The romance of crime

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The romance of crime

Post  VicarJoe on Thu Jul 02, 2009 8:33 am

Recently, I noticed that every time I encountered a story about the new film Public Enemies, which follows the career of the bank robber John Dillinger, I became curious if any discussion of the film would account for the fact that Dillinger was responsible for the murder of several police officers and spent his last days abusing prostitutes. A lot of media accounts describe him as a modern Robin Hood, though none make the obvious observation that Dillinger KEPT his loot rather than re-distributing it to the poor. (By that standard, Bernie Madoff is a modern Robin Hood.)

So how did this thieving, whoring, cop-killing illiterate become such a figure of romance?



I'm not naive. I know that some bank robbers became folk heroes during the Depression because of the antipathy towards banks. And I know this is hardly the first film to glamorize crime and sympathize more with murderers and thieves than with law enforcement. It's certainly of a piece with that late sixties ethos that produced Bonnie and Clyde, etc.

But it's still something that troubles me. What does it mean when a culture celebrates violence and robbery as forms of glamour? Why is it impossible to imagine a film of a Dillinger or a Bonnie & Clyde that shows them for the miserable, stupid, immoral cretins they really were? I mean, when you hear there's a Dillinger film, does anyone imagine it will deconstruct the myth? Hollywood likes to deconstruct and demythologize the good guys. Has it ever demythologized a bad guy? Ever?

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It is what sells

Post  stihl on Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:58 am

I think you hit upon the reason for glorifying a mis-creatent in your post, the public likes to see somebody stick their thumb in the eye of "The Man".

Of course it is sad that when Dillenger famously tells the bank customer "keep your money, I'm only after the Bank's money", nobody ever asks, "where did the money in the bank come from?"

I think the timing of this movies has to do with appealing to the popular indignation toward financial institutions at this time.

I am trying to think of an example of Holywood de-glorifying a criminal but, I can't think of an example now.
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It's the one thing that demythologizes the myth of the demythologizers

Post  VicarJoe on Mon Jul 06, 2009 10:47 am

That is, they'll say that in demythologizing the church or some cultural hero like Jefferson or Columbus or in demythologizing the American dream, they're just thinking critically in the way we all should. But do they demythologize Jesse James or Dillinger, or Che Guevera, or the Rosenbergs, or any of their own cherished myths? Obviously, no.
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One film that de-mythologizes....

Post  stihl on Tue Jul 07, 2009 4:28 pm

"The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", directed by and starring Brad Pitt.

It came out a couple of years ago. More of a film then a movie. It is narrated by the guy that did the Ken Burn films. It brings to light an interesting point that the guy who shot James is vilified while James is glorified by the public.

Anyway, I agree with your general premise.
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The book that film is based on is by Ron Hansen

Post  VicarJoe on Tue Jul 07, 2009 4:32 pm

An orthodox Catholic author, who wrote Mariette in Ecstasy. So maybe HE gets it. LOL
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