PE Question #20 ~ Perceptions of Dillinger

by Bryan Burrough

Moderator: Liz

User avatar
DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
Posts: 10378
Joined: Mon Jun 21, 2004 10:43 pm
Location: Austin

Status: Offline

PE Question #20 ~ Perceptions of Dillinger

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sat Mar 01, 2008 12:18 pm

pg. 284 Dillinger to his niece Mary, “You believe what’s in the papers if you want to,” Dillinger told her, “but take it from me, I haven’t killed anyone and I never will.”

Pg. 188: Eyewitnesses made the identification, and the evening newspapers made it official: John Dillinger, the man who many in Indiana cheered for fighting greedy bankers, was now a murderer. For the rest of his life the killing clearly weighed on Dillinger’s mind. He would repeatedly deny shooting Detective O’Malley, to lawyers, lawmen, and friends. More than once, he volunteered this to complete strangers. His denials probably had less to do with the prospect of a murder conviction than with his own sense of self and his public image. At the heart of his appeal, Dillinger knew, was his joshing Robin Hood spirit, the sense people had that he was a regular guy making the best of hard times. Dillinger didn’t want to be the bad guy. He wanted to be someone people like his sister Audrey and her family could cheer.


Was Dillinger truly a bad guy? Comment on these differing perceptions of Dillinger.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

Cindee
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2008 11:19 am
Location: Arizona

Status: Offline

Unread postby Cindee » Sat Mar 01, 2008 12:51 pm

Yes, i believe that John Dillinger was a bad guy. Maybe not in his heart of hearts but certainly in his actions. And sometimes unfortunately our actions define who we are. From early on when JD crashed the unattended switch engine into a line of coal cars just for fun, not even profit, and went AWOL from the Navy could have been dismissed as just youth but he never got any better. Even one of his earliest crimes when he robbed Mr. Frank Morgan showed that he could be mean on occasion. He could have just robbed him with the gun, instead he had to hit him over the head with the wrapped up iron bolt not once but twice even. I think that he was good looking, charismatic and polite and people would be charmed by him and tend to overlook his bad actions as long as it did not involve them. Yes, he was a bad guy. Evil......no. He just had a wild streak in him and was he born with it or was it a product of his upraising we do not know for sure. But what we do know is that with adulthood and maturity it did not diminish as it does with most adults. He never outgrew his pranks. His pranks just grew with him.

User avatar
Parlez
Posts: 2503
Joined: Thu Sep 21, 2006 9:30 am
Location: Colorado

Status: Offline

Unread postby Parlez » Sat Mar 01, 2008 1:04 pm

Well, probably the worst thing that can happen to a person is to have his or her self-image (the perception they have of themselves) get screwed up by reality! Anyway, that's what I think was going on here with Johnnie - he saw himself one way but the reality, or truth, of the matter was something else. Inspite of the facts, he was invested in his personal myth and felt a strong need to defend it...just like we all do.

Unfortunately, his lifestyle just wasn't conducive to maintaining such a noble, honorable myth. It also wasn't conducive to restraint. You put a gun in someone's hands and put them in fast-action, stressful situations, and eventually they're going to shoot somebody. It's a natural progression.

Does that make Johnnie a 'bad' guy? I don't know...I'm not that into labels, and I wasn't there. I wasn't the focus of his gun-wielding threats, his bluster, or of his disarming charm. Mostly I see him as a mixed bag; some good, some not so good. I think Burrough paints a picture of him that tends to support that p.o.v..
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa
savvy avi by mamabear

User avatar
Betty Sue
Posts: 1430
Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 7:37 pm

Status: Offline

Unread postby Betty Sue » Sat Mar 01, 2008 2:05 pm

Great answers! I agree. Sociopaths (those with anti-social personality disorder) are often extremely charming but have no conscience, no real regard for other living creatures. So Dillinger's charm doesn't necessarily make him a good guy, but he did seem to have a true concern for others, such as his girlfriends and some of his 'business associates' who got into threatening situations. His concern might have been selfish, but it seemed that he had some decency in him. Cannot find anything good about his armed robberies, however. :mad:
"I never wanted to be remembered for being a star."

User avatar
Liz
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

Unread postby Liz » Sat Mar 01, 2008 2:41 pm

Great answers indeed!

I think he was a mixed bag—ambivalent, ambiguous & inconsistent. I certainly don’t condone his life of crime. I know that there are many references to his being a considerate and peaceful bank robber. But the incidents that show his angry or mean-spirited side indicate otherwise, as Cindee has expressed. Parlez, I think you make a good point that he may have had this idea of himself that was not in sync with reality. I think he must have regretted killing the cop so much that he convinced himself he didn’t do it. I found it interesting, though, that he continued to shoot at the cops upon his getaways. He just didn’t happen to kill anyone. I think it was obvious that it was not his first preference. But if it came down to him or them, self-preservation won out. And I’d like to add that if one truly believes in non-violence, then maybe said person should quit the bank robbing business.

So, yes, I think he was a bad guy--but not as bad as most. :mort3:


You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Lady Jill
Posts: 686
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:30 pm
Location: Dead Man's Pass near Reno, NV
Contact:

Status: Offline

Unread postby Lady Jill » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:48 pm

No. No worse than anyone else in this world. It seems to me that Dillinger " lost his cool " ( remind you of anyone we know? ) that time, and as it haunted it him all rest of his life, he tried denying it.

It has always bothered me how people can label others good or bad, or right or wrong. I grew up with a father that did just that and have spent years "getting over it". Perhaps there was something behind Dillinger that had been repressed and it just blew! Does that make someone bad. I don't think so. He just made a mistake.


And the rest comes back to our glorious media, blowing up pictures of madmen, murderers, thuds, etc. Like we have all said, they have to sell their papers.

:twocents: My 2 cents worth,
Cajun Kitty
" After we're gone, the only thing that matters is the love we left behind."

User avatar
Endora
Posts: 16370
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 5:03 pm
Location: Darkest UK~ Down in Albion

Status: Offline

Unread postby Endora » Sat Mar 01, 2008 4:05 pm

Interesting that they use the term Robin Hood spirit... remember that RH himself is largely myth, stories built on stories from a sketchy basis of fact. Let's face it, even if RH was entirely verifiable, JD didn't fit that image. How much of his takings did he give away? Not so much.

But DITHOT, was he truely a bad guy? I don't think I could answer that question about anyone. On balance, I'll go with Parlez, and avoid labels.
Work hard, learn well, and make peace with the fact that you'll never be as cool as Johnny Depp. GQ.

Solace in the flood

User avatar
dharma_bum
Posts: 2509
Joined: Sat Jun 25, 2005 2:05 am
Location: Villa Incognito

Status: Offline

Unread postby dharma_bum » Sat Mar 01, 2008 7:24 pm

I saw Dillinger as a performance artist on a public stage. An anarchist. A pirate. A rock star. Another on the continuum of subversives and dissidents who rise in times of repression an instigate social upheaval. He was audacious, smart, inventive, disciplined, and above all, fearless. He so blatantly broke rules and challenged authority, he made it OK for everyone else to stop accepting the status quo and learn to question everything.

If his "art" had involved paint and canvas or ink and paper... his life might have been different. By going forward in the world guns blazing, he guaranteed that everything and everybody he cared about about would eventually be lost, including his soul.

I think we all have the capacity for great good and evil within us. To quote Gregory David Roberts: "Freedom is a universe of possibility. and the choice you make, between hating and forgiving can become the story of your life."

Was Dillinger a bad man? He did bad and hurtful things, but you can be a pirate and still be a good man. Death just left him a bit short of redemption.
Last edited by dharma_bum on Sat Mar 01, 2008 11:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"You can't broom out your head. You certainly can't broom out your heart. And there's a hot wire between them, and everything shows in the eyes."
—Johnny Depp

User avatar
stroch
Posts: 1308
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2005 6:41 pm
Location: New Orleans

Status: Offline

Unread postby stroch » Sat Mar 01, 2008 9:27 pm

I’m trying hard not to meld Johnny Depp and Johnny Dillinger into one persona, or view Dillinger through a prism of Johnny.

Dillinger did not break laws as social protest or to further political reform, he did it for the money. His charisma and charm might be just as much a media construct as the “vicious criminal” stories. And I agree with Cindee – often our actions determine who we are.

I always think of the victims and their families, and I don’t know that Mrs. O’Malley would think he was a good man who made a mistake. He was not a panicky teenager; he was a grown man who persistently committed crimes. Perhaps he was more amoral than immoral – narcissistic and self-delusional.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t have followed his exploits, and been thrilled to see him in action. It might be better to be interesting than to be good.
I'll buy you the hat....a really big one.
St. Roch -- patron saint of pilgrims

User avatar
DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
Posts: 10378
Joined: Mon Jun 21, 2004 10:43 pm
Location: Austin

Status: Offline

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:10 pm

I wondered if someone would bring up Roberts and Shantaram. I think the difference is that ultimately Lin was on a quest to regain his honor. While Dillinger cared about his public persona, I don't think he was on any kind of personal quest to redeem himself. He jumped into the fray and made the best of it while he could. He also blamed others, such as prison and the media, for his life and his story. I don't think he ever made that choice between hating and forgiving, he just took the easy road as he saw it. Okay, not that having bullets fired at you, etc., is easy but I think you know what I mean. I don't think anyone, with a possible few execptions, is totally good or bad. We all have a bit of both in us.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

User avatar
dharma_bum
Posts: 2509
Joined: Sat Jun 25, 2005 2:05 am
Location: Villa Incognito

Status: Offline

Unread postby dharma_bum » Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:23 pm

stroch wrote:Dillinger did not break laws as social protest or to further political reform, he did it for the money. His charisma and charm might be just as much a media construct as the “vicious criminal” stories. ...He was not a panicky teenager; he was a grown man who persistently committed crimes. Perhaps he was more amoral than immoral – narcissistic and self-delusional.

I agree with a lot of what you say. I don't think he set out to become a cultural phenomenon, but his actions, intentional or not, had an impact on the social mores of the time. Amoral, yes, he broke laws because he could. Narcissistic, absolutely. It's what got him killed.

One thing I disagree with—based on what we know—is that he did it for the money. He might have in the beginning when he was that poor and panicky teenager, but as his notoriety grew, I think he did it because it made him the smartest man in the room.

I think Dillinger made many bad choices. He lived a violent life. But I also believe that he had facile, creative mind and fearless energy that could have been channeled towards good in another life or time. We are all capable of redemption, even if, as DITHOT says, it was not path he had chosen for himself yet.
"You can't broom out your head. You certainly can't broom out your heart. And there's a hot wire between them, and everything shows in the eyes."

—Johnny Depp

User avatar
Parlez
Posts: 2503
Joined: Thu Sep 21, 2006 9:30 am
Location: Colorado

Status: Offline

Unread postby Parlez » Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:55 pm

Hmmm...is it better to be interesting or to be good...? :-?

The funny thing about choices is you never know where they'll end up taking you. You might start out making a fairly simple choice - to, say, steal a car - and then, before you know it, you've got a whole life of crime behind you, unprecedented press coverage as Public Enemy #1, and the bloomin' FBI breathing down you neck!

Like I said before, I think the times were pretty desperate back then, and that made some individuals willing to try anything to get either a little money or a little excitement in their lives. Most of the gangsters started out small, making fairly small, simple choices, but then they found they were more of less obligated (by the lack of other viable choices) to keep on going down the same choice-making road, for better or worse. Especially someone like Dillinger, who found he was actually good at what he was doing, what else was he supposed to do?

I mean, these guys weren't exactly the most creative souls - not even Johnnie. They were sort of one-track guys who couldn't effectively envision much beyond what they were going to do today and maybe tomorrow. So their little choices ended up mushrooming into a situation they completely lost control of.

Just my opinion, of course. :hatsoff:
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa

savvy avi by mamabear

User avatar
nebraska
Posts: 28501
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 8:15 pm
Location: near Omaha

Status: Online

Unread postby nebraska » Sat Mar 01, 2008 11:58 pm

While mr nebraska was having shoulder surgery the other day, I began reading Dillinger the Untold Story by G. Russel Girandin and William J. Helmer (recommended by Bryan Burrough). So my sources and my feelings will begin to be diluted by a second book - or perhaps in this case, everything is intensified.

Dillinger had a sad beginning (little boy standing on a chair by his mother's coffin trying to wake her up, it doesn't get much worse than that!) and he was not treated fairly after his first brush with the law. His sentence was excessive and it may have done more harm than good. It is very sad. But at some point, we all have to overcome the tragedies and injustices of our youth if we are going to have good lives. Some have more to overcome than others, but few of us have a perfect life.

Dillinger was also was a robber and a killer - a criminal. In the Girandin book it is suggested that some of the banks "arranged" a robbery in order to cover up their failure. By lying about the amount of cash taken, the banks could cover up a lot of problems. If that was the case, it throws a different light on Dillinger as a criminal bank robber.

It is going to be really interesting to see how Johnny portrays Johnnie!

User avatar
Liz
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

Unread postby Liz » Sun Mar 02, 2008 12:04 am

dharma_bum wrote:I saw Dillinger as a performance artist on a public stage. An anarchist. A pirate. A rock star. Another on the continuum of subversives and dissidents who rise in times of repression an instigate social upheaval. He was audacious, smart, inventive, disciplined, and above all, fearless. He so blatantly broke rules and challenged authority, he made it OK for everyone else to stop accepting the status quo and learn to question everything.

I found myself cheering him on at times for this reason. What seems so sad is that once he died, so did the social upheaval.

I agree that we all have a bit of good and bad in us, DITHOT. You know, I only this morning came to the conclusion that I he was a “bad guy”. I’ve been on the fence for the past month. And now, having read all of your responses, I’m back on top of that fence. I guess he was a “bad guy” in the classical sense based on his actions. But I don’t think that he was totally bad.

And I agree with you, Parlez, that once you start down a certain road, it’s extremely hard to turn back…..especially when it gives rewards such as fame, money, admiration, power & feelings of success.

You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Liz
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

Unread postby Liz » Sun Mar 02, 2008 12:07 am

nebraska wrote:Dillinger was also was a robber and a killer - a criminal. In the Girandin book it is suggested that some of the banks "arranged" a robbery in order to cover up their failure. By lying about the amount of cash taken, the banks could cover up a lot of problems. If that was the case, it throws a different light on Dillinger as a criminal bank robber.

It is going to be really interesting to see how Johnny portrays Johnnie!


Are you saying that some of Dillinger's robberies did not take place? I CAN'T WAIT to see how Johnny portrays him.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


Return to “Public Enemies”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest