‘Red Dead Redemption II’, Pinkertons, Detectives And The Origin of The Private Eye (#GotBitcoin?)
Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, formed in the 1800s to help law enforcement track down criminals, once sparred with the outlaw Jesse James. It later became entangled in the notorious labor disputes of industrial America. ‘Red Dead Redemption II’, Pinkertons, Detectives And The Origin of The Private Eye
Pinkerton Detectives Still Exist, and They’re Tired of Being the Bad Guys
The security agents, who gained fame as Old West law enforcers, are still around—and they’re not happy about being antagonists in ‘Red Dead Redemption II’
In the hit videogame “Red Dead Redemption II,” players belong to a gang of bandits in the Old West in 1899 who spend a good deal of time offing Pinkerton agents, known simply as Pinkertons.
The plot twist comes in real life: Pinkerton still exists today as Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations Inc., a specialist in corporate security and risk management—and it’s tired of being the bad guy.
Pinkerton, now owned by the Swedish security firm Securitas AB, hoped a letter sent last month to Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. would persuade the game publisher to do right by the Pinkerton name. The letter included a demand for compensation in the form of a lump sum or “an appreciable percentage of each game sold.”
“When you read on Twitter that the best part of the game is to murder a bloody Pinkerton, it becomes a concern,” said Jack Zahran, Pinkerton’s president.
Take-Two was ready for a duel. It filed suit on Jan. 11 in New York district court, alleging Pinkerton made unfounded legal threats against it. Pinkerton “cannot use trademark law to own the past,” Take-Two said in its complaint. It said it strove to be historically accurate in the game, which was released on Oct. 26 and generated sales of $725 million its opening weekend.
Take-Two declined to comment on its suit.
The game opens with the gang looking to make a final score before leaving behind crime once and for all. After their plans go awry, they are chased by Pinkerton agents, mercenaries and law enforcement.
Valentina Rodgers, an 18-year-old call-center worker in Chandler, Ariz., wrote on Twitter that it was “very cool” the game made Pinkerton agents the “scummiest pigs at the disposal of the US government c. 1899, as they were in real life.”
“We’re the good guys,” said Mr. Zahran.
Andrew Hall, a college student in Winter Haven, Fla., said he thought Pinkerton had already died out, “maybe in like the ’30s.” Since getting “Red Dead II” for Christmas, he estimates he’s done away with dozens of digital Pinkerton agents with gunshots and explosives.
“Throughout history, they were really brutal, even to people who weren’t outlaws,” the 20-year-old said, conceding he boned up on the agency by reading Wikipedia and other websites after he learned about the lawsuit.
Pinkerton traces its roots to 1842, when it was created by Allan Pinkerton, Chicago’s first police detective. According to the company’s biography, it invented the mug shot, disbanded Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, and foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
The firm is also associated with violent turn-of-the-century labor disputes, including accusations its agents physically harmed union demonstrators and striking workers. Congress passed a law in 1892—the “Anti-Pinkerton Act”—limiting the U.S. government’s ability to hire mercenaries.
Pinkerton acknowledges its controversial past. Today, the company is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and prides itself as protector of powerful executives, star athletes, royal families and other high-profile individuals. The company, which said it has roughly 2,500 employees, with thousands more world-wide when counting contractors, doesn’t disclose client names.
“The organization has been a paradox,” said Stephen Paul O’Hara, a history professor at Xavier University and author of the 2016 book “Inventing the Pinkertons; or, Spies, Sleuths, Mercenaries, and Thugs.” Although it has wanted to be portrayed as providing law and order, he said, “from dime novels to political commentary, they could never fully control how people thought of them.”
Steven Tifft, 33, said he was thrilled to tangle with Pinkerton foes in “Red Dead II,” especially since he belongs to the Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union founded in 1905 in Chicago. “They always attack you” in the game, said Mr. Tifft, an Olympia, Wash., stay-at-home dad.
Pop culture has long been fascinated with the Pinkerton story. After a deadly clash between striking steelworkers and Pinkertons in 1892, the confrontation was memorialized in the song “Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men.” Modern references to the company show up in Take-Two’s “BioShock Infinite” videogame and on HBO’s “Deadwood.”
Pinkerton in 1996 sued members of the alternative-rock band Weezer and its then-producer, Geffen Records, to prevent them from releasing the group’s second album, called “Pinkerton.” It cited trademark infringement. A spokesman for the band said at the time that the name was a reference to the lead character in the Puccini opera “Madama Butterfly.” The suit was eventually dismissed. A spokeswoman for Weezer declined to comment.
The videogame industry has faced previous disputes with entertainers, athletes and others over the alleged use of their likenesses.
The actress Lindsay Lohan sued Take-Two in 2014 claiming the company exploited hers in its crime drama “Grand Theft Auto V.” A judge tossed out the case. In a pending case, AM General LLC, maker of the hulking Humvee, sued Activision Blizzard Inc. for allegedly including its trademarked vehicles in “Call of Duty” games. More recently, a number of celebrities sued Epic Games Inc., accusing it of appropriating their dance moves without permission in the popular game “Fortnite.”
Pinkerton denies being on the wrong side of the law in “Red Dead II,” where it claims its agents are portrayed as vicious killers with no regard for the safety of women and children.
“You can’t rewrite history to profit,” Mr. Zahran said.
If people aren’t aware the company exists today, he added, it is a testament to how it operates. “We’re a behind-the-scenes organization. We don’t seek the limelight,” he said.
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