Friday, July 11, 2008

The popularity of criminals as folk heroes

I think that the popularity of criminals as folk heroes varies in inverse proportion to how just the laws are, and how just the people executing the laws are. When society is fundamentally unjust for a group of people, and harassment and false imprisonment are realities, the person who opposes the system by not giving a damn and breaking society's rules---while evading the police and the law--becomes a popular figure. When the laws are a lot juster and the people arrested for seriously breaking the law are stupid morons who just want to get something for nothing and are about on the level of cave men in their mentality, the idea of criminal as folk hero probably tends to decrease.

The romanticization of the criminal confuses these two types of people---folks who would be criminals no matter what, and people who tend to be like that because of the way society is for them. The two sometimes exist side by side, though, which makes separating out the wheat from the chaff a little bit harder. You don't want to go to far in either direction if that's the case. Blanket romanticization will end up labeling some people who are just plain criminals as heroic resisters of the system, while going in the other direction will condemn people who are either partially or fundamentally good. It's a continuum from one to the other, surely, with people not just fitting into one or the other category, but there are differences.

When you hear about folk heroes in Latin America, for instance the figure of LampiĆ£o in Brazil, it's in the context of inequality with the big hacienda owners on the one hand and the farmers they employ as well as poor farmers that may have some rights to their own land on the other. In a system like that taking to the road and becoming an outlaw is a sort of rational choice. The hacienda owners, the big land owners, control the government, control the police. Breaking the law and doing what you want is a protest against staying in the lowest category of people in the social system and suffering the injustices that those on the top of things impose on you. It's big finger in the face of the power structure, and the mythic agility of these folks causing to have them make daring escapes from the law is a cause for celebration, a showing up of the people who supposedly are inevitably in power.

When you have people who commit crimes because they're unconscious followers of Ayn Rand it's a lot less romantic.

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