The NRA's Celebrity TV Special Was Confusing And Insane
Before Don Draper was smoking and drinking his way through the '60s and Breaking Bad was turning America's healthcare problems into a murder-filled adventure, TV wasn't usually considered a venue for high art. With "peak TV" yet to become a thing, programmers were less concerned with probing the existential depths of the human soul, and more with filling time so families wouldn't accidentally communicate with each other.
Now that we've embraced television as a vital artistic medium, let's take a critical look back and explore the largely forgotten television event that was celebrities shooting a bunch of guns for sport.
The Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot was an annual charity event which featured celebrity gun enthusiasts, not a dystopic game show in which celebrities were hunted. The first Celebrity Shoot raised money for a foundation to help abused children. Subsequent events instead raised money for the NRA to help fund the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team, presumably because they raised enough money in that first year to end childhood abuse forever. Good job, everybody.
Heston's event sometimes aired on ESPN. And why not? It combined America's love of guns, America's love of vaguely recognizable actors, and America's love of solid gold eagles nestled in flashy fonts.
The 1991 event featured two celebrity hosts: Laura McKenzie and former NFL star Bob Chandler. While Chandler seems to be playing a kind of jackass who's shocked that women are able to compete in the event, he still uses his own name. Just an early example of the Charlie-Kaufman-like layers of postmodernism in the show.
They soon talk to the man of the hour, Charlton Heston. In a bold directorial choice, Heston appears to be imprisoned in the Phantom Zone during their conversation.
It's also worth noting that the dialogue during this scene is muffled by the constant sound of gunfire, which will be a running motif throughout the program. We're soon introduced to some of the "biggest" stars in Hollywood who will compete in the event, such as Joe Mantegna, Guy Who Played Major Dad, The Sheriff From Murder, She Wrote I Think, and mega-celeb Yakov Smirnoff!
As the stars party / line their pockets with free food, Brian Dennehy makes this ominous statement:
Unfortunately, this narrative thread is left dangling, and we're never treated to any moments wherein Dennehy actually shotguns a passenger jet out of the sky. And if there was any doubt that this was the '90s, the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 show up to fire off a few rounds at clay pigeons they all probably nicknamed "Shannon."
"That's a big kill," remarks Priestly, referring to one of his inanimate targets and not one of the 46,319 gun-related homicides between 1987 and 1990. Priestley's co-star, Luke Perry, gets teamed with actor and future meme Chuck Norris, who looks as excited as a little boy on Christmas morning who just gunned down Santa's reindeer.
Bordering on the avant garde, in one scene, a group of celebrities is mesmerized by a man blasting watermelons, like if Rambo was sent to Whole Foods instead of Vietnam.
The show includes interviews with NRA officials, who use the opportunity to extol the coolness of guns. And if they weren't cool, why would Dylan and Brandon be hanging out there instead of at the Peach Pit? They also make it clear that this is a sport -- just because the contestants are wielding killing machines shouldn't take away from the technical skill on display.
Moving into the final rounds of the event which was for sure about sportsmanship and dignity and not fetishizing the culture of gun violence in America, the referees all dress up as cowboys for some reason.
They brag that the Western setting creates a kind of "fantasy world" -- which is fun idea if you don't want those with access to lethal weapons to be as entrenched in the real world as humanly possible. Here we see shades of the future hit show Westworld, but instead of sexy robots, we get grown men firing six-shooters at a silhouette of the Devil.
At one point, someone seemingly even shoots the title graphic:
Luckily for TV fans, 1993's event has also surfaced online. Using cutting-edge video technology, the editors employ a bit of misdirection up top, suggesting that there might be some kayaking in this show. There isn't. It's nothing but celebrities shooting guns. Like, a lot.
There's a whole new slew of celebrities too, from guests like Tom Selleck and Paul Sorvino to- holy shit, is that D.J. Tanner?
Yeah, that's right, a teenaged Candace Cameron competed in the event. And to be fair, living in the glorified tenement that was the Tanner house would probably lead most people to want to de-stress by squeezing off a few rounds now and then. And better her than Uncle Joey -- his stomach-churning puns mixed with a gun range seems like a recipe for tragedy. Plus, these images of her cradling a rifle while wearing shades are probably the closest we'll ever get to a Full House / Terminator crossover.
And she wasn't the only family sitcom cast member to make an appearance. Jerry Mathers, former child star of Leave It To Beaver, fires off a few rounds. Gunfire is presumably the only way to silence the laugh track that won't stop echoing through his brain.
So no matter what side of the gun control argument you're on, you can't argue that this isn't good TV. Where else can you find teen soap stars trying to kill abstract representations of Satan? Or washed-up comedians stuffing their faces at a complimentary buffet? Obviously, this was a valuable thing to put on television -- otherwise, one could conclude that the NRA was merely parading a bunch of famous people in front of a camera to obfuscate the dangers of guns.
There are better ways than guns to get rid of the aggression and rage you feel. How about watercolors?
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For more check out 5 Mind-Blowing Facts Nobody Told You About Guns and 4 Things You Learn Behind The Counter Of A Gun Store.
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