Back in the day, when I lived in the projects in Brooklyn, we had a big, black and white T.V. in the living room. On cold winter days, I would sit in front of that television and watch old movies constantly. One of my first idols was an actor named James Cagney. From the moment I saw him in a movie called ‘The Public Enemy’, I was hooked on his tough-guy persona. In the movie, he plays a cold blooded gangster named Tom Powers; a murderous hood who kills or beats down anybody who crossed him. He even smashed a grapefruit in his girlfriends face. I loved him.
Then I saw a movie called ‘Little Caesar’ with Edward G. Robinson. It was about, you guessed it, a short Napoleonic thug named Rico Bandello who spends most of the movie killing anybody who got in his way. I loved that movie, too.
Now that I’m a grown man, I still enjoy seeing those movies, but I watch them with a more critical eye. I also clearly realize why I loved those films as a child. The reason is the actors who played those parts and how both Tom Powers and Rico Bandello were portrayed. Both Cagney and Eddie G. were two of the most charismatic actors ever to come out of Hollywood. They reeked of machismo, bravado and charm. I now realize that I paid more attention to the way the actor played his part than what the actor was actually doing. I didn’t care who they killed or smacked around, as long as they looked good doing it. It was all about how cool my heroes were. That was all that mattered to me. And as I look back, I can honestly admit that those movies, added to my hanging out on the streets of Brooklyn, distorted the way I handled confrontation, and just as important, distorted the way I related to women.
From ‘The Public Enemy’ to ‘Scarface’ to ‘New Jack City’ to ‘American Gangster’ to today’s latest shoot-em-up, what our young, impressionable males are seeing is charismatic actors doing horrific things. But the thing that remains constant is that Al Pacino, Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington always look cool. So just like I did, today’s young guys glorify the latest “flavor-of-the-week” hoodlum. And maybe not even consciously, but sub-consciously because it’s been said by many that visual mediums relentlessly seep into our sub-conscious and can be extremely subliminal. Young males usually always mimic what they admire. Another thing is, multiply all the new mediums we have available; videos can be watched on laptops, smart phones, IPods, IPads…and countless other gadgets. Our kids are not only constantly bombarded with violent images, but also with sexual images; and sex and violence always go hand in hand.
Two recent cases I read about cause me to believe I’m on the right track. A young prep school girl was arrested last week and charged with conspiracy and gun charges after allegedly helping out her drug dealing boyfriend who was in jail. She even allegedly went as far as carrying around a loaded 9mm gun in her bag. All reports said she was a brilliant student and a gifted athlete who had gone to a prestigious academy in Massachusetts. Her friends all said she was deeply in love with her man who the newspapers portrayed as a murderous lowlife. Now this girl was smart, right? So why would she let herself become involved with a known gangster? Or did the fact that he was a roughneck make him more attractive and appealing to her?
The other case, a day later, did not have as much fanfare and only took up about a four inch column on page 20 of a New York newspaper. “Bronx Boy Shot Dead On Street”. Jose Marte, 16, was shot once in the chest and once in the stomach on East 184th Street. The article says he was attending a baby shower in the neighborhood and got into a “dispute” on the street with a man who then shot him. Now we know by now that a dispute in the ‘hood can mean anything from bumping into someone, to stepping on someone’s toe, or staring at someone’s girlfriend too long. Whatever it was, a child of only sixteen was murdered because of it.
And if you really think about it, he was probably killed by someone who thought he was Scarface.