Like other shows, Arrow has used it’s platform to educate or persuade their audience on socio-political issues like moral equivalency, drug/alcohol addiction, and whether violence begets violence. But the Arrow episode, titled “Spectre of the Gun,” was different. The characters kind of broke the fourth wall by tacitly acknowledging they were engaged in a gun debate. And for the most part it worked.
The Good: The episode was fair and balanced, featuring likeable characters engaging in conversations that highlighted their emotional attachment to the issue. Rene’s flashbacks to his fracture family and Curtis’s heightened fear of homicide because of his race are real issues in American culture. But instead of relying on personal anecdotes to tell the story, the debate was based on facts and thoughtful reasoning. Acknowledging that word choices shift the context of the conversation, they addressed vocabulary (assault weapon vs rifle, gun control vs gun violence). They even ventured into the debate about the efficacy of existing laws to prevent crime. Felicity rounded out the conversation by playing the part of that one friend who justs wants to stop arguing about an issue that can’t be easily solving by arguing.
The Bad: Mayor Oliver tries to support his argument for a gun registry by comparing it to other public records, like driver's licenses. The two do not equate. Courts have upheld gun ownership as a right, driving is a privilege. Additionally, gun registries are established as accountability measures, a safety net in case someone breaks the law. There is a presumption of future rule breaking that drives the reasoning behind the registry. Driver’s licenses records are just lists. You are on the list because you have a license, not because you might injure or kill someone with the car you’re driving one day. You’re presumed innocent.
The Ugly Truth: This is a scripted tv show. The conversations about right and responsibilities can be logically debated with fictional characters, but in reality people bring their background experiences, beliefs, and emotions into the debate. It’s hard to convince a victim of gun violence that Oliver’s plea to “respect freedom and lives” is justice. The choices our society has to make are not just hard, their complicated and messy. And the debates and disagreements are not as logical and friendly as was portrayed here.
But maybe that was the real message. What if this episode wasn’t so much about gun violence but the process of healthy debate and discord itself? Curtis’s discussion with Felicity about how people have lost their civility was spot on. Maybe this was a teaching moment about how to have these types of discussions. I hope so, and I hope it sinks in. I could use a little less of people fighting over their beliefs and a little more Olicity.