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Inventing the Public Enemy

The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934

In this richly detailed account of mass media images, David Ruth looks at Al Capone and other "invented" gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. The subject of innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, scores of novels, and hundreds of Hollywood movies, the gangster was a compelling figure for Americans preoccupied with crime and the social turmoil it symbolized. Ruth shows that the media gangster was less a reflection of reality than a projection created from Americans’ values, concerns, and ideas about what would sell.

We see efficient criminal executives demonstrating the multifarious uses of organization; dapper, big-spending gangsters highlighting the promises and perils of the emerging consumer society; and gunmen and molls guiding an uncertain public through the shifting terrain of modern gender roles. In this fascinating study, Ruth reveals how the public enemy provides a far-ranging critique of modern culture.

200 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1996

Culture Studies

History: American History

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Gangster and Urban America
1. The Individual, Society, and the Uses of Crime
2. Criminal Businessmen
3. Dressed to Kill: Consumption, Style, and the Gangster
4. Bad Men and Dangerous Women
5. The Invention in the Flesh: Al Capone of Chicago

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