Society and Crime

I enjoy my English Comp. class because there are no exams. We just write 5 major essays. The most recent essay we wrote was supposed ro be analyzing a relationship. I chose the relationship between society and crime.

**This essay is largely my OPINION, so take everything I say with a grain of salt and don’t write me some smart-ass comment about how wrong/misinformed I am or some sappy comment about how offended you were. This is just my two cents, people.

Public Enemies(?): Society’s Attitude(s) Towards Crime

Turn on the television to any major news station, and it is guaranteed that you will hear stories of crime. Murders, homicides, robberies, rapes, drug busts, tax evasions, etc.; the list goes on and on. Hearing of so much crime in this manner can be overwhelming and depressing. Many people prefer not to watch the news for this reason, myself included. Watching the news reveals the side of society that disapproves of crime, this side supports jails, justice, and capital punishment. This side, however, does not reveal society’s only attitude towards crime. Perhaps society may depend on crime, just as much as crime depends on society.

This past July, my boyfriend, Rob, and I went to see the movie, Public Enemies. Set in the 1930s, Johnny Depp portrays a gangster who holds up banks, breaks out of jails, and steals the heart of a beautiful woman: all the while maintaining a smooth, tough-guy swagger. Depp, as John Dillinger, makes for the perfect anti-hero. I sit on the edge of my seat as he busts out of prison. I bite my nails as he runs through a forest while being pursued by police officers. I desperately want him to escape, rescue the damsel in distress, and ride off into sunset.

I love the criminal. I root for him. I sympathize with him.

In the movies, that is.

I have realized that this is not just the case with Public Enemies, but with many other movies as well. If crime is such a bad thing, then why are so many critically acclaimed movies ones which glamourize crime? The American Film Institute’s list of one hundred greatest films includes several of the crime genre: The Godfather, Bonnie and Clyde, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction, to name a few. It appears that if disapproval were the only attitude that society had towards crime, then we would not have such movies, and even if we did have such movies, then they would not be considered among the one hundred greatest American films.

Witnessing crime in real life is terrible, yet witnessing crime in the movies is thrilling. Criminals in real life are ostracized, judged, and many times locked up or even put to death. Criminals in movies are many times respected and even lauded. This could be said of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker – a complete sociopath – which won Ledger a posthumous Oscar. Of course, it was Ledger’s performance that won him the award, not the deviant acts of the character.

I often wonder why this is; I wonder why man seems to have a secret fascination with crime. People hate to hear of a serial killer on the news, but they love to see Al Pacino shooting people left and right in Scarface. Perhaps this reveals something about people’s relationship with crime. Perhaps this is how people secretly acknowledge the necessity of crime in our society.

The thought has crossed my mind numerous times before that this world would be a better, happier place without crime. I know that I am not the first person to entertain this idea…it would be a sign of the apocalypse if a Miss America pageant took place without one mention of the phrase, “world peace”. A society who loves criminals has also adopted the mantra of peace. However, it could be possible that society may need some crime and social deviance.

A good way to establish a leader and have people follow them is to create a common enemy among the people. Enemies have the ability to unite people under one leader. An example of this, tragically, is Adolf Hitler’s attempt to turn the “master race” against Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and other types of people he considered inferior. Hitler was able to manipulate the German people in this way, and was able to accomplish a lot for his cause; for example, expanding the territories of Germany. Few other leaders have been able to influence the masses as Hitler did. By manipulating, exploiting, and redefining crime he was able to help Germany’s growth and economy.

Similarly, the events of September 11, 2001 united the American people and unveiled old-fashioned patriotism. A great, devastating crime brought everyone together against Al-Qaeda. The Patriot Act was enacted, airport security updated, and other actions were taken as a response. There is no question that the crime was terrible and heinous, but have we been able to advance as a nation because of it? That question is debatable, but I would argue that advancements have been made.

Sometimes, crime is required for society to make strides. When Martin Luther King Jr. participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he was arrested. At the time, Dr. King was viewed as a criminal. Today, Dr. King is highly praised, and rightfully so. Largely because of him, the Jim Crow laws were abolished and African Americans received the rights that they deserved.

Similarly, Susan B. Anthony was arrested when she voted as a woman. Her crime, however, helped to raise awareness for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Soon after, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution and women were given the right to vote.

It’s interesting how society’s opinion of crime can change over time. The same country that condemned Martin Luther King Jr.’s actions now has a public holiday on his birthday celebrating his cause. The same country that condemned Susan B. Anthony’s actions put her face on a piece of currency: the dollar coin. Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony’s actions, which were against the law at the time, helped social progress to take place. Crime doesn’t always have to be harmful. It can raise awareness and promote much-needed changes in society.

It is evident that crime brings change, but that is not the only thing that crime brings. It also brings business. A multitude of professions exist because of crimes: police officers, parole officers, probation officers, prison wardens, crime scene investigators, forensic scientists, detectives, lawyers, bail bondsmen, and more.

Allow me to juxtapose this topic. Although a climate change may be happening on the Earth due to carbon dioxide emissions, much of which come from the burning of coal, many coal miners in West Virginia oppose the pursuit of alternative energy sources because they fear losing their jobs. What do you think police officers would do if crime was nonexistent? The initial thought may be that they would find another job. But that may not be so simple for a state trooper with a degree in Criminal Justice who has been on the job for thirty years. After holding a career solely of law enforcement, simply switching jobs would not be an easy task, and may not even be possible for those dedicated to their work.

Let’s face it: crime brings business. If that business were to disappear, many people would be without jobs. In this way, society may depend on crime. But this relationship is a two-way street: crime depends on society as well.

Personally, I do not advocate the use of marijuana, but I do advocate its legalization. This is because the marijuana business is so vast because it is illegal. If someone could walk into a tobacco store and buy marijuana legally, there would not be an underground black market of dealers. The laws against marijuana create the crime and the criminals. Making marijuana legal would not give more power to the dealers; it would actually strip them of their power because their services would not be as valued.

Marijuana cannot kill the human body or cause an overdose. Its effects can be compared with those of alcohol. From 1920 to 1933, alcohol was illegal in America thanks to the Prohibition Movement. What was supposed to reduce crime actually created it. The Mafia’s bootlegging businesses during this time flourished. When President F. D. Roosevelt repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and ratified the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933, the sale of alcohol was legalized again. The Mafia’s bootlegging activity halted, and the sale of alcohol stimulated the economy that was hurting because of the Great Depression.

It’s hard to describe the relationship that society has with crime. They hate each other. They love each other. They depend on each other. One could not exist without the other. It may be the popular belief that crime needs to be abolished, but progress is often achieved in society through crime. Crime unites people. Crime is a business that keeps people employed. Although it may not always be a positive force 100% of the time, crime is an essential force in our society.


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