Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cool Criminality

The Public Enemy (1931) was one of the first gangster movies. The basic plot line of the gangster film has since been repeated in many American classics, such as Scarface, Goodfellas, and American Gangster. Nearly all gangster films follow the story of a charismatic character to the top and then end in tragic death. The fascination with gangsters is related to the mass amounts of money and power that they can accumulate in such a short period of time. As good capitalists, Americans crave and glorify money and power, hence, the appeal of the gangster. The fact that these movies end in death in destruction doesn’t seem to stop people from fantasizing about the life of a criminal, but hopefully it prevents some from choosing to live their lives in that way.

It seems that some aspects of this lifestyle have crossed over into the lives of professional athletes. Some players like Terrell Owens take on the bad boy attitude, and many get caught up in criminal activities, such as drug use and illegal firearms. Plaxico Burress and Adam “Pacman” Jones are two of the most famous examples from the NFL. Most recently this trend has reached the less publicized sport of swimming with Michael Phelps admitting to using marijuana. The commonality of crime among the rich and famous leads me to question if crime leads to fame and fortune or if it is a result of the wealthy making an attempt at cool.

I personally do not find criminal action to be cool. In last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, gangster cool was shown in comparison with a more positive type of cool. Penny’s ex-boyfriend Kurt plays a similar role to the gangster cool. He is a typical tough guy with a criminal record. In contrast, Leonard plays the role of nerdy cool. Leonard is a geeky scientist, but he truly cares about Penny. In the episode, Sheldon states that Leonard is the true hero and that he is the one who “minstrels will write songs about.” Initially, it seems like the benefits of being gangster cool outweigh the benefits of nerdy cool. For example, the bad guy always gets the girl. At the end of the episode, Penny gets back together with Kurt. The question is who will triumph in the end.

Who do you think is cooler?


  1. You have a really good point about about the bad/cool publicity. I think the same goes for movie and tv stars. They are always thinking of new stunts to put themselves on the front cover of tabloids and magazines. "Any publicity is good publicity," or so they say.

  2. I agree with your assertion that gangsters are cool and appealing because of their money and power. As you said most people do crave those things, but in reality, most people don't ever reach the wealth or power status of the big-time gangsters we watch in movies. So are the gangsters really cool for what they have that we want, or are they perhaps more cool because they can get those things by means that most would never consider? I think what makes a gangster even cooler than just his money and power is that deep inside we can see ourselves achieving those same things if we could only get past the immorality of the crimes it takes to get to gangster status.

  3. Criminal doesn't equal "gangster." As a gangster, smoking marijuana and beating up a guy are only two parts of a very complex role. You have to be ruthless, power-hungry, and altogether talented to keep what power they gain. No simple Joe Schmoe can be a gangster, can I? Or, is the point of The Public Enemy to tell us that it can be? Is there nothing special about Tom Powers that would make him a gangster?