Al Capone: a case study in public relations

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by Tieja MacLaughlin

When I think of Chicago, a few things come to mind - deep-dish pizza, world-class architecture, sultry jazz bars, and a rich history of sports franchises. I also think of the roaring 20's, and a network of organized crime.

The Windy City has housed infamous gangsters such as John Dillinger, Bugs Moran and, perhaps the most notorious kingpin of all, Al Capone.

After spending a weekend in Chicago, it's obvious that the public's fascination with the mob culture of the Prohibition Era remains intact.
 
Decades later, most of these gangster names are still prominent, carrying a sense of celebrity with them.

Capone's old hangout, the Green Mill, is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, and a slew of spin-offs bear the Capone name. There is even a gangster bus tour - the Untouchables Tour - showcasing old hangouts, gambling dens, and mobster hangouts.

As head of the Chicago Outfit, Capone was responsible for copious amounts of illegal activity during his reign, and a countless number of hits. In fact, Chicago was dubbed the Windy City because of the numerous corrupt politicians and police officers who 'blew smoke' to the public - that were bought out and strong-armed by gangsters like Capone.

With a lengthy rap sheet, and an extensive history of violence, it seems obvious that Capone would be abominated because of his actions. And although that may be true for some, why do so many people still hold such a romanticized version of organized crime during the Prohibition Era?

Al Capone was ruthless, cunning and deadly - but the world recognized him as charming, powerful and bold. When it comes to public relations, Capone is a fascinating case study.

His rags to riches story was one people resonated with, and rooted for. Scarface, as he was often called, made hundreds of millions of dollars throughout his lifetime, and was regarded as a highly successful business man.

He was greeted with open arms on the streets of Chicago by his supporters, and adorned because of his generosity. He stood up for the underdog, for which he was named a hero, was fiercely loyal to his gang, and supplied a demand to the public at a time they desperately longed for it.

With his flamboyant Italian suits, fedora and $50,000 pinky ring, Capone craved notoriety. He relished in the limelight, attending baseball games, posh restaurants, and the opera. He wanted to be recognized as a gentleman, and he wanted the public to love him.

Chicago press had a love affair with him - he held press conferences and offered cheeky one-liners to reporters. This served him well for several years.

It was, however, the Valentine's Day massacre that earned him a new nickname - Public Enemy Number One.

Capone's reputation took a massive hit.

In an effort to resurrect his image, and appeal to the public, he played on society's needs at the time, opening a soup kitchen during the Great Depression. Whether or not he was successful in repairing his image is debatable.

Capone's story doesn't end in glory - he was eventually incarcerated and suffered a syphilis-related death.

Regardless of your personal opinion on the man, one thing can't be denied - we're still talking about him today.

Many, many people idolized Capone, when they had every logical reason to hate him. Capone's legend lives on, and his fame continues to lend itself to the pop culture of today's world.

Tieja MacLaughlin