Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Questionable Characters

As a kid, one of my school projects was a "Hero Report." Being children, we picked the obvious people from the Pantheon of (Almost) Unambiguous Moral Character: presidents, ball players, and scientists. I picked Al Capone. Needless to say, he was not P(A)UMC approved. My teacher was a bit concerned about me.

While this misguided admiration did not lead me into a life of crime, it did begin my fascination with the idea of the questionable folk hero. I was hardly alone in this interest. But finally after ten years of people putting on bad Jersey accents and saying "Ohhhh!" the gangster thing got played out. Pop culture needed a new anti-hero archetype to focus on.

The junkyard of history being filled with marketable outlaws, it didn't take long. For a while, it looked like it was going to be Wild West gunmen. But then the economy went down the tubes. Cue the Depression Era Bank Robbers!

With their cute nicknames and character quirks (like being psychotic), these criminals might have been able to break out of prison, but they couldn't escape the imaginations of the American public (or press). They became romantic heroes... with a body count.

The outlaw hero is something of a fading notion these days though. I'm trying to think of who has achieved that sort of status in this era. There aren't many, but I'm imagining there are probably a few hero reports out there with the names of Biggie and Tupac in them. And I'm imagining there are probably a few teachers fretting about that.
posted by jw