BBC magazine has an interesting dissertation about the hundreds of films and books about the exploits of gangsters and that they never fail to be fascinating to large audiences.
David Wilson, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, has put his finger exactly on the right spot. “There’s something immensely aspirational about [the gangster film or book] — this sense that they can do anything. They take risks that we would never take in real life. Often there’s a good-looking actor playing the lead. They look cool. They wear clothes that are fashionable.”
This is exactly the same reason why Downton Abbey, now currently starting on its latest and last series on ITV (sorry it’s so successful, BBC!). Both genres are about rank ordering — how individuals rise and fall socially. It is the central feature that holds all the different parts of society together in every culture ancient or modern, religious or secular, artistic or scientific.
Social hierarchy is all! So long as there’s social movement — that’s what makes life so very fascinating, whether as participants or spectators. Why we like gangster films and Downton Abbey.