Until the Great Depression, most Americans would not dream of blaming an abstraction called "the system” for the the state of the economy or their own plight. Millions were out of work, riding the rails, moving to California, eating in soup kitchens, and down on their luck. The answer to their problems appeared in Hollywood: flashing cars and flashier women, smart-alecks with snazzy fedoras and a surfeit of self-confidence.
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People became a huge best-seller when it was published in 1936, Burma Shave signs were plenty across the country, and Listerine’s campaign against halitosis bore fruit then as well. Self-improvement was a key to success for many, even while jobs didn't come for plenty of Americans until the Second World War.
The other side of the coin was the adulation of a great segment of the public for gangland criminals: think of John Dillinger, George 'Baby Face' Nelson, Al Capone, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They could emulate Hollywood versions of these thugs, as portrayed by James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, appeared to succeed by doing business outside the system - if you could discount their bloody deaths.
Among the real-life Americans models for these fictions were the glamorous Barrow and Parker who came to be portrayed as star-crossed lovers. However, at the height of their crime spree, Barrow and Parker attracted much less than star criminals like Dillinger. Steven Biel, in an ebook format, plots the strange path by which this pair of ne’er-do-wells became the stuff of myth and legend, which were portrayed in the 1970s movie starring Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway, persist to this day.
Biel's point of departure is the self-mythologizing poem that Parker composed for mass consumption at the end of her brief careerr. The poem is included as part of the e-book. But Biel is less interested in the way Parker effectively wrote herself and companion Clyde Barrow into cultural history, while he analyzes her work as a literary critic, than the way cultural history imprinted itself on her
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.