“He ain’t no gangster. He’s a real old-time desperado. Gangsters is foreigners; he’s an American.”—Gramp Maple, The Petrified Forest

Perhaps no genre captures the lower aspects of the national soul and the darker elements of its ethos better than the gangster film. The tale is almost always about, as the minstrel knucklehead 50 Cent would say, “coming up,” or furiously rising from the bottom. The gangster is never less than arrogant, resentful, and possessed of an optimism so naive that it might become ruthless. He represents a perversion of the anti-aristocratic attitude that began in the United States after the Revolutionary War. By the time Andrew Jackson became president, the popular sense of American democracy was that triumph was superior to a “noble” bloodline; that refinement was usually no more than the glaze of pretension; and that education did not necessarily make anyone better—or more clever!—than anyone else.

more from Stanley Crouch at Slate here.