I've been on a Depression-era reading binge of late ranging from 'The Grapes of Wrath' to 'Pretty Boy: The Story of Charles Floyd.' I also happened to catch the surprisingly good flick, 'Public Enemies.'
I found it fascinating to discover that the public enemies of the Great Depression era were often desperadoes with hearts of gold. Floyd, for example, would not only rob banks, he'd tear up the mortgages being held on his friends' properties (that's kind of cool and certainly endeared him to the local kinfolk). And Dillinger was noted for being an early proponent of Ronald Reagan's trickle-down theory. He'd often hand out recently stolen bank money to passers-by in the street and occasionally pay the drivers of the cars he'd just hijacked.
Floyd and Dillinger were also said to be extremely friendly and courteous, especially to local citizens who lionized the bad guys for 'getting even' with a system that had let them all down. Locals not only provided food and shelter, they'd often send pursuing G-men on a wild goose chase.
The public enemies of the Great Depression chose crime as their way out of poverty. But, some did it in such a way that their image and reputation often rivaled that of, say, a Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey in terms of popularity.
Juxtapose that phenomenon with today. We're in the midst of what many are calling the Great Recession. Yet, I sure haven't seen any examples of latter-day Robin Hoods, have you?
Today's criminals seem to range from Al Qaeda operatives and white-collar Dennis Kozlowski types to drive-by gangstas who murder innocent kids and muggers who kick the bejesus out of helpless octogenarians. If there's been one bad guy with a good heart, I've sure missed the story.
So, how come Dillinger and Floyd had hearts of gold while Madoff and the Christmas Day underwear bomber don't? (Btw, how'd you like to be remembered for the rest of your life with that sobriquet? 'Hi, I'm Steve. I do PR, and you?' 'I'm Achmed. You may remember me as the Christmas Day underwear bomber.').
I think yesteryear's bad guys were nicer because they grew up in a 'nicer' society where the Golden Rule still existed. Floyd, for example, came from a classic, hard-working farm family. Neither Floyd nor Dillinger grew up in a 24×7 negative news cycle. Nor did they have access to video games like Grand Theft Auto (although both would have no doubt excelled at it). In short, Dillinger and Floyd grew up in a kinder, gentler world where a man's handshake was as good as gold, people treated one another with respect and role models (for the most part) behaved like role models.
Today's criminal class would probably laugh at the very notion of sharing the loot with the unemployed underclass. Sadly, our bad guys are more like the sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood.