Sunday, December 03, 2006


I don't pretend to know all the reasons for teen gangs but here's one plausible reason that's frequently overlooked: kids who are not suited for college feel they have nowhere to go. For years teachers warned them that if they didn't study they'd be selling fast food all their lives and they took it to heart. I imagine they reasoned that if adult life was going to be pointless and boring then they may as well enjoy their teen years. Gangs don't do much for you but they do provide excitement and if you get killed while young what have you lost? A life of drudgery.

It seems to me that we need to ease up on the college or the scrub bucket rhetoric. It seems to me that an awfull lot of complex and well-paying jobs can be done by non-college graduates. Shakespeare didn't go to college, nor did Thomas Edison, Carnegie, Walt Disney, Ben Franklin and Bill Gates. Before the G.I. Bill (after WWII) an enormous number of complex jobs were done by non-graduates. They must have done a pretty good job because we went from an agricultural country to the pre-eminent industrial country in the world on their watch. People who believe we can't advance unless we send a whole generation to study Derrida are ignoring a lot of history.

Sometimes it seems to me that the America has hardened its heart against blue-collar workers. I first noticed this when the middle class cheerfully allowed the manufacturing jobs to go overseas in exchange for lower prices. The middle class had office jobs and weren't affected by the job loss but blue-collar workers were decimated. When even office jobs started to go then the middle class suddenly declared a crisis and started talking about the danger of "outsourcing." Where were these people when the blue collars were hurting?

I see the same thing happening now with this insistance on absurdly high academic requirements for jobs that never required them before. In my school district you need a Masters' Degree to teach grade school. I believe that absurd requirements like this reflect a class bias; middle class kids tend to have these degrees and blue-collars don't. Who's most likely to get these newly-restricted jobs?

Just for the record, I identify completely with the middle class and I'm a big booster of higher education. I don't want to dumb things down, I'm simply arguing for compassion and common sense. We should keep standards high but remove artificial barriers to upward mobility. Exciting jobs should be within the grasp of whoever can best deliver the goods. I wouldn't show non-academics the mop and bucket. I'd show them a vision of success through hard work.


Anonymous said...

Teen gangs were so much cooler when they were wearing beanies and hanging out with James Cagney.

Even if their members were in their mid- to late-30s.

Didn't there used to be a model where you could start in the mailroom and work your way up to president of the company? Now only other company presidents are hired as company presidents.

Higher education is wonderful and I think we Americans have a strange disdain for people with education (especially where I'm from where book learning automatically makes you a suspect) but at the same time, I think there is a bias against people who work with their hands. Physical labor.

What my dad called "good, honest work."

It's not so much the paper you get at the end but the quality of what you get before that. And how much you put into getting an education. But university degrees aren't all they're cracked up to be.

They can't be. Half the guys making decisions about what movies are getting made have MBA's or law degrees and look at the quality of movies these days.

Anonymous said...

Like back in the thirties and forties. Warner Brothers and Disney and MGM days of animation. I wish someone would bring back the ways they made cartoons back then. Hand inking on cels and then put it on film. It was set up like an asembly line in a factory. People worked hard because they were apart of something. Now, people don't take pride in there work, they start thinking, "When I'm finished what next?" "How am I going to feed my family?" and now animation companies send out there cartoons to be made over seas. It may be economical, but at what cost? A lose in knowing it was made by americans. Yes, Americans,a race of people who use to work hard to get to their dreams, but now are wanting their dreams handed to them. I would have gladly worked for a animation company back in the 30's and 40's for minimum wage just for the experiance alone. I think it was what 30 or 50 cents and hour? Well, any way I would have tried it any way. If a company ever went back to the traditional way a animation I would definantly work for minimum wage just for the experiance. Teens should find groups of people that will help them fill comfortable with the world, but if the people start going the wrong way towards socity they need to get out fast, a little knowledge to those that are not sure about their friends that they hang out with.

Jeff Pidgeon said...

>> Americans have a strange disdain for people with education... Half the guys making decisions about what movies are getting made have MBA's or law degrees and look at the quality of movies these days.

I'm more worried about the guy in the White House with the red button on his desk. People used to get voted president because they were wise, well educated or had exceptional experiences under their belts (WWII vets, for example).

I'm not sure that's true any longer. We seem to be electing B-movie actors and ex-cheerleaders.

To be sure, there's money and degree biases in politics, too - but it's somehow coupled with the anti-intellectualism that's been mentioned. Not a pretty combination.

I'm not sure excatly when that 'anybody can become anything' ethos stopped being as true, but it's interesting to think about how it affects kids as they go through school.

Anonymous said...

Your heart is in the right place--well, your head too, but unfortunately the factors that propagate gangs are so ingrained and insidious in certain neighborhoods and cultures that while what you say is perfectly right and makes sense, there's just so many more snares than just a perception of scrub bucket or summa cum laude.

Ryan G. said...

From what I understand youths join gangs for a number of reasons. I wasnt raised in a bad neighborhood but ive talked to some people who have and its something that us middle class white boys have never experienced. First, living in poverished areas is very dangerous and joining gangs offers protection for the members. Second, these folks dont have the same reality as us. They dont see the same opportunities as us. Lots of them are products of poverty and shitty school systems and dont see continuing their education as a possibility. They join gangs for the fact that there is lots of cash involved by whatever they do, and its a way for them to get a piece of the pie.

As for a college degree.. It may not actually mean anything, but most employers wont even consider even thinking about looking at your resume without one. Of course there are exceptions.

Jennifer said...

Wow, Uncle Eddie. This is one of your most thought-provoking posts. There are so many points I don't know where to start...I could write a whole essay on the educational system in America, but I'll stick with the theory on gangs.

I agree with Ryan on why people join gangs. I also want to add "a sense of family" as another reason. Most of the gang members come from homes where the parent or parents are abusive or are intentionally or unintentionally neglectful.

Anonymous said...

Because being in a gang guarantees your're not alone when you get jumped living in a bad neihgtborhood.

mike fontanelli said...

["being in a gang guarantees your're not alone when you get jumped living in a bad neighborhood."]

...Not necessarily a terrible thing. Where can I go to get jumped by this gang?:

Anonymous said...

There should be more women in gangs!

Anonymous said...

As a 22 year old in the Houston Texas area, doubly infested with gang crime after the Katrina refugees migrated mostly here; I read this post with fascination. It's also interesting to me because I'm seeing many of my peers enter this first stage of their adult lives, we're all getting out of college, finding real jobs, getting married, having a kid(in my case), burning out or going to Iraq. All these kids I knew are making or breaking themselves in the world of the grown-ups and it's fascinating to me to watch it all- and participate. From a historical perspective, trying to pull back, it's like the future is beginning.

So I've been looking how I was raised and my friends were too. We're all lower-middle class, and our fathers have worked blue and white collar jobs so I've seen all that, and you're right, it is two different worlds. I thought it was particularly interesting to hear you propose this began with the GI Bill...that's an uncommon but very likely thought. The GI Bill was an unintentional turning point in our nation's history, that adds quite an edge to it.

I remember in my youth when Zenith had gone under or bought out, I forget; about all the ballyhooing on TV and newspapers about the last American electronics company going out...I remember thinking "where was all the commotion when the other ones were usurped?"

I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Tucker: A Man And His Dream, but it's on my list of movies all kids in America should see before they turn 18 and I think you in particular would love it. His verbatum speech at the end in the courthouse is so resonant- he talks in 1949 how if we don't watch out, we'll be buying our cars and electronics from our former enemies. The statement is met with laughter.

Thanks for the provocative post. The youth of today are finicky sonsabitches...and it's amazing how much of our future is being fired in the kiln of boredom.

NARTHAX said...


Sadly, the 1988 feature "Tucker" was a commercial flop in America. It might have been a hit had Coppola titled it "Tucker Part II: The Revenge", with poster art featuring a bloody hand clutching a greasy wrench. IMO Martin Landau deserved to win the Oscar more for "Tucker" than for "Ed Wood", but that, too, says something about the times in which we live.

Anonymous said...

>...Not necessarily a terrible thing. Where can I go to get jumped by this gang?:


I used to live in Rexdale in Toronto, which was full of only Somalian refugees and Indians. We were the only latin family in our apartment project, and my mom had a very simple way of keeping me out of gangs:

1. Corporal punihsmnet

2. TTC to a fancy private Christian school far far away.

3. Don't let us play with the local kids at any time.

Anonymous said...

BTW, has anyone here seen Angles With Dirty Faces?

Don't you think this could be remade, since it had a good message and good idea behind it, but so-so execution? The film's message that glorifying gangsters is wrong and that kids shouldn't imitate gansgters would resonate with today's hip-hop culture well. They could get an all-black cast, and Chazz Palminteri!

And Terrance Howard!

mike fontanelli said...

So-so execution? It's a classic! I'll take Michael Curtiz over Chazz Palminteri.

BTW, the film you're suggesting already exists. It's called A Bronx Tale (1993), written by Palminteri, and directed by Robert DeNiro.

Anonymous said...

I feel like the class division problems could be solved if people could actually afford to go to college.

There's a pressure to make it to college, but in lower-income communities there's simultaneously the opposite pressure, because even if you study hard, there's still the issue of $10,000 a year (and if you can find a college for less than that not on a scholarship, then you probably didn't need to study very hard to get in!)

Why even study at all if you *know* you're not going to get in?

Jennifer said...

Hi soos,

I'm not sure where you live, but in a number of cities in the United States, there are 2-year community colleges that only require that the students have graduated from high school or have some kind of equivalent.

The selling point of these community colleges is the tuition is very affordable. Another selling point is a number of the 4-year universities offer scholarships and nice tuition discounts for community college graduates. For example, a community college where I taught charged $67USD per credit.

Anonymous said...

The first two Dead End films are tops. The cast of boys weren't all overage, then--and most of them had been on Broadway in the play "Dead End" before coming to L.A. for the film version. Halop(he was what? 17?), Gorcey and the others are pretty believable.
The B'Way production was famous for its set design as much as its sociological-political message; I believe it had a giant tank of water onstage, didn't it? Anyway--

As for Dead End 2, "Angels"--yeah, Curtiz was an incredibly good director--for all the stories at his expense a la "Bring on the empty horses!" and various spoonerisms and temper tantrums, etc. he had a directorial talent that equals just about anyone's, ever. Egan!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, Uncle Eddie.

I agree that requiring higher education when its unneccessary is bad for poor people, but its also bad for employers because it drives up wages because these guys that got their masters and doctorates now have tremendous student loans that need paying off and hold out for more money. This forces employers to seek cheaper alternatives such as outsourcing and trimming the work force.

There's another problem that makes gangs so appealing. The economic choices these kids have are flipping burgers, mopping floors, or taking part in activities that are illegal. Like selling drugs.

In the 20s and 30s, you had prohibition which led to a rise in crime rates.

Now, we have the drug war. Outlawing activities that ought to be the responsibility of the individual creates a black market that the most opportunistic of us will always seek to exploit.

Joining the Bloods or Crips is much more lucrative (and sexier) than a full time job at McDonald's or Burger King.

Anonymous said...

>>BTW, has anyone here seen Angles With Dirty Faces?

Don't you think this could be remade, since it had a good message and good idea behind it, but so-so execution? The film's message that glorifying gangsters is wrong and that kids shouldn't imitate gansgters would resonate with today's hip-hop culture well. <<

Its funny, though, because i think that much of the allure of the film came from the glorification of the gangster, which was in many films of those days. Sure, in pretty much all of the films, the gangster got it in the end, but that was because filmmakers had to adhere to a strict code. I have a feeling that many young kids who saw the allure of a life of crime probably just ignored the ending of the movie where Cagney goes to the chair.

Anonymous said...

You are correct that our country is turning against its own hard-working people, the people this country was supposed to represent.

My grandfather had no more than a high-school education and during the 50's, he ran his own construction company, which was highly sought after in its day. The reason was was because he didn't do anything half-assed. he was also an extremely literate and well-read man.

We are forgetting that many famous and successful people never went to college, like Frank Zappa. He only had a high-school diploma, and he was a world-renowned musician and a hopeful presidential candidate for the Libertarian party.

We need to emphasize high standards, but not just in grades but in quality and in experience.

However, I feel the problem is is that businesses are closing their doors to people who don't meet their "requirements". It seems that people don't want non-college people near their factories.

Also, about Bill Gates, he would have been fine, even if he hadn't have founded Microsoft, for his family was already pretty wealthy. His family founded SeaFirst Bank in Seattle, and his mother was on the Board of Directors. It's a bad idea to use him as a person who succeeded in life without college. I would use Walt Disney. he's a true rags-to-riches story. Great blog. I can't wait to read more.

katzenjammer studios said...

We could solve teen gang problems if we had a followup post to how to write a short and funny cartoon!

I.D.R.C. said...

The purpose of focusing on college --and particularly business, the real objective --is clear. Business majors are stupid and pliable in a very specific way. If you major in business you will doubtless eventually become one of the Devil's minions, happily doing his work for earthly rewards, sucking the lifeblood from the rest of us. Self-made men are the bane of the New World Order. Fall in line, dummies.

Anonymous said...

I think some people lean on their degree too much.
My solution is all degrees should have an expiration date. It should be good for 5 years, after which it expires and you surrender all claims to your degree. Within those 5 years you should have built up a fair work resume or portfolio. An employer should then look at your resume and/or test your skills. If your skills cannot cut it, you don't get the job.

You can renew your degree if you'd like (for if you didn't manage to get a good job in those first 5 years) but you'd have to retake half of your classes.

I know this sounds very dumb. I've thought about this for years though. It's the best solution I could come up with. It wouldn't fix everything but it would make everything more competitive and boost things a bit.
Nobody would ever go for it but it'd be neat. In order to get things done sometimes you have to make changes that nobody would like.

Degrees don't really mean anything anyway. It's just a piece of paper that says a school believes that at some point in time you were responsible and competent enough to do something. What a degree should really say is:

"Take a look at this person's skills. They went through a crapload of our courses. If it dosen't clearly show, don't hire them. They're hopeless."

If anyone believes their degree is a proof of their intelligence, then they really need more life experience.
It's kind of like people with doctorates who insist on being referred to as "Doctor", anyone who does this does not deserve any type of degree.

Personally I think everybody who wants a higher education should get one but only if they want it.


Of the many people I've known who've been in gangs I don't know any who joined thinking about their future. Most of them joined when they were about 13.

I've known people who have joined the military for this reason though, they just didn't have any other options for their future. Join the military and everybody is instantly proud of you. I'm not saying that's good or bad, it's just the truth.

R said...

Bill Gates went to Lakeside prep school, and Harvard.

Anonymous said...

>So-so execution? It's a classic! I'll take Michael Curtiz over Chazz Palminteri.

Me too, but actually, "In the future, Palminteri says he'd love to remake the 1938 gangster movie "Angels With Dirty Faces," playing James Cagney's part. The film, which Palminteri wants to update for the '90s, featured both Cagney and Humphrey Bogart -- his two screen idols -- in starring roles" (

I think Chazz should play the Bogart role. If it's updated for modern times it'd have to be black gangsters and Chazz wouldn't cut it in the Cagney role. I like Angels but I prefer The Roaring Twenties. Angels had that amazing ending and a great set-up but I don't think it was perfect.

The thing is, The Roaring Twenties could only take place in oen time period, and Angels is a timeless story that could be remade into modern times effortlessly.

The basketball scene would fit perfectly into a modern retelling PERFECTLY since every film about the ghetto has an obligatory basketball scene.

>BTW, the film you're suggesting already exists. It's called A Bronx Tale (1993), written by Palminteri, and directed by Robert DeNiro.

I heard of it, is it good? Problem is, it's not about black gangsters and it takes place in the 60s.

>Sure, in pretty much all of the films, the gangster got it in the end, but that was because filmmakers had to adhere to a strict code.

I'd argue that Angels... is the exception to that rule. They really emphasized the danger of kids glorifying gangsters and the whole point of the ending was that Cagney pretended to be yellow so they wouldn't idolize him and wouldn't want to be like him.

Imagine a 50 Cent-type pretending to cry like a baby so kids would stop admiring him! That's what it was like to see Cagney act like that in the 30s! (I'm not saying get 50 Cent since he can't act, but some tough gangster lookign actor)

I.D.R.C. said...

They really emphasized the danger of kids glorifying gangsters and the whole point of the ending was that Cagney pretended to be yellow so they wouldn't idolize him and wouldn't want to be like him.

Instead of a remake someone should do a sequel, so we could see that Rocky crying like a little girl made no difference in the outcome of those kids. Sure they wouldn't want to be like him. They'd want to be like a REAL tough guy.

I wish I lived in a world where newspapers had giant headlines like, "ROCKY DIES YELLOW". Too funny.

One of my Top 10 movies. I think I have about 20 top ten movies.

Andreas said...

When I was in high school everyone was pushing college. Industrial arts classes were falling by the wayside due to the push for college. The former metal shop at my school was where my physics class met. It was good in ways because we had lots of room to do the activities my teacher set up for us to do. Many of the activities involved us making things at home, bringing them in and testing them. I had the most awesome mousetrap powered car, and rubber band powered propeller car. My toothpick bridge sucked. Spent too much time designing the span, and not enough on the support legs. Wood shop met it's demise while I was attending high school, my drafting teacher also taught wood shop, and was let go because he asked for a week of leave at the beginning of the school year to finish off his house he was building (he physically was building it).

I was given strange looks when I told teacher and my counselor that I wanted to work with my hands. Working with my hands has always given me immediate satisfaction. I had something I could look at and say "I did that". If I was working in an office, I could say, yeah, I filed that paperwork like nobody's business. My brother went to college, became a teacher. He does alright for himself.

Although I feel college does serve a purpose for some, many high school graduates would be better off in some sort of training for the trades. I know automotive mechanics that make more a year than people that have MBAs. I have a cousin that works on heavy equipment, such as cranes, and large trucks that makes a 6 figure income. I don't think he even finished high school. What upsets me is jobs that require a degree and there is no real need for it. I have a friend that is going to college to get a degree while he is working as an electronics tech because the company won't allow him in the engineering department without a degree. He has the knowledge and ability to do the job, just not the pedigree.

I guess people feel if you are able to get a degree, whether you earn it buy cheat or steal it, that you have a better skill set than someone that fought and worked their way up from the bottom. I feel the apprentice system is not outdated and should be applied more to our society, blue and white collar.

Anonymous said...

One more point- the idea of learning itself. There's an idea here that knowledge without practical application is useless and that's not true at all.

Knowledge for its own sake is important. Whether you choose to get a college education or explore the world in a more practical manner, it's important to continue to learn and grow.

To many people graduate college thinking they're educated. Yeah, they may or may not have more raw knowledge than someone with just a high school education... but learning shouldn't stop there.

Know it alls are pretty nasty people, but ignorant people are even worse.

Anonymous said...

There is no way to change the tide. It is a global phenomenon. I read it's all about Transnational Progressivism vs Liberal Democracy.

You can look up Robert Pastor's writings if you want to know what the craziest of all crazy people want.

I don't like the race to the bottom. Businesses do everything to depreciate labor. There is a Superhighway being built in Texas that runs up to Canada to transport goods made in China. They are going to pay Mexicans a low wage and bypass the Teamsters in the USA. They say we need illegal aliens to do work Americans won't do. It's more like they want people to work at illegal alien wages. I think the illegal aliens need to unionize because they are getting exploited.

If people want change then they need to decide between Transnational Progressivism vs Classical Liberalism. Are we going to have small businesses or massive corporations? Have mommy and daddy state save us or we going to be self sufficient? Are we going to quit meddling with the world and let it destroy itself on it's own or we going to remain Globocop? Are we going to continue to elect people of low character or we going to have town meetings and pick an average joe to go to Washington and straighten things out? Are we going to stick our head in the sand and let global institutions decide what's best for us? Create mediocre corporate cartoons or creative indie cartoons?

Anonymous said...

There is a chapter in this book that deals with the whole teen gang thing. I'm sure you heard of it. I't s called Freakanomics. The author basically reached the same conclusion. Most of the teens saw no future in education because they have no successful peers or role models around them. Even tho drug dealing gangs offer generally the same pay as flipping burgers (to the 95% of the gang who aren't drug lords), they seemed drawn to it because it's more exciting and it garners at least some level of street-cred respect.

So the obvious solution is to offer everyone a path to moving up. It jsut seems everyone nearer the top of the chain is too occupied with retaining their piece of pie. So everyone invests in burglar alarms rather than struggling communities. Pure nearsightedness!

Anonymous said...


Community colleges *are* affordable, but they suffer from the stigma of being, well, the poor-man's college. Employers aren't going to hold their graduates in as high esteem as they would graduates of more expensive 4 year colleges. And without the heavy tuitions, they're not going to have the money to seriously compete.

Anonymous said...

The fellas in the photo for this post look like gay mafia- they have that twinkle in their eyes.