It's easy to hearken back to the good old days, when men walked on the moon, women turned their bras into bonfires, and not everything was a crass corporate publicity stunt. But when you think about it, the aforementioned moon landing could only have been a bigger publicity stunt if, rather than an American flag, Buzz Aldrin had planted a giant billboard of Santa Claus drinking a Coke while puffing on a Winston. The world has always been a cynical place.
In fact, many of the things we consider iconic elements of our culture began as cheap grabs for attention ...
The FBI's Ten Most Wanted List Was J. Edgar Hoover Being A Publicity Hound
Among criminals, showing up on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list must be like getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. The world's fiercest crimefighters are sticking your face on a poster, declaring you to be the baddest of the bad! Which is ... kind of weird, right? The fact that the FBI would take an arbitrary group of their most infamous fugitives and make them celebrities?
"Gotta catch 'em all!"
The Most Wanted list debuted in newspapers on March 14, 1950 before rapidly spreading to radio and TV. Since its inception, it has directly led to 160 arrests and, most importantly, immeasurably stoked the ego of one J. Edgar Hoover. That was, after all, the original point of the list. It was all a brazen headline grab.
Nebraska Senator George Norris once called Hoover "the greatest hound for publicity on the American continent." The FBI director's obsession with fame began in 1933, with the Kansas City massacre and the public's odd love affair with chief suspect Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd. Hoover became furious over the attention being garnered by the crime (not to mention Floyd's prettiness), famously seething, "If there is going to be publicity, let it be on the side of law and order."
Marion S. Trikosko/U.S. News & World Report
"From now one, the only pretty boys are the ones working for the FBI."
He fucking meant it. What followed was a series of boy's clubs, movies, books, radio dramas, and comics, all carefully coordinated by Hoover to elevate the coolness of the G-man well above that of the gangster in the mind of Average Joe. And so it follows that when Bill Hutchinson of the International News Service came sniffing for a listicle of the "toughest guys" the FBI was prepared to duke it out with, Hoover saw the opportunity to create a viral sensation.