Monday, February 2, 2009

Struck by a Smooth Criminal

This week we saw The Public Enemy, an early gangster movie that was filmed in 1931. From the text box at the end of the film, it is clear that this movie was made to show the dirtiness of the criminal life and to tell people that the only way to eliminate it was not to partake of it, support it, or benefit from it. Though the movie definitely had an anti-gangster message to it, I just couldn't help but see a certain coolness that the character Tom Powers has. He becomes successful, he gets the money, the girls, the cars, the power, it seems like the police won't touch him, and his name is even Powers. What cannot be cool about this guy? He definitely has that factor that gives him that dissident cool. But why do people identify with this?

I think that most people see the gangster appeal with a pair of rose colored glasses because the whole lifestyle is about breaking the law, and that concept of being something other than a law abiding citizen has an air of excitement about it, and I see it as well. The movies make it out to seem that if you are a gangster then you can have it all. Movies like Scarface, Reservoir Dogs, and The Godfather all show the great side of being a gangster. You get the respect, the power, the money, everything that you can ask for... right? Most of these movies also show a downfall, mostly death, that the gangster has to face. But the success, power, action it appeals to people. So the media market has picked up on it and started marketing a video game with this premises. That's right, I'm talking of the Grand Theft Auto series. This game is designed to let a person to live out their fantasies of carjacking people, shooting other gang members, doing odd mafia jobs, or what ever you want (I'm sure that the games have a story line you are suppose to follow, but i never had the patience to finish one of those games).

There is another part the cool that comes from being a gangster that I feel does not get thought of as much, the "Robin Hood" type of gangster. Sure they are breaking the law and usually have many cool traits about them, usually being that they get the girl in the end, and this is a slightly more
transcendent cool. This is seen in the movie American Gangster. Sure, he is a gangster, and yes he is breaking the law, but he gives some of the money back to the community and that is very cool. So wether it is the want of material possessions or the want to keep the balance of power, people find gangsters cool. Gangsters are cool, but remember it is a hazardous job.


  1. I've never really thought of Robin Hood as a gangster, but I suppose it makes sense. His motives were definitely different, but he was involved in a crime circle that stole from people who legitimately made money. (Plus he had a giant named Little John as his main partner)

  2. This is a great post. I agree that most of the time we watch gangster movies and seem to glorify the gangster 98% of the way through the movie. But you're correct in that at the end we don't want to be that person anymore. Like bleeding out in the back of a car or cutting someone's ear off.

  3. I think your insight into human psychology is very much on the money. We don't want people to break the law - but when they do and do it successfully and with style, we want to be them. What do you think that says about us?

    Good entry!