April 25, 2008

Is Stealing "Mad Money" a Crime?

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

A few days ago, I saw the film Mad Money. (Spoiler alert: The movie is summarized here, ending and all.) The film is about three women (played by Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes) who work at the local Federal Reserve Bank. Queen Latifah is Nina, the single mother of two boys while Katie Holmes plays Jackie, a gum smacking, head-phone wearing married kook. Diane Keaton plays Bridget, the stay at home wife of Ted Danson (Don). 

When Don is laid off and their upper middle life class life is threatened, Bridget goes to work at the bank as a janitor. (As a wife and mother, albeit with a college degree, Bridget has no marketable job skills.) Shortly after she starts the job, Bridget has the bright idea of robbing the bank by enlisting the help of the other two women who work with her there. After relatively little resistance to this idea, the three women join forces and despite lots of bank security, the J0282993 three are successful. 

The women target old money that is being taken out of circulation. With one successful theft completed the threesome steal again. Except a security guard who has a crush on Nina, no one catches on to their crime. His silence is bought and the spree goes on for three years. Finally, an outsider comes along and fingers the group and everyone but the instigator, Bridget, is arrested. The police are forced to release them, however, because the only confession is recanted and because the prideful bank manager insists that there is no way to breach his security. 

At this point in the movie the women don’t appear to have gotten much for their years of stealing, given that they have destroyed most of the money they stole. True, they have spent some of it: The single mother has used her money to put her children into private school and to buy a home in a better neighborhood. Don and Bridget are able to keep their upper-middle class lifestyle and all its perks. Jackie and her husband buy a new trailer and a few other toys and he is able to leave his meat plant job. 

But overall, they haven’t gone mad spending the money—and this is intentional; they do not want to draw attention to themselves and arouse suspicions. Nor do they seem much like criminals, at least as they are generally portrayed on film. They’re well-dressed as only women in film can be, are shown having a good time and living “respectable” lives. It’s not like they’re grungy men with masks, hurting people by robbing commercial banks. I thought the film would end here, with the women having received their own private stimulus package, free to enjoy their cash influx. But no, fast-forward months later, and Bridget gathers the group together to show them tons of money she had stashed at a bar they frequented. So they’re free and rich! 

clip_image003Deviance is defined as ignoring societal norms. The concept includes a wide range of individual and group transgressions. Stealing is generally considered deviant behavior in this culture, but in this movie none of the thieves received any of the sanctions that deviant behavior typically prompts. In fact it seems a stretch to call them thieves. Any attempt at formal sanctions, such as prosecuting the three women, was abandoned. As for informal sanctions, there is little indication that any of their friends or neighbors view the women differently. The lone source of informal sanction I recall in the film was a clip_image005neighbor who gave Bridget the cold shoulder. 

Interactionist theorists focus on how particular behaviors receive the label “deviant”, and in this tradition labeling theorists examine the relationship between deviants and nondeviants. Those in positions of power, according to labeling theorists, make the labels. Bridget represents wealth to the other two relatively poor women; she says they are “recycling” because the money they take is old and on its way to being shredded. In the context of this film, it is Bridget’s definition of the group as “recyclers” that explain why the women receive no punishment and are able to walk away with wads of cash. 

A simplistic summary of many movies is that the good guys catch the bad guys. (And they are usually guys, not women). The crimes of the bad guys are often clear-cut and we root for James Bond, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt to catch and punish them. But if no one is the “bad guy”, what does that mean? Ultimately, does “Mad Money” depict a crime?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Is Stealing "Mad Money" a Crime?:


I don't study sociology regularly but I have read some of interest. What you're refering to as "labelling" sounds like what I read based on Lemert and Becker.

Personally, I don't view "mad money" as immoral (although it's still criminal). The movie's wrong about it being "recycled", because on a larger scale this "recycled" money would be inflationary.

anyway, I think this movie is one of the many reflections of the change in North America's social morality.

imo we left behind the labelled standard of working for the hierachy as "good": In less than a century, we've abolished slavery, had the women's rights movement, accepted gays, drugs, whatever else. Morality has changed shifted from "hierarchy", towards "individual rights", and this movie seems moral.

I think N-A has reached the state of "anomie" described by Durkheim.

personally I don't depicit mad money as immoral or injust the three women did what they did to survive and better support themselves, and their families it isn't like they were hurting anyone in the process, so it sounds like a great movie with a great story line, stealing money is bad, but stealing money to better to provide for your family is more of a need to act situation.

When is stealing ever right. Is this what we promot to our kids? Robin hood use to steal for good reason but it did not make it right thats why we have the rules and laws yet, people turn to stealing for good rasons? That is not ok. Many people will benefit from money that does not have any use wasted by the goverment but, stealing it is not right.

I do not believe in stealing and I would never encourage that kind of behavior, but I can say that given a situation where my family would either starve to death or have to steal food then maybe it would be an act of survival. Still stealing would be wrong but sometimes life overrides ethics.

In my opinion I think they did want they had to do. Stealing is never acceptable. But If I had to steal for my family to survive I would do it whether its wrong or not

Perceptions may say that women can't do a dirty crime like robbing a bank and getting away with it. When people rob a bank, I sure think that is a crime to me. They might not be found guilty in a court or anywhere else though.

Stealing in my opinion is wrong there is never a justification to take anything from anyone.

I do believe that any stealing of any kind, justified or not, is a crime. Anytime we feel we have the right to take what does not belong to us, whether we have reasons or not, does not make it right. We are very good at rationalizing away "why" we feel we have a right to steal from another, but it never brings the satisfaction that we thought it would. Actually, it just makes us want more!

Seth Cardwell

I think the reason the women did not face any significant sanctions was because the boss was so prideful. Also, Nina recanted her confession.
Yes, I think Mad Money depicts a crime. But more importantly it depicts how people can get away with crimes.

The women involved in the crime didn't get anything because it was a movie. If this had happen in real life they would have got in some trouble. I do think this was a crime and not taking care of it makes it ok for other things like this to happen. It also gives peopole the idea that they can go about doing something like this and not get punished for it. However its a movie and they can pretty much get away with what they wish in a movie, not real life.

Stealing is wrong in any way you look at it. I understand there may be tough situations where as for your family to live or something. I mean if that is the case then you do what ever you feel you have to but know their will always be consequencies.

"Mad Money" does in fact depict a crime. Stealing is stealing any way you look at it. Although they(the woman) did not fit the sterotype of theives, their actions said a whole lot more. I think that the reason that none of the woman suffered any significant sanctions because society did not really see them as criminals and they all seemed to have a reason for what they did, regardless if it was wrong.

The women didn't face any significant sanction but they should have. Mad Money is a movie about a huge crime that goes unpunished. Of course its highly unlikely to happpen in reality, its all in entertainment.

I think the movie is unrealistic as most movies are. When is stealing,telling lies, or murder ever okay. If you don't know I will tell you. Never. It doen't matter if you don't pay for it in this life because I truly believe that God will hold us accountable for our actions in the end.

While the movie is a major crime and should be punished, we also have to look at the fact that...this is still a movie! I think that it had gone on for so many years in the movie, that the bank owners did not want the story getting out or any one else to try to steal the money because the girls in this movie had it down-pat what to do and when to do it.

This movie is pretty unrealistic. If people really were to steal "Mad Money" and had been found out about it they would have been in serious trouble or I would hope so. If it was ok to do, then thousands of people would be stealing "mad money". It does break the law. The money was not their's therefore they were stealing it.

stealing is wrong!!!! even if the money is just going to be shredded!!

The women in Mad Money didn't face any significant sanctions because the money was old and was on its to be "thrown away." The women had not stolen "new money" from the bank, but "old money," something that nobody in the bank cared about. Yes, I do believe that Mad Money depicts a crime. These women stole money, whether or not the money was being taken to be thrown away. It wasn't rightfully theirs, and they shouldn't have been let off as easily as they were.

Stealing is stealing no matter how we try to justify it. This movie is unrealistic. i would hope that if this happened in real life it wouldnt go unpunished.

The women are criminals. They will pay for the money they stole. Stealing is never acceptable. It doesnt even sound like a good movie if they dont at least meet resistance. So you mean to tell me they robed a bank repeatedly for 10 years. Come on now....

Stealing is never the right thing to do under any circumstances. The women did not face any punishment because the money that they stole was about to go out of ciirculation. The movie does depict a crime because stealing for any reason is against the law.

I can not believe this, I just can't, no matter how it is put or said stealing is a crime and there is no way around it. Just because the money was old doesn't mean you can still it

The money stolen was somehow to be of less importance because it was "old money". But old money or new money, it was still stolen money and they should have recieved the same punishment as anyone who commits this crime. Stealing is wrong and still a crime, no matter what was stolen.

Its not really a crime, but at the same time it is. Some people would say it was due to the fact they took old money and spent it on themselves, but at the same time, many would say that it was completely legal due to the fact the money was going to be destroyed anyways.

In the movie, "MAD MONEY" a crime is commited. Just because they were able to lie their way out of it, doesnt mean its true. However, a bosses career being on the line would influence the reaction. But all in all, it is a crime and if the boss didnt have a career to protect,theyd all be in jail.

Yes, this would steal be a crime. Stealing is always going to be a crime, no matter what the circumstances are.

The movie Mad Money crime is committed. It is a movie and I think they would of got some kind of punishment for stealing if it was not a movie.

The women of Mad Money didnt face any significant sanctions because no one knew what they were doing except the guard and they paid him. Nina may have sent her kids to provate school and moved, but neither of them good flashy or tried to show off. They stole from the bank and even thought they didnt egt caught, it was still a crime.

I have seen the movie and enjoyed it but I do think that it depicted a crime. Stealing money is a crime. Everyone should have been taught as a child that stealing is wrong. You just don't steal from people or the government even though the money was old and needed to be "thrown away".

I loved this movie.... but to take what is not yours first if you was a king/queen and this was your money put in place with your system what would you do ? all i could say is off with heads.

I thing the action of stealing here is seen as "positive deviance" Positive deviance refers to actions considered deviant within a given context, but which are later reinterpreted as appropriate or even heroic. Although stealing is fundamentally wrong, and a crime by itself, the context in which it occurs and the motivation, present its as positively "correct".

I don't believe in stealing anything. I enforced that on my children to never steal. I tell them if you can not afford it then you do not need it. That is a crime and you should be punished for it.

I do not believe in stealing because stealing is wrong,but in a situation if my family is starving and we need food to eat, and if I have to steal food for my family to survive I will do it.

No, I do not believe that taking mad money is a crime, if the money is just going to be burned I can bless my children and pay off dept.The problem is overdoing things

I believe that the women did commit a crime. Stealing is stealing no matter what way you put it, even if no one is going to miss the money, it is still stealing. So yes, i do believe "Mad Money" depicts a crime. I havent seen the movie, but i would like to. They didnt face any significant sanctions because no one saw them as criminals, even their boss. The only sanction one of them got was a cold shoulder from a neighbor.

yes i think that mad money is a crime if they rob banks. No matter how crazy a person gets to save their family if they break the law to do it it is just as bad. I mean if i had a sick hungry kid and the only way it could live is if i steal the food for it to i would go to jail and risk the consequences to save it.

I think the women are criminals. If you are a thief and you steal then it makes you one. There is such an amazing thing called forgiveness and people do change. But if it is a repetative behavior it can easily make you a criminal. Just because in "Mad Money" they were able to lie there way out of it doesnt mean its not a law.

The women did not face any sanctions because the maneged to talk their way out of punishment. Yes, they did commit a crime and it was wrong.

I believe that the money was getting thrown away anyway, therefore if it were going to trash is it really stealing? If bath and body works were throwing away their old products and you saw it in the dumpster going to trash in unopened containers, would you take it, then is it stealing? What is the difference between the bath and body works products and money? The same crime, same offense, why is taking money out of a dumpster more of a crime than soap? Because it is money and it can be used everywhere, as opposed to soap being used mostly on you. For the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

I am not sure why no one in the movie did not face any significant sanctions. This is a crime. If a regular person committed this crime they would go to federal prison. Stilling "Mad Money" is a very serious crime. The movie makes it seem like this is an everyday occurance and that there are no consequences for breaking the law. The movie glorifies the action an makes it seem ok. The movie really does not depict there actions as a crime even though it clearly is a serious one.

LOVE THE BLOG!!! I believe wrong is wrong, yet in time where you feel there is a need to help someone, you may go against your values. In this movie i believe this is what happen. Society doesn't view the crime in the movie as a crime but how those women help themselves to the next levels in their lives. Funny however society will hurt in the end ....

None of the women from MAD MONEY faced any significant sanctions because none of them were ever truly convicted for taking the money. In my opinion, yes legally they comitted a crime but wasn't the government going to destroy the money anyways? The whole point of the Federal Reserve Bank is to keep a balance in the US currency which people are still finding a way to destroy this balance. Personally I don't blame them because none of them asked for too much they weren't greedy. They just wanted what everybody wants to live a happy life without the worry of money.

stealing is wrong

None of these women needed more money to survive or provide for their families. They were all doing fine. The wealthy woman could've sold her mansion and belongings and moved to a small place.

Wow, reading all these replies disgusts me. This money was stolen but because it was technically decommissioned, it no longer existed. Tax evasion was the actual crime, not the theft. I have been this desperate but it wasnt money I stole, but food and medicine for my family. You all saying it doesnt matter what a person is going through, a person shouldnt do a crime. You are all lying to yourselves. If you are watchung someone you love struggle, you will do anything to save them. One of the women had diabetes, that is an expensive illness and you can not afford your life saving medicine when you are that poor (I am poor and havent been able to afford my medicine in over a year, getting sicker for it). One is a mother who is desperate to give her two sons a better life because they are in danger of a dangerous dead end future so she gets them put into a better school where gang influence is lower. The last, yes, her motive was just greed and not wanting to lose her standard of living. The fact none of you all see the big pucture shows how your privillage and racism blinds you.

I am old enough to have experimented the introduction of movies like in the eighties. The first one, at least for me, was FX followed by many many of them. the main line is that regular americans are victims of a corrupt system. The protagonist decides to break the rules (because they only apply to the regular guys and not the powerful anyway) and give himself or herself what she or he deserves. He or she doesnt wrong anyone. At the end, she or he enjoys the fruits of the ilegal acts without consequences. It seems harmless, but reality is that this kind of plots have been brainwashing Americans to the point where the general culture is impregnated and a change of values have reigned in the USA. I cant imagine americans voting for someone like Trump in the fifties or sixties.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« Can Sociology Explain American Idol's Appeal? | Main | What's a Spurious Correlation? »