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Nullo's avatar

Why don't bullets figure more heavily into arms-related symbolism?

Asked by Nullo (21828 points ) August 20th, 2012

The bullet is the power behind the gun, analogous to the arrow (which does get used symbolically.) You see a lot of symbolic swords and guns (missiles not so much, probably due to their being a newer technology). But they don’t appear on monuments or in paintings all that much.
Strikes me as odd considering that without bullets, guns are expensive pipes.

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13 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

People who are into guns get all freaked out because bullets are too phallic.

You put a bullet on a coat of arms and everyone says “why do you have a vibrator on your shield?”

wundayatta's avatar

Same reason as why the phallus is employed in symbolism, but not sperm. Which is to say that the delivery mechanism is important. What it delivers is too small to see. Or too fast, in the case of the gun. We worship the phallus/gun, not the sperm/bullet. Whether we should or not, is another question.

iphigeneia's avatar

In a painting, I imagine you’d have difficulty telling a bullet from a small rock, and a large bullet isn’t the most exciting thing to draw.

Nullo's avatar

@wundayatta But you don’t usually see bows symbolically. Arrows, yes. Bows, not so much.

wundayatta's avatar

@Nullo Well, I see bows and arrows all over the place. Cupid, you know.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Bullets can be seen as stylized penises… some groups don’t even want to get into that imagery.

(have you heard the expression ‘shooting blanks’ for a guy who has damaged sperm?)

CWOTUS's avatar

I think it has to do with the “ability to recognize the thing” (or the outline of the thing, when it becomes more stylized and iconic).

Arrows are pretty recognizable and easy to make recognizable and simple icons.

Bandoleers of bullets and stacked cannon balls can show up as icons, as well as crated artillery shells, or a Western “gunslinger’s” belt with filled bullet loops. Individual bullets, maybe not so much. (Except that some larger-caliber bullets, such as .50-cal machine gun bullets with their distinctive shape, lend themselves to iconography.)

It’s sort of akin to how we show “computer hackers” as shadowy figures in darkened rooms, when the actual malicious / damaging code is… just ones and zeroes. Those ones and zeroes look pretty benign, and I guess so do bullets and cannon balls without the delivery system. An arrow can be dangerous all by itself.

Symbeline's avatar

Maybe it has to do with how epic something looks? I understand what you’re saying about the bullet being the power behind the gun. But a sword compared to a bullet does convey a bit more awe I suppose. Visual symbolism has to be impacting, and while a bullet is stronger than a sword, it’s just this little thing that doesn’t look all that inspiring. Which is why I suppose a symbol of a gun itself would be used instead of the bullets it fires.
Or perhaps because we are to assume that, when seeing a gun, the bullets come with it.

I’m not entirely sure if any of what I said is legit, but it does seem to me that symbols are as much about what it looks like as it is what it represents. Sometimes the visual aspect seems even more important than the representation. For example, look at Satanism. The inverted crucifix is seen as a Satanic symbol, but I’ve heard that, first of all, it’s origin has nothing to do with Satanism, and that it’s not even a legitimate Satanic symbol to begin with. (unlike the inverted star of David)

Yeah, not quite what you’re getting at, but I think this does go with the visual impact I’m trying to relay.

This guy though, begs to differ.

jerv's avatar

Before an arrow is fired, it’s large enough to be seen more than 10 feet away and not concealed. Bullets (actually the entire round; bullet, cartridge, and all) are tiny and hidden by the weapon they are in.

After firing, an arrow is still largely visible, and can actually be seen in flight; bullets are even tinier, and fly too fast to be seen in flight.

After impact, there is still at least something left of an arrow; most bullets have changed shape into something no longer bullet-shaped.

woodcutter's avatar

They are small expendables that all pretty much look alike. By themselves they don’t inspire much. Massed produced by the millions by many. Once they make their mark they disappear.

Excalibur was one of a kind.

zenvelo's avatar

@Symbeline An inverted Star of David look the same as an uninverted one. They are symmetrical on the horizontal axis. The “satanic” symbol you are thinking of is a pentagram, with two legs up, which is really a Pythagorean pentagram. And the pentagram is more of a Wiccan symbol than a “satanic” symbol.

Symbeline's avatar

@zenvelo Lol yeah, today I saw a star of David and that made me think of my post here and I’m like…wait. Wrong star. XD

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Because if I point a gun at you that looks like it’s loaded but it isn’t you will freak out. If I point a bullet in your direction you’ll most likely just laugh.

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