Thursday, December 04, 2008

Myths of Good Criminals

Based on my outrage from the misanthropic "Law and Order" I will bring up another potential case - that of the heavily advertised TV program of rainbow-coalition gentlemen thieves "Leverage". The tagline: "Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."

I have to emphasize here: Bad guys can make the best good guys? No, no they can't.

While I like "Ocean's Eleven" as much as the next guy, criminals are not foppish gentlemen thieves. Notice how the "Ocean" movies always have the victims be criminals (or casinos, same diff). So yes when "bad guys" attack other bad guys, we can cheer because in the end, bad guys are being schmeitzed. But the "Ocean" team were not actually bad people in almost any decent definition. They were thieves, but only from other thieves. Uh, boo? But "Ocean" guys were loving friends, loyal to each other, generous to the needy, righting wrongs and generally well-dressed and courteous. Why then are they "bad guys"? Show me them doing something bad.

Well, they break the laws. And I guess implicitly there's a belief in the writers that The Man will believe that laws are 'good' even when unjust. So to fight for justice, you need to break laws, which means being Just is bad.

There may actually be pea-brains who believe that. Southern Jim-Crow enforcing sheriffs circa 1955, or the members of the Bush administration, but generally this is a perversion of morality. And people instinctively know it. Which is why the story/archetype of Robin Hood requires a good governor (Richard) being replaced by a bad government (John, Sheriff of Nottingham). Robin is considered 'bad' because the sheriff is in fact the bad one. Were a righteous government in place, and Robin were still mugging strangers at the crossroads, then we'd no longer want to read about him favorably.

I have no problem, though with Robin Hood stories as long as they make the 'evil government' distinction clear. They lap into misanthropy when they refuse to distinguish between "bad" guy and bad-guy.

The lack of distinction can be a result of simple laziness. TNT can't be faulted for calling the group of Mission Ocean's Impossible dudes in "Leverage" a bunch of "bad" guys because they are most likely being lazy lazy lazy. And while laziness ain't good, it also ain't truly bad (maybe not even "bad.")

However, there are those who buy into the Robin Hood image as being necessary and good against every government, good or bad. They see the gentleman-thief as a precursor to the revolutionary. It's one reason why pea-brains have posters and T-Shirts of Che Guevara: he was a revolutionary and they're good because government is bad.

That myth is perpetuated by those who believe that bourgeois "laws" are in place by The Man to keep undesirables in place.

I'm currently suffering through one of the very worst classes I've ever taken; it's all about 'classical sociological theory' (read: stuff nobody reads or uses any more). And the professor decries the 'conservative' theories like Weber and Durkheim because they don't advocate revolution. Or something. But Marx and Foucault, lovely. Foucault is a hero to these pinheads (more on just how much I hate him later) especially because he claims laws are bourgeois inventions to keep the marginal figures in their place. Or whatever.

Let's be clear about "Che" - he killed many innocent people. He was a terrorist. A murderous scumbag. Only a schmuck can claim that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," because attacking innocent people, civilians, for the sole purpose of killing/maiming is evil no matter who does it. And no matter for what ends. The Mumbai terrorists and Che Guevara are equivalents.

But even outside of the terrorists and murdering 'revolutionaries' the Robin Hood myth wants to create a morality among thieves and con-men. Let's be clear about one thing - the gentleman thief is a kid's story, a myth. They don't exist. (I will confirm this by asking Cecil Adams... stay tuned).

Bottom line: I've met criminals and their ilk; these people are criminals not because they are rebelling against the system but often because they are stupid and selfish to a level that you probably won't recognize if you've lived your whole lives in middle class safety.

And note, similar to Weber and Durkheim, I *like* middle-class safety. The best things in the entire world have been created because there was widespread middle class safety. MCS is the cause of civilization.

Criminals are usually very stupid. And unreliable because of that. And also because to a person criminals are self-absorbed and often hateful of others. Hence why they break the law, steal things, hurt people, etc.

The concept that a bunch of 'outlaws' will be your crime-fighting force is ludicrous in a civil democracy. A real criminal will be completely unreliable and will hurt his 'teammates' and run off to get stoned.

But it's a trope of pop-fiction: that the bad guys can actually be good! That professional killers are nice folk; that they were just born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Good TV shows that show a reality in crime - the Sopranos, The Wire - emphasize my point well: criminals are selfish, petty, stupid and will hurt you. That's why they are bad and to confuse bad with good, which is what this misanthropic entertainment wants to do, is a perversion of morality. And I'm against that.
Lego Che image from here.

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