More about Gun in America
Roy Lichtenstein’s print of a smoking gun was a response to the lack of American gun control in 2018‒ I mean, 1968.
1968 is considered one of, if not the most, transformative years in American history. It’s a year characterized by excessive violence, tension, and fear. In 1968, America hardly had time to recover from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr when presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down two months later. Like his brother John, who had been tragically assassinated five years earlier, Robert F. Kennedy was an advocate for better gun control.
Kennedy had recently been featured on the cover of "TIME" magazine in a commissioned portrait by Roy Lichtenstein. Less than a month later, Lichtenstein was approached by "TIME" again, this time to create a cover for their issue advocating gun control in response to Kennedy’s death. He came up this creepy image of a gun pointed at its viewers, as if to say “You’re next.”
The cover story for the June 21, 1968 issue of TIME was published half a century ago, but it’s eerily still relevant today. It largely discusses America’s obsession with guns, from gun-wielding American heroes to the fundamental American right to bear arms. But too many “accidents” involving guns and back-to-back assassinations has prompted thousands of Americans, including children, to protest. Even though the majority of the nation’s population wanted better gun legislation, Congress had ignored these wishes due to the N.R.A’s successful lobbying. Sound familiar?
Politics aside, this isn’t the only time Lichtenstein has portrayed a gun in his trademark comic-book style. In fact, the cover you see here is a revamped version of an earlier work titled Pistol. It even features the exact same hand and gun. Lichtenstein replaced the print’s original red background with a blue background to create the perfect patriotic picture within the bright red borders of "TIME." The positioning of gun to be aimed at the viewer is supposed to mimic Uncle Sam’s pointing finger in the famous WWI recruitment poster. “I Want You to Own a Gun!”
Lichtenstein also added yellow smoke rising from the gun’s barrel. It’s odd that Lichtenstein opted for yellow smoke rather than white. The colored smoke probably represents the clouded and unclear thinking that can lead to murder as well as the protection of weapons that enable people to murder. Additionally, yellow is often considered a happy and hopeful color, but it can also suggest caution and fear- two feelings that ultimately sum up the year 1968. Lichtenstein’s addition of smoke tells us that the gun has already gone off. Before we’ve even had the chance to protect ourselves, we have already been shot. But, hey, it’s a free country, right?
- Mark P. Bernardo, Lichtenstein In New York: a Pop Art Life (Berkeley, CA: Roaring Forties Press, 2017).
- Nick Carbone “A History of Violence: Gun Control in the pages of TIME”, TIME, Jan 16, 2013
- “NATION: The Gun Under Fire”, TIME Magazine, Friday, June 21, 1968
- Sadra Stich, Made in USA: An Americanization in Modern Art, the ‘50s & ‘60s, (California: Regents of University of California, 1987), 179.