Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Changing Fashions"

I didn’t have a blog when I first noticed this. So I’m writing about it now. What “it” is, I’ll return to shortly.

Things change. “Fashion” is constantly on the move. Wide ties, narrow ties; short shirts, shorter skirts. This is nothing new. “Changing fashion” has been with us forever. (Men’s hats with buckles, men’s hats without buckles.)

Sometimes, the changes in fashion are behavioral. For example, for the majority of my lifetime, you held a closed fist up to your ear, and it meant, “I’ll call you.” The simulation mimicked using a landline telephone, where you hold the receiver to your ear.

Everyone understood what it meant – closed fist to the ear – “I’ll call you.” Not to say that the “miming technique” began with the telephone. I imagine, before phones, people rapidly jiggled their “pointer” finger, and it meant, “I’ll telegraph you.” And before that, people mimed using a feather, indicating, “I’ll write you.” And before that, it was the patented hammer and the chisel gesture - "I'll send you a tablet."

Of course, I don’t know for certain it was like that. I wasn’t there.

With the advent of cell phones, the “I’ll call you” signal inevitably changed. “I’ll call you” was now, hand to the ear, with the three middle fingers curled under, the “pinkie” finger pointing downward, and the thumb pointing up.

Since I rarely leave the house, I have little use for cell phones. As a result, I find myself still using the old “I’ll call you” signal. The problem is, when I use that signal, especially with younger people, they don’t know what I’m doing. To them, I’m a guy holding my fist to my ear.

Probably quite soon, with cell phones quickly being bumped into obsolescence by I-Phones, the “I’ll call you” signal will change again, the “thumb up-“pinkie” down gesture supplanted by an empty hand held to the ear in a claw-like configuration, approximating a five-tentacled octopus attacking the side of your face.

When this changeover takes place, I will officially be two “I’ll call you’s” behind.

I have a hard time pinpointing the precise moment that fashion changes occur. They seem to show up out of the blue, like the new Yellow Pages. Maybe some cultural icon gets the ball rolling, and it eventually filters down to the rest of us. I mean, it’s not like there’s an announcement in the paper, or some massive e-mailing:

“We’re doing ‘I’ll call you’ like this now. Pass it on.”

Of course, I get the reason for this fashion change. Change of technology, change of “I’ll call you.” There’s an understandable rationale behind it.

On the other hand, here’s a change that, at least to me, has no rationale whatsoever. (This is the thing I’d have written about if I’d had a blog when I first noticed it.)

Growing up, I watched a ton of cowboy movies and TV shows. I watched war movies. I watched gangster pictures and detective series. As a regular viewer of mayhem (though never the most violent versions), I witnessed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people firing guns. They always did it the same way. They pointed the gun at whomever they were trying to kill, and they pulled the trigger. This seemed to work pretty well.

For decades, centuries, if you’re talking about real life, people seemed entirely happy with this technique. You point the gun; you pull the trigger.

Then, one day, it all changed.

At some un-pindownable moment in time, shooters continued to pull the trigger. But before they did so, they turned their guns


It doesn’t make sense. As a result of my years playing with toy cowboy guns, combined with all my movie and TV watching, I am aware that at the end of most – maybe all – gun barrels, there’s this thing sticking up from the top of it called a “sight.” You use it for aiming. It helps you hit things.

If you flip your gun sideways, the “sight” goes sideways too. At which point, it becomes entirely useless.

Now, if shooting your gun from a sideways position makes aiming more difficult – and I have to believe it does – what exactly is the advantage of shooting your gun sideways?

I can’t believe this innovation originated in movies and television. I imagine that, just before the Big Shootout was about to be filmed, some “consultant”, hired to add authenticity to the proceedings, took the director aside and said,

“On ‘The Street’, they turn the guns sideways.”

And the director went, “Cool.”

After which he instructed his actors – at least the ones playing the criminals – to shoot their guns sideways.

This explanation, however, simply moves the question back a step. Why did they decide to shoot their guns sideways on “The Street”?

It’s possible the change resulted from the fact that, during some real-life gun battle, someone shooting sideways had a really good day. Maybe, in the heat of battle, some participant momentarily went crazy, they swiveled their gun-holding wrist ninety degrees to the left, and, more through luck than this altered position, they mowed down a substantial number of people.

The story inevitably got around, and “sideways” rapidly became the shooting method of choice. The fact that it rarely worked was irrelevant. When “fashion” takes hold, the negative consequences become secondary. (Think about six-inch heels.) You do it because it’s “the latest thing.”

And yet, at some point, you’d think there’d be a “Reality Check.” During the aftermath of their most recent gunfight, when they’re taking stock of how things went, you’d think somebody might observe, “We hardly killed anybody. Why are we shooting sideways?”

I’m really interested in how this gunfighting technique attained its cachet, and why, despite its ineffectiveness, it remains popular. You know I’m always grateful to hear from any of you. But today, I’m appealing specifically to my gangsta readers. Clue me in, gangsta readers,

Whassup with the “sideways?”


Ian said...

I'm neither a gangsta nor a gunfighter, but I seem to recall that there were two possible sources for this trend -- the most commonly-cited one appears to be the films of John Woo and, prior to that, it was supposedly how the Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) were trained to use their pistols if they were holding two of them. Whether there is any truth behind either source I cannot say.

The other, possibly spurious, thing I've heard in relation to this is that -- since its adoption by the drive-by shooting-types -- death tolls have fallen, owing to the fact that, despite how cool it looks, it's not in the same league as actually aiming at someone if you want to hit them.

Hmm. That's three things that I can't back up, from sources that I can't cite. I'm sure one one of your more accurate readers will be able to give us chapter and verse on this!

Anonymous said...

I suppose if you use guns that spray out a fan of bullets it doesn't matter much whether or not you aim. Or if you can pull that trigger over and over without actually reloading your caps!
Personally, I miss the guys shooting precisely from the backs of their galloping horses. Especially when they had to turn around in the saddle to pick off the 'chaser'. Those were the days.

A. Buck Short said...

One more of these pistolposts and you have to join the NRA. Tomorrow, I hope you will address the question of precisely when TV law enforcers started the two-handed grip -- and the overhand flashlight technique.

Micke said... claims it´s because it looks cool, just like shooting from the hip = no aiming

William C Bonner said...

Perhaps it has something to do with automatic shell ejection systems. It's been long enough since I've shot a handgun, but I seem to remember the shells could fly a really long way, and usually eject to the left side of the gun.

Having once had a hot shell fly down the front of my shirt, I've occasionally wondered at the comedy potential of deep cleavages and guns.

A. Buck Short said...

The simplest explanation for the transition is that it better allows you to align the sight with the brim of your cap -- that you've also got on sideways, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Rebecca said...

I have absolutely no idea. But I want to follow the comments, and blogger doesn't seem to let me have them emailed unless I post one. I really want to know if someone actually has an accurate answer to this, so I'm adding my plea to yours. Somebody, please clue us in.

Michael said...

I don't think it's about hitting the target, I think it's about attitude. The body language is more dominating with the gun sideways. Your head is tilted like you can't believe the person in front of you had the gall to talk to you like that, and your arm -- with the gun -- is coming down from above -- rather than straight out on the other person's level. Sure, if you actually want to shoot someone you should aim properly, but if you want to intimidate them you adopt body language that says you're bigger. Actually, I think I learned this from my cats. When one of them wants to dominate the other he does something very similar -- tilting his head and putting his paw on the other one's head.

Dustin Paddock said...

Lotta things I agree with in earlier comments, but I think I can clarify more. I used to shoot a lot of guns, first in the boy scouts, and then in the Army. Here are a couple logical reasons for sideways shooting.

1- the shell ejection: with revolvers (westerns), the shells remain in the pistol, no problem. But modern magazine loaders eject the hot shell, usually to the shooter's right as he's pointing the gun (considering most people are right handed). This sends the shell away from the body, and from the line of sight to aim the next shot. If a person is holding two pistols, one in each hand (which I also credit John Woo), shells from the pistol in the left hand will fly through the line of sight, and possibly into the other hand (yes, they're quite hot). So, if you hold the left pistol sideways, the shells eject to the ground, out of the way. (more on the right hand shells in a bit)

2- kickback and aim. Holding a pistol vertically (traditionally) allows the kickback to be absorbed by the arm, and it raises the pistol upward. This doesn't effect the shot, since the bullet is looong gone. The kickback is also used in the ejecting of the spent shell. In order to fire that 2nd shot, you have to lower the arm/pistol back down and re-aim, assuming you want the bullet to go in the same spot as the first. Considering target ranges, you're usually given one target, so yes, you want the next shot to go to the same place, the heart of that static paper silhouette dude. But, if you want to spread nine bullets in a horizontal line, say, into a crowd, the kickback from a horizontal pistol in the right hand causes the hand to jump to the left (the top of the pistol). Start at the shooter's right, fire, allow the kick to adjust your arm and aim, fire again, repeat, and you get a horizontal firing pattern from right to left. The reverse is true for holding the pistol the opposite way in the left hand.

But two pistols sideways? Shells from the right hand pistol would go up in the air, possibly coming down on your head (or into cleavage, from an earlier reply). And the kickbacks would eventually cause your arms to cross if you let 'em. Cross 'em the wrong way, you're getting hot shells ejected between the hands. Get it right? Come on, that's just bad-ass and looks great in slo-mo.