Review of ‘Dressed to Kill: Consumption, Style and the Gangster (Ruth, 1996)’

Topics: Social class, Sociology, Working class Pages: 8 (2856 words) Published: September 8, 2013
Cultural Influences
Mark Farwell

Review of ‘Dressed to Kill: Consumption, Style and the Gangster (Ruth, 1996)’By Daniel De Brett

The introduction of the ‘gangster’, comprising of personality, characteristics, image, consumption patterns, behaviours and attitudes, into the American society during the 1920s had a significant impact and influence on people’s society and culture. The public enemy, defined by business organisation, violent criminality and stylish consumption, was deployed by many Americans during the development of a new consumer society. The gangster was introduced and became a fascination to Americans at the peak of development of the new consumer society. Within this new society, consumerism had increased dramatically, when easy credit and flood of goods transformed Americans lives, particularly within the urban middle class. With lower prices and credit purchasing, families were able to maintain the consumption patterns from the 1920s through the next decade and whilst living on small, less reliable incomes, Americans began to regard items as necessities, which only ten years early were considered luxury items. One of the most significant factors in identifying a gangster or someone with gangster associations was most apparent through the now stereotypical attire. This consisted of pin stripe tailoring, silk shirts, jewels and metal cigarette holders, objects acting as ‘symbols of consumption’. The American public saw the gangster as glamorous consumer status, which offered new opportunities for individuality and fulfilment within the mass consumption economy. To maintain the image of the gangster, individuals were encouraged to become more active consumers, investing time and expenses to appear fashionable. With the widespread availability of cheap mass produced clothing lessened differences in attire. Whilst adopting the stylish exterior of the gangster, individuals also sought to develop the ‘stylish personality’ with particular behavioural traits. By utilising agreeable mannerisms, good manners and pleasant banter, individuals were able to create a ‘very likeable and appealing personality’ (Child). The gangster genre taught that achieving a successful personality is to acknowledge the importance of small talk and becoming a fine conversationalist. Within society, the main cultural issues involved social order, class and ethnicity, for which the gangster offered guidance, with the gangster inventors, using him to promote the urban consumer society values. The gangster offered an exploration for the cultural concern of ethnicity, which during the 1920s and 1930s concerned tensions of immigrants expanding occupational and residential mobility. From the gangster came an invented ‘underworld’, featuring Irish and Italians, which gave urban American consumers guidance when dealing with ‘shifting ethnic terrain in society’. Ethnicity was approached as a matter of style, as the gangster rose in society and became his own consumer, markers of ethnicity were diminished. The gangster represented a successful consumer, enjoying the luxuries of fine dining and living standards, while exhibiting a range of stereotypical urban attributes, leading to being seen as a successful American, rather than an outsider. Ethnicity became a signifier of background, rather than a determiner of opportunity, by which the inventors of the gangster were able to teach the white consumer culture, that ethnicity is a less of a determiner for social categorisation. The gangster’s origins suggested how an ambitious individual can rise in society, with old barriers becoming insubstantial. Men and women within the American society explored the gangster to explore the consumer society and examine the shift meanings of class, as the gangster’s consumption suggested ‘economic mobility’ which had disguised class distinctions. Several gangster genre films show formidable class barriers were easily vaulted, such as in the film...

Bibliography: Grant McCracken, 1990 ‘Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities’, 1st edition, Indiana University Press 1990
Tom Rockmore 2002 ‘Marx After Marxism: The Philosophy of Karl Marx’, 3rd Edition, Wiley-Blackwell
Hyman P. Minsky 2008, ‘John Maynard Keynes’, McGraw Hill Professional 2008
Thorstein Veblen1924, ‘The theory of the leisure class’, Forgotten books 1924
Jean Baurdrillard 1998, ‘The consumer society: myths and structures’, SAGE 1998
Gad Saad 2007, ‘The evolutionary bases of consumption’, Routledge 2007
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay on Consumption
  • Literature review of Vegetable Consumption Essay
  • gangsters Essay
  • A Time to Kill: Review and Commentary Essay
  • Essay on A Review of Multmodal Learning Styles
  • Learning Styles Literary Review Essay
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Film Review Essay
  • Essay about Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free
Nhạc pop, rock... | Bohemian Rhapsody | Kitchen Knives Accessories