All of these anecdotes and strange stories are true, and they’re just to note that crimes will surely be as odd and varied as the people occupying this big blue blob. They’re big and small, fast and slow, happy and sad, funny and serious, dull and unbelievable, etc. Crimes happen for all sorts of reasons and in the pursuit of so many different ends: money, love, respect, boredom, fame etc. Sometimes a crime is only considered as such because the law that says so was strange or too strict...even occasionally because it was unknown. Sometimes terrible acts aren’t considered crimes because laws were too lax or non-existent or unenforced. The only thing humans do that might just be as diverse as crime is pornography (which, coincidentally, can be a crime depending on who or what is involved). One thing that seems commonplace nowadays (but, historically speaking, is a new phenomenon) is the glamorous, for-entertainment depiction of crime and criminals. “Blood-Money and Bitches” is a snarky artistic toast to this disparity between the reality and the delivery, as well as the array of humorous cultural quirks involved.
Let’s be honest about how a crime becomes famous, or infamous I suppose is the more appropriate word. You can analyze a lot of critical factors of a crime and the perpetrator(s) to determine why the public may choose to ogle one dangerous outlaw over another but I know the real reason: it’s style baby. Yes it all begins and ends with those tiny traits like the way they held the gun. Maybe it’s the way that bank robber made all the female employees want to sleep with him even though he threatened to blow their heads off as they slumped wads of cash into his open pillow case. Or how he grinned just slightly at all the right times to convey some understated charisma being reined back. Of course many other facets contribute what we all consider to be stylish or not when it comes to illegal acts. It’s impossible to talk about crime without talking about style and it’s impossible to talk about this without mentioning the depression-era in America.
The word style comes from the Latin stilus, which referred to different ways of writing and was probably first used sometime during the 14th century. The word has surely gone through countless iterations and meanings but one could make an argument that it bloomed entirely novel shades during the late 1920s - early 30s in the depression ridden, alcohol-smuggling United States. Bootleggers, bandits, and car thieves defined a generation with style that seemed to be summoned out of thin air but impacted the world for a century (thus far) afterwards. Slicked back hair and devilishly good-looking smiles came to full term as these anti-heroes shot-up banks with tommy guns and made love to stunningly gorgeous flapper girls. These were the frontiersmen of their day in many ways as they carved their own financial path in a country that saw unemployment skyrocket from 1.5 million to almost 13 million (25% of the population at that time) between 1929 and 1933.1 Names like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Pretty-Boy Floyd made all the headlines back then, not necessarily because of their crimes (which were indeed also notable), but because they had style in spades. Although this may have possibly been the first marriage of crime with the concept of celebrity it certainly wasn’t the last.
America has a way of defining strange eras and maybe none as oddly as the 1950s with its string of bizarre serial murderers. Names like Henry Lee Lucas, Charles Starkweather, Ed Gein and Leslie Irvin. This style was much more about quiet desperation than fame and fortune, but it became a theme all the same. Kids may have pretended to be Al Capone when they played cops and robbers but it’s hard to believe any child ever pretended to be Ed Gein, a man who murdered several women and exhumed dead bodies from graveyards to build things with their bones.2 His behavior was so stunning at the time it inspired Norman Bates character in Pyscho…but probably zero games of cops and robbers.
Truly notable criminals have a way of lodging themselves in a cultural consciousness and shaping the way that culture acts and thinks of itself. The impact that the media has on this process is vast and undeniable. The way they depict crime and criminals almost entirely affects how the public reacts to them.3 The press at the time was, at very least, partially responsible for Jack the Ripper’s elevation to mythic monster status, ensuring his story’s survival to this day.4 Jack the Ripper only ever actually murdered eleven women, possibly a few more than that, so why should he be as monstrous as such prolific killers as Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, or Bin laden? Of course there’s genocide, gang-crime and terrorism but these aren’t personal enough for most people to really stay awake all night worried about (unless they’ve been personally affected by one or more, in which case they are probably not sleeping at all). No, it’s the monster under the bed that most people worry about. A lone wolf that can cozy up right next to you before you even realize what’s happening.
One of the most interesting aspects of crime is how it adjusts to technology and society. It is usually well ahead of the agencies that exist to prevent it. In some cases, however, instead of hindering it, technology entirely foils a branch of crime. Bank robberies used to take place around the world on such a regular basis that law enforcement would sometimes have to choose which robbery to respond to (as it was not uncommon for multiple robberies to be taking place simultaneously). The number of bank robberies has plummeted virtually to the point of being a non-issue today due to enhanced technology behind security and surveillance apparatuses.5 This has also led to a sky rocket in the prison population globally.6
I’d be remiss not to mention the cold dark reality of how often and diverse sex crimes are. Most people would agree that even beyond genocidal maniacs there might be a special rung in hell for child molesters (but we’re really splitting hairs here with the worst of the worst). Sex crimes in general are one particular category of wrongdoing that isn’t ever glamorized or fawned over. It’s perhaps the last pop-culturally untouchable block of wrongdoing left because so few people have been able to walk the tight rope between sex crimes and humor. It’s nearly impossible to come up with a name of someone who is adored and famous because they committed a sex crime (although there are plenty of celebrities who committed them after they were already famous). This is for one simple fact: there’s no style in sex crimes… at least none that anyone wants to imitate or emulate. In short, it just isn’t cool and God help us if it ever is.
So what is there really to say about criminals in this day and age. They’re as much a part of everyday life as the weather (and with just as much variation and disdain). Really great acts of crime hold our attention so unwaveringly perhaps in the same way a great song occasionally might. We’re given a moment to sit and be transfixed, even quietly thrilled, to be jolted from normalcy and routine. At the end of the day crime is a little movie that gives us the slightest reprieve from the banality of living the ho-hum. Surely in some cases it is also the sheer awe of watching someone who just doesn’t give a fuck. Really, what could be cooler than that? All this is just to say, if you’re going to commit a crime, for god’s sake make it interesting. Leave us breathless, or aghast, or disgusted, or amused, or something. Honestly, we’re all counting on you. [...Read less ↑ ]