Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bonnie and Clyde

My most recent post, concerning a certain fellow who continues to question without the benefit of listening, has drawn more comments to a single post than I've ever had. One commenter mentions my picture of Bonnie Parker, and another commenter, from Europe, is at first unaware of who Bonnie and Clyde were. Upon learning about them, she asks, "Why are these people a hero? Is it possible I can never understand completely the American sensitivity?"

I love that question, but I'm afraid I may not really be able to answer it.

As Americans, we do seem to cheer for the bad guy, often seeming to develop a sort of Robin Hood view of some of our worse societal elements.

It's true that Bonnie and Clyde were murderers and robbers. It also has to be understood that their heyday was during the American Great Depression. This was a time when the gangsters ruled the street, prohibition was in full swing, and Americans thrilled to the exploits of those daring rogues.

In a sense, we seem to have always been a people that loved the outlaw side. Our nation was founded by people who could, in a sense, be considered outlaws, bucking the system of laws that were in place from the King of England who was in fact the ruler of the colonies as they then existed. It was not until several of our founding fathers turned outlaw and bucked the system that we eventually became our own nation.

Looking at our founding as a nation, it's not a large leap to see ourselves in love with the rogues. We still do that to this day, the dark and troubled hero being more popular than the shining example, uncertain motivation and a sense of brooding being more popular than purity of desire.

One can also look to our fixation with the old west, the cowboys that we imagine stepped out of bed in the morning directly into a pair of boots and a gun belt. We don't love a John Wayne that always did right but the John Wayne that swaggered in, fists or guns blazing, whichever seems appropriate to the situation.

So why do we so often idolize the scoundrels? Is this only the US, or is it a human thing?

I think as a final thought we should examine the double standard of this view. While we may romanticize Bonnie and Clyde, we certainly would not look forward to being the bank teller the day they showed up. Many people are currently fixated by the idea of some cutesy piracy that completely ignores the truth of the men and women who we celebrate. We overlook the murder and the deprivation, the added shares from the prize for those sailors unfortunate enough to lose a limb or an eye. We ignore the fact of entire ship's worth of people being drowned rather than being allowed to become a burden to the crew who were after more prizes, more robbing, raping and looting.

So what's your idea? Why do we celebrate the rogues and scoundrels, the Bonnies and Clydes?


Nance Confer said...

I don't know. I always think of how bad things must have smelled when I see some movie with royals in white wigs and long gowns. Given the state of plumbing until pretty recently, no wonder they needed all that perfume, etc.

There was an interesting (to me anyway) item on the Antiques Roadshow recently. A tiny little box with a chain attached and a clip on the other end. The little box was filled with a sponge soaked in perfume. The clip went on the train of the lady's gown and she held the box to her nose as she made her way from her home to the carriage. Which kept the dress from dragging on the filthy streets and the heavily corseted lady from fainting from the awful smells all around.

Not the image we think of as we watch some old movie full of "let them eat cake" scenes. :)


Nance Confer said...

"I believe that any argument that rejects the value of the individual is a political non-starter in this country. As different as many of us are, there is a culture of individuality here that cuts across many different groups. You can’t tell people “do what I say because you don’t matter, the system matters”. It will never fly."

Maybe that partial quote from the comments at Rolfe's blog gets to an answer to your question here???


Overpriced Designer Man Bag said...

Our lives tend to be more mundane than those of scoundrels.

I got a flyer for the Bodies Exhibition (the plastinated dead bodies) with an exclusive homeschooler offer. If anyone happens to live near San Diego, it's $14/kid for a day of wholesome educational fun.