Hominy & Hash
PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- When I tried to find the list of America's Most Wanted, I was referred to a television program by that name. No, I would say, not just a hit or miss, catch them where you can, turn them in, call an 800 number, no, not that Most Wanted List. I'm looking for Public Enemies number one through say, 100. I couldn't find it.
This week I even asked three people "who is Public Enemy Number One?" Without a pause the answer came: "Jimmy Cagney." Well, yes, he did play that part in a 1931 movie (the same year I was born) and was forever known as the epitome of the ruthless gangster - just as much to people born in the forties, fifties or 80s as I - he made a mark and the film's still out there.
The movie, "The Public Enemy," was made before the advent of strict censorship and Cagney plays a totally amoral, sexually charming, magnetic and cocky personality; he was viciously brutal, and, in a review at the time "a terribly lethal individual...a cold-blooded, tough-as-nails racketeer and 'public enemy.'"
And that was before censorship? All of the protagonist's brutality was off camera anyway; the only difference censorship brought about was to assure the bad guy be in jail or dead before the final curtain.
Being Public Enemy Number One was a badge of honor for the smug, arrogant, murderous thug who slipped through police efforts to "nail" him. Not unlike one of the Public Enemies Number One today: Usama Bin Laden, an equally confident, murderous villain, laughing up his voluminous sleeves.
But, while that's a widely held opinion, it's not necessarily a top name on a list. What I find instead is a "thing" rather than a person holding the infamous title. It could be money as the root of all evil, however you want to place it: in the hands of the rich, reached for but not grasped by the poor, destroying politics and politicians whether on the left or the right. It doesn't matter if we're talking about need or greed; earning it or stealing it, printing it or laundering it, it's considered to be the ultimate enemy of mankind.
It's been declared as well in a headline in the recent past: "Public Enemy Number One? Media's Welfare Debate on Poor Women." Myths prevail: teenage mothers are considered stereotypical welfare mothers when only one percent is under 17. The answer to that in the debate is to cut off aid and the teenagers will stop having children. Articles even quoted young mothers: "if the government abolished aid, I would prevent myself from having children."
The chief postal inspector outlines public enemies listing the crimes and rewards: Information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person committing murder or manslaughter: $100,000 for unlawful killing an officer of employee of the Postal Service while engaged their official duties. It's $50,000 for an assault on said workers. The list goes on: Explosives or Bombs, $50,000; postage or meter tampering; robbery $50,000; and, after many offenses listed, it gets into money laundering, child pornography, controlled substances, drugs, and, for being an accessory to any of these crimes.
In my quest for more information on lists for our public enemies and 10 most wanted criminals, I found "Two more top Iraqis captured." The leader of Saddam Hussein's regime went into custody Sunday: Hurmam Abd al-Khaliq Abd Al-Gafar was number 54 on the list of most-wanted Iraquis and, Saddam's son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdullah Sultan, was persuaded to turn himself in. He was number 40 on the list. How lengthy is the list? There's no telling.
What is obvious is our keeping track of who's out there posing threats to our persons, social structure, health and well being. There are lists and they are checked diligently by those whose job it is to apprehend the culprits. Whom or what is considered our public enemy seems to be a personal choice.
My vote will go to the necessity for a firmer hold on movie censorship - not the story lines, just the graphic details. When a movie like Public Enemy Number One can hold up for 71 years with no nudity, no bullets to the face, all sexual activity off camera or merely alluded to, then we could have stricter standards of taste today.
Another example of how far we've gone will be my recalling a Bob Hope radio show in the late 30s or early '40s. The family sat around the radio while little me was dozing. The sudden silence in the middle of uproarious audience laughter jarred me awake: "What happened?" I asked.
"They cut him off," my brother said. The grownups were laughing about the joke he told: "Another guy in the locker room asked me how long I had been wearing a girdle - and I told him 'since my wife found it in the glove compartment.'"
It was a few years before I "got it" but can you imagine what Bob Hope, now 100 years old, is saying as he listens to any standup comedian? "And they censored me for saying 'girdle.'"