I asked my dad about what how he would explain the American gangster, and he said some things that lined up pretty well with what we’ve discussed in class. He talked about how there’s a certain romanticism associated with the gangster when compared with other countries, where they’re more often viewed as clearly and solely criminal. There is also a component of mythology to it, almost as an evolution from Wild West outlaws and gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde. He also saw hierarchy as important component to gangsters as seen in The Godfather, and even described gangsters as sometimes seeing themselves as not having a choice, and also saw themselves as heroes in a corrupt system. Overall, his description touches on a lot of the important parts of what the American gangster is, from tragic hero to our O’Kane-Lupsha juxtaposition.
I also asked my dad about why exactly the American gangster was so compelling a story to us. He first brought up again the idea that Bonnie and Clyde represented an evolution from the Wild West to gangsters, and how gangsters as a whole are the next step in that cultural hero role. He also said they were sort of tragic heroes that acted in a more modern context. They were cultural heroes who did things that normal people might want to do but couldn’t or wouldn’t, almost as Robin Hood romantic heroes. He touched on gangsters as another type of powerful rich person that we all want to be. Overall, the most important aspect to him was the gangster as the modern cultural, tragic, romantic hero who filled the role that had once been filled by western outlaws.
I was surprised and impressed by how much of what he said so closely aligned with what we’d been discussing all semester. I really shouldn’t have been surprised: my dad is a pretty smart guy. Almost on the spot, he said things that were very similar to some of the arguments made by Warshow, O’Kane, Lupsha, and Ruth. I think this speaks to the accuracy of those ideas, that someone who hadn’t every been directly exposed to them developed some nice summaries of them on his own. He also said that gangsters are the latest in a line of outlaws and cultural heroes, and that’s an idea that I’ve been a little obsessed with over the span of the course. I suppose I am his kid, after all.