Criminal Stars

Thievery is alive and well in Hollywood. The glamorization of crime invariably tickles the curiosity of the public. Criminals have been portrayed as exciting, daring and cunning tantamount to hero status. They are the risk takers who should not be completely judged upon their criminal expression but rather looked at as individuals with some merit. They are cast sympathetically as their relationships are examined and ultimately lend credence to the justification, in their minds, of the criminal choices they have made. But worst of all, they are often shown as being ‘cool’, even as they hurdle towards the death of their freedom.

Take, for example, the jewelry or art thief. Movies like the Italian Job, the Score and Ocean’s Eleven display criminals as generally model citizens, other than when they are committing crimes. There may be such criminals but are they so suave in their real lives? Are they seemingly morally upright in their relationships with others? Are they really just good guys who happen to commit crimes? In real life the majority of criminals are not suave, cool or sympathetic figures. They are cutthroat, ruthless and to a degree, sociopathic. Mob figures are the best example of the paradox between the glamorization of criminal life and reality of criminal behavior.

All agree that the Soprano’s, a show about mob life in New Jersey, is a great show. The production value is high, the actors are skilled and the plot lines are well conceived. People get whacked, money gets laundered and criminals get promoted for good work. Yet, in order for the audience to tune in every week they must connect with the characters. Hence, the boss of the family, Tony Soprano is shown as a father, a husband and as attempting to improve his relationships with the outside world by visiting a therapist. This is a ploy to create sympathy for a ruthless murdering crime boss. And it works, as the Sopranos is a hit. What then are the real criminals doing?

True mob figures don’t give a damn about the outside world. Their loyalty lies with their crime families. They lie, cheat and murder for riches and would stomp on the average person, literally, to further their gains. A true jewelry thief is usually a two bit criminal who robs the local family owned jewelry store, as can be verified by FBI criminal statistics. Real criminal life is fraught with betrayal, pain and stints in prison. Most criminals are caught at some point with over 13 million arrests made in the US in 2005 alone, according to the FBI.

The business side of Hollywood is reactionary in nature. The glamorization of criminal life is partly in response to a demand by the public. Interest in stylized underworld figures comes from a public perhaps bored with their average daily existence. The idea that there are people who survive in a world where they ignore the law, fascinates us. But when the glamour is shaken off, and the dust clears, there is only an empty fancy suit left, where a thief once stood.