In Jan. 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published Common Sense, the most effective and important pep talk in American history. The straight-shooting pamphlet, consisting of 48 pages of no-brainer arguments for independence from England, circulated like wildfire and inspired thousands of colonists to rally behind a war for freedom. Simply put, “Common Sense” helped ignite the American Revolution. Paine’s ideas and philosophies on the intersection of government, society, and human nature continued to be extremely influential throughout the war, and even more so after it was won. Our country, in other words, was founded on common sense.
Where is that common sense today?
As the United States continues to be rocked by mass shootings, my home state of Texas has decided that the best way to prevent gun violence is to have more guns in more places. This summer, governor Greg Abbot signed Senate Bill 11 into law, making it legal for license holders to carry concealed handguns into public college and university buildings in Texas.
In response, I created a satirical Facebook event called “Campus (DILDO) Carry.” I thought it would be funny to make a spectacle of the law by turning my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, into an entirely different sort of spectacle. What better way to mock the proliferation of guns than by proliferating dildos? Our culture is swirling with myriad references and ironies that connect guns and phalluses.
We do so love to be packing in America.
The #CocksNotGlocks campaign was meant to be obnoxious, defiant nonsense, and beyond getting a devious cackle out of it, I hadn’t the slightest clue what I wanted to achieve from it. So when I woke up the next morning to find that the event had gone viral, I felt like a deer in headlights. Something that had been designed as the comedic opposite of a treatise like Common Sense, turned out to actually make a lot of sense to thousands of people around the world.
It turns out everyone is frustrated; people are tired of hearing about preventable gun deaths in the US and they are tired of America’s love affair with guns—a romantic attachment we will literally sacrifice scores of innocent lives to protect. Supporters of the event therefore saw the dildo as an apt team mascot, matching our lax gun laws in absurdity.
Before accidentally becoming a gun control advocate, I’d never really taken the time to fully form my ideas around the issue. I knew that there was something deeply broken about our violent American reality, but I also understood that gun culture is much more nuanced than some opponents give it credit.
This means, unfortunately, that there may never be a “simple” way to prevent gun deaths. The thought of confronting such a heated and tangled mess of history, mortality, fear, and raw human emotion seemed intimidating, and honestly too hard. So, like many Americans, I hadn’t dealt with it. I kept it at an arm’s distance, and internalized a sense of despair from afar.
The curious thing about jokes is that they have a magical way of putting safety glass around controversy. They allow you to invite something you might normally find too difficult to face straight onto your doorstep for closer inspection. In the weeks following my dildo prank, I have been forced to step up and do some inspecting of my own.
This is a good thing—we all could use a little push now and then to remind us that detachment is the death of progress. It’s easy to allow our feelings of helplessness to overwhelm and paralyze us. It’s much more difficult to define and publicly present a set of ideas. If you’ve heard or read anything about the #CocksNotGlocks campaign recently, perhaps you too have now paused for a second to find your voice on the matter. The dildo has provided some with a social lubricant for hard conversations. And that’s worth something.
While the employment of ridicule, satire, and mockery by #CocksNotGlocks has worked to highlight our gun-saturated culture—sadly, or perhaps revealingly, it has also drawn some of the most vile, hateful cave dwellers out to throw stones in the sunshine.
Still, progress has never been easy—just ask Thomas Paine. Paine had full faith in the power of human reason, and the intellect to transcend both his time and the status quo. Nearly 250 years ago, Common Sense served as a rational catalyst for the establishment of the country we call home. Today, that home has abandoned common sense and reason when it comes to making simple changes to the irresponsible gun laws which some advocates estimate help to kill an average of 88 Americans each day. That doesn’t mean we stop fighting. I have never known America to back down from a challenge.
Common Sense encapsulated the ideals of the American Revolution and inspired patriots to fight for a better future. So now, as we wage this contemporary battle against the nonsense of gun violence, I submit the humble dildo: a perfectly absurd symbol for the absurd times in which we live.