Italian authorities are indignant that ArmaLite’s ad campaign depicts Michelangelo’s David holding one of its rifles — but they’re not indignant about many other depictions of the iconic statue:
This moral posturing is clearly about something other than respect for the sculpture’s “aesthetic value” or “cultural dignity.” Otherwise, officials would crack down on the David boxer shorts sold by countless Florentine vendors.
Depicting David as armed shouldn’t be the least bit shocking:
ArmaLite’s ads broke the unwritten rules. Instead of highlighting the hero’s body, they emphatically made him a warrior. Hence Franceschini’s objection to an “armed David,” even though every David is armed. “David famously used a slingshot to defeat the giant Goliath, making the gun imagery, thought up by the Illinois-based ArmaLite, even more inappropriate,” writes Emma Hall in Ad Age.
To the contrary, the gun imagery, while incongruously machine-age, was utterly appropriate. David did not use a “slingshot.” He used a sling. As historians of ancient warfare — and readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath” — know, a sling was no child’s toy. It was a powerful projectile weapon, a biblical equivalent of ArmaLite’s wares.
Nor did Florentine patrons commission statues of David because he looked good without his clothes. They commissioned statues of David because he was a martial hero who had felled an intimidating foe. They made him a beautiful nude to emphasize his heroism, not to disguise his bloody deed. (Donatello’s David has his boot triumphantly on Goliath’s severed head.) Michelangelo’s giant was meant as an inspiration to locals and a warning to would-be invaders. He wasn’t an underwear model. He was a Minuteman.