With GTA V passing the 1 billion mark in just three days after its release as well as looking to earn its second billion very shortly and the Breaking Bad series finale drawing a record number of views, it looks like both Rockstar games and AMC have proved that crime is popular during a financial slump.
But this news is not necessarily shocking. It is a historical fact that in times of financial duress, crime and criminals enjoy an elevated status. In the world of media the outlaws who grab the biggest hauls and earn the “Robin Hood” title go down in history. Just as horror films tend to be much more popular during times of economic crisis, crime does well not just in terms of selling papers, but in the entertainment arena as well.
Rockstar apparently knew that crime paid in terms of home entertainment when the company developed the game back in 1997. As the games have evolved, the action has become more criminally intense and this year the game moved away from the old “anti-hero” format of the past. Both GTA 4 and 5 broke sales records within the first 24 hours of their release.
As the economic climate has worsened world wide, Rockstar games eliminated the anti hero backstory for the games “protagonists” and centered the violence around earnings only. Characters were no longer backed into a corner and forced to react, they did so just for money.
While critics of the game decried the increased violence, fans of the franchise bought the new criminally based game in record numbers. Since September 17 this year when GTA 5 was released, the game has been in the news and is one of the hottest trending subjects on the internet.
Like Rockstar, AMC produced Vince Gilligan’s epic meth morality tale Breaking Bad. The show has had a large fan base and like GTA 5 has been an item of interest in the news and on the internet. The show told the story of “good guy” Walter White. After learning that he has lung cancer, White bumps into an old student who is dealing meth.
Walt forces his ex student, Jesse Pinkman, to set up a meth lab and become his business partner. For five seasons the public rushed to catch the latest installment of the AMC crime oriented program. When the show ended, the series finale got the highest ratings in the show’s run.
But anyone who reads history can tell you that neither Rockstar Games nor AMC were responsible for trailblazing this trend. The two disparate entertainment companies knew that crime pays in a climate where folks worry about their jobs and paying their bills.
The first “modern” example of crime proving to be a popular topic was during the depression and the “dust=bowl” years. The small gang of Bonnie and Clyde – Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – became media darlings between 1931 and 1934. Never mind that they were a ruthless band of stone cold killers who murdered for what amounted to pocket change in the economic drought of the 1930’s.
John Dillinger was also idolised by the masses, just as Bonnie and Clyde were. They shared their “instant” fame with Pretty Boy Floyd and Machine Gun Kelly. These robbers and murderers were given credit for Robin Hood like behaviour and newspapers followed their every exploit. Readers revelled in their crimes against society and the fact that they created their own legends by thumbing their noses at the rules.
This adulation of criminals did not start in the Great Depression though. Jesse James and his brother Frank, along with their gang, were worshipped in the years when the United States was in economic decline after the devastating Civil War. Like Bonnie and Clyde and their peers, Jesse James was credited with all sorts of good deeds and when he was murdered by another man, the nation mourned.
There has always been a sort of fascination about criminals who ignore the rules and make money doing it, however small their takings may be. It is not coincidence that one of the most popular video games available at the moment is the criminal verse offered by Rockstar Games’ GTA V. The same can be said for the addictive viewing of AMC’s Breaking Bad. In an financial slump, crime pays, if you don’t believe it, ask Rockstar Games or AMC because they’ve proved it.
By Michael Smith