Hollywood Does Not Glorify Criminal Behavior Research Paper

Pages: 11 (3605 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Film

Hollywood movies do not glorify criminal behavior. On the contrary, the industry glorifies the hero and stigmatizes the criminal for his behavior and crimes against society. American gangster movies' initial depictions of criminals were at first a sordid fascination, as exemplified by the film noir genre in Hollywood during the late 1940s and into the early 1960s. In the 1970s, the black exploitation films depicted black gangsters who were pimps, robbers and criminals involved with gangs and drugs (Stanfield, 281). The 1990s Hollywood black "hood" movies was an example of how black commercial cinema attempted to get into the mass market, but then perpetuated criminal stereotypes of young Black men involved with gangs and rap music stardom (Murby, 263). Hollywood directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese also created and perpetuated Italian mafia stereotypes in their films, which tell the story of Italian-American families being subjected the ravages of criminal behavior and violence related to the underworld of drugs and Italian mobs. All these depictions of criminals show that while their stories fascinated the American public, their criminality was considered deplorable and was a source of much anxiety surrounding the growing "social problem" of criminals in the American society.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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In fact, the cinematic depictions of the American gangster were actual social commentary around the notion of being a criminal and committing a crime, and how this behavior was punished by society at large. Much of social commentary around the criminal and criminal behavior centers on the fear of the criminal, the violence surrounding the criminal act, and the implications that the criminal has on society. This does not necessarily mean glorification of criminal behavior, but communicates the "shifting cultural desires and anxieties" (Grievson, 1) and the over-use of eugenics, psychology and sociology to explain the neuroses of the criminal and therefore the actions of the criminal (Grievson, 4). Overall, however, American gangster films have a similar narrative convention in play, moving from the film noir genre to the black American gangster films one can see that the plot often involved the criminal, who will be punished through his own death or sentenced to jail or prison for the rest of his life.

Historically, the depiction of the criminal in Hollywood films of the film noir genre commenced the exploration of a variety of themes that tended not to glorify the criminal nor the crime he or she has committed. Even before the genre started, the Silent Era of the 1900s-1920s also included films such as The Black Hand (1906), which told the story about underworld criminal gangs that sprouted in "the social body of immigration and racial difference " (Grievson, 13). Another film, The Silver Wedding (1906), is about a gang of thieves that gets caught in the end and gets dragged away by the police. The policing of criminality in both films can be seen as a desire for moral order. Much of the anxieties in the films feature the fear of racial difference and the criminal underworld being made up of denizens of immigrants and the "Other." Bell hooks, a Black feminist critic, argues that white mainstream movies often make people of diverse ethnic backgrounds the "Other "(hooks, 258). This is perhaps the norm of the early part of the 20th century, with criminals often being punished because of not only their criminal acts but also because they appeared different to the mainstream culture at the time. Also, Reid astutely points out that in the classical Hollywood films of this era, "the gangster-film conventions demand that "good guys" be authenticated by city, state and federal agencies" (52). Similarly, there is a tenuous moral order that must be upheld throughout most of these films, which deems any persistence of criminality as a moral affliction not only of the mind but of the soul.

The film noir genre thrust racial differences into their movies and, as well, did not glorify the act of the criminal as much as the punishment of the criminal through the achievement of the hero. Wilson points out that the syndicate films of the 1950s "provided their audience with a depiction of the 'greater menace' of organized crime as a primarily alien conspiratorial threat" (68). This greater menace could be construed as the Communist threat in postwar America, which loomed against the general American public as spies. The McCarthy era infused the public with paranoia over any criminal behavior which could be construed as treason or as a result of a psychological breakdown in the criminal (Wilson, 73). Ultimately these movies showed the rise and fall of a lone protagonist and as crime as a business venture. The criminal as a lone figure ensconced in shadows was one of the most popular depictions still used today. The criminal would often frequent nightclubs, dive bars, speakeasies (Wilson, 82) and are usually very aware of how guilty they are of the crimes that they have committed. The almost obsessive desire to be rid of this guilt is echoed in countless film noir movies. This desire often ends in the death of the criminal or him going to prison to "pay" for his crimes.

The American gangster of the late 1940s to early 1960s was often depicted as a criminal who not only took advantage of others economically but also exhibited a masculinity that was violent and connected to his relationships with other men (which could be deemed as homoerotic by many film critics). As mentioned above and further supported by Studlar, the world of men which the criminal surrounded himself with often caused a psychological breakdown, a sexual malaise, that could be construed as homo-erotic in scope (121). Studlar also notes that most definitely depicted in many of these films is a sense that homosexuality "is frequently referenced and saturates the world in which the hero moves with some uncertainty…" (122). Criminal behavior is then associated with being in close relationships with men, not only professionally, but also sexually. The loyalty between criminals and the male bonds that form on screen were often criticized in more mainstream films, in film noir, these connections were often lauded and then torn asunder for the benefit of the hero to triumph over the potential perversity for defiant homosexuality. The mere presence of the hero who forms relationships with other men is deemed unacceptable to society and, hence, the films often end in tragedy because the hero (or anti-hero) chooses to die for his "crime" against nature or humanity most of all. One example of this narrative is Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The film depicts Clyde as a gangster traipsing through the central United States when he finds Bonnie, who is seduced by the violence his character represents. Based on a true story of two lovers who were outlaws, criminals and robbers, the film depicts the two lovers as doomed from the very beginning of the film. Clyde demonstrates his obvious preference for men when he picks up a youngster to join him and Bonnie. The movie later on shows Clyde's obvious inability to make love to Bonnie; his criminality castrates him and both Bonnie and Clyde get killed in the end by the police in a violent shoot-out. Adopting similar narrative conventions from the film noir of the 1950s and 60s, the American gangster is a criminal whose behavior is unacceptable to modern society. The gangster is diagnosed with having not only a psychological problem, but being a social problem that must be rid off through death or by his own hand.

The black exploitation (blaxsploitation) films of the 1970s similarly echo the criticism of the rising black gangster as pimp and drug dealer, and that the inner city is also controlled by criminal syndicates (such as in the 1950s syndicate films). These films were often directed by white men and their depiction of African-Americans did not necessarily glorify criminality, but did emphasize their propensity for anger and rage at the ghetto and institutionalized racism. Another narrative that subtly underlies this narrative is that the Black heroes and villains supported similar narratives of the 1950s gangster films. As Reid notes, most audiences during the 1960s could identify what a gangster film was about, and that they "also are able to agree that certain actions are criminal, although they may differ on the moral issues surrounding these acts" (50). Also, the treatment of the black gangster differs from more mainstream Hollywood films than independent films, while one might sustain the moral order inherent in most gangster films, the other might tend to narrate a story of moral uplift for the main protagonist. As Reid points out, these films often "borrowed some elements from mainstream gangster fare and commonly suggested a conventional understanding of 'law and order'" (52). The treatment of the protagonists in these types of films often presented the hero as one from the streets who was in charge of bringing justice to the inner city world. In the film Shaft (1971), John Shaft is the primary protagonist who is depicted… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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