Back on Diane with Rosie and Adam for the first time in ages.
Went apeshit on the research for this one. Season 3 episode 16 is, as we say in the podcast biz, an utter banger of a TV show, throwing blue vortices of meaning and allusion out into the world with every other line. By this advanced stage the show has developed its own logics and languages, and the storytelling is developing through such nonlinear, sidereal paths that it is wise to let it take you where it will.
Lodge vs. Lodge
You can probably tell from the episode, but I was really into the John Dillinger research. I knew there was some Illuminatus! damage back there somewhere, that JD was a boomer-era counterculture icon, but I hadn’t thought about it beyond ‘American Robin Hood’. Just like that other Merry Man, who also gathered the poor and recalcitrant into a community of fellows the Sheriff could not abide, he was evolving into a story, a creature of myth – and hence magic – before his bones were cold.
Before that even. Dillinger was one of the first individuals to experience the personal effects of mass media – radio, newspapers, the telegraph, moving images – as a weapon: a tool to harry, entrap and ultimately extinguish them. In that regard, stories, and the hyper-accelerated means of producing and sharing them we have developed in the last hundred years, are deliberate ghost-maker machines.
The strange event of his death at the aptly named Biograph Theatre, appears to be a proto-Babalonic intervention preceding Parsons & Hubbard’s desert jollies by some time. Dillinger’s blood sacrifice ended the gang era of the Great Depression and sealed shut the possibility of an American life outside of federal law enforcement. Dillinger’s heavily mediatised challenge to the still soft and formative American state gave Hoover all the political and popular will he needed to cement cross-federal powers of investigation and prosecution in perpetuity.
Funny how these situations work out. Gang life, factional battles and violent rebellion dynamite chunks of new space for alternative lifeways from the American landscape. In a year or so of storm and panic, the chatter of Tommy guns and the roar of Ford V8 engines open a brief rent in the social fabric, followed rapidly, and permanently, by bloody acts of re-enclosure establishing a new normal that makes the true-life adventures of the previous era conceivable only through the retrospective lens of legend.
It’s almost like it was set up that way. Done on purpose, or just entwined with the kind of violent activity of social process that makes state-like entities manifest, develop, and mature.
But if Dillinger was in on it, if his rampage across the dirt tracks and newsreels was a deliberate act of social disruption designed to invite a draconian response, why would he agree to die at the end of it, in such a constructed and artificial way? Well –
That’s if Dillinger died of course. The catalogue of Dillinger doppelgangers, faceswaps and postmortem reappearances could fill an internet.
The John Dillinger Died For You Society, another Illuminatus! walk-in group, claim to think, as their name suggests the man is, not unusually for a 116 year-old, definitely brown bread.
But they could easily be taking the piss. It’s kind of how they do. This detail from the page linked-to above is telling:
The ’empty chair’ motif immediately connects TJDDFYS to Masonic tradition, and makes this apparently spontaneous frat-house lark seem a bit more deliberate and intriguing. We know that such brotherly organisations, the networks they implant and the conflict between them can have serious geopolitical consequences deep into the globalised 21st Century (Skull & Bones vs The Base). The Masonic factionalism at work in other oft-retold episodes from American history, such as the Lincoln County War (aka the True Story of Billy The Kid, another American outlaw hero who maybe didn’t die), is somewhat widely understood and discussed, revealing the wild west legend of the Regulators to be a more prosaic beef trade beef.
Maybe it’s not possible to be an outlaw. Maybe the term itself doesn’t make sense: the criminal, in defining their behaviour against the over-culture, are always-already captured. Every unlawful transgression is the catalyst for a response which makes the possibility of authentic rebellion and lasting change to the relationship between law and subject ever more distant.
I’m not your Babalon
Dillinger’s Terror Gang (the words never even change much) is a story for thrilling children, or a channel for dispersing dissatisfied workers into satisfied moviegoers, or an excuse for cops to get funding for better cars and guns, much more than it was ever a vehicle for fulfilling the desires of a handful of men hooked on ego, adrenaline and their vivid internal fantasy lives.
Here’s my favourite folk song about Dillinger, dedicated to his Menominee lover Billie Frechette. Local band, great t-shirts. Can’t think how they chose the title…