The Idolisation and Glamorisation of Criminals in TV and Film

There is a large amount of violence and crime on our television screens today and an increasing glamorisation of the criminal masterminds associated with them. Lately, with the increasing popularity of films like Legend and television series like Narcos or even Xbox games, I have found myself recommending and discussing them with everyone and to anyone, but why? “Legend” tells the true story of East-end twin gangsters Ronnie and Reginald Kray while “Narcos” divulges the life story of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his infamous but violent drugs cartel. “Grand Theft Auto V” made $1 billion in its first three days, a game that encourages the player to become involved in organised crime and torture whilst satirising the role of women in society by depicting them as either prostitutes or trophy wives. Romanticizing crime is not a new trend, the continuing obsession with glamorising crime is embedded in our society but why do we indulge in actions that, in real life, would cause hysteria and panic amongst our society?

What the Twins, Escobar and fictional characters like James Bond have in common, alongside their common interest in criminality, is a vast amount of wealth. They have what we want and in a capitalist world, that’s money. In the latest James Bond film “Spectre” there were seventeen instances of product placement throughout the film, Omega and Rolls Royce to name just two of them. The constant focus on the high quality of life and the vast amounts of material goods takes away from the job in hand; killing. Whereas James Bond is a fictional character, Escobar and Ronnie and Reggie Kray are not. Their crimes are diluted by constant reminders of the luxurious lifestyles they lead. For Escobar, it was vast houses with swimming pools, a plethora of Brazilian girls not wearing much, millions of pounds worth of cocaine and a lifestyle that, for the most part, could not be tainted by law enforcement. For the Krays it was the constant image of them in glossy suits and old fashioned cars. Their celebrity status and wealth encourages us to idolise them, even though the crimes they committed were far from desirable.

The appeal of the alpha male could be another reason why we are so obsessed with these stories. The idea that a criminal is an alpha male would explain the desire from many young men to be like them. Being a gangster involves an aspect of being primitive and impulsive. It involves spending time at the local pub, handling stacks of money, playing with guns and attracting beautiful women, something that perhaps all men desire to do. By playing games like “Grand Theft Auto”, the player can explore the criminal underworld and vicariously play out Freudian desires. Perhaps watching these films and playing these games allows the individual to enjoy slight pleasure, imagining these scenarios without actually being involved in crime. What they forget to show is the impact they have on their victims, something that might have an effect on the way people look up to drug lords and gangsters in real life.

Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel have been accused of assassinating up to 3,500 people, with up to five hundred of them being police officers. Though only killing a few people between them, the ability of the Krays to manipulate and intimidate their victims led to their disregard for the law, with many of their crimes going unpunished. Using creative licence, filmmakers can combine true events with untrue for the purpose of entertainment and sales and therefore can shape the way we see characters. If one were to be exposed to archive footage of the bona fide Krays, and their more sinister endeavours, then perhaps ones opinion would change.

So whilst we find enjoyment in graphic and violent films, perhaps we should realise that these people were not saints. Films can, and perhaps should, be used to raise awareness of depravity in the places that see violence like this on a daily basis rather than providing us with easy entertainment and stimulation. The ramifications of idolising criminals and promoting violence could lead to desensitization in the way we see crime and violence. Although it’s unreasonable to suggest everyone stop watching such violence, perhaps we should be mindful of the implications of these films and games on individuals and upon society as a whole.

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