I’ve been a Netflix user for 12 years and recently I’ve noticed that Mafia/mobsters shows like Bad Blood, Narcos and El Chapo are becoming very popular.
I find the whole matter fascinating because I believe it is a peculiarly American phenomenon. No other country in the world glamorizes crooks and criminals as much as the US… except maybe for Korean movies.
But I wonder why?
See I was born and raised in Italy. I grew up watching tv shows and movies like “La Piovra,” “Falcone,” “La Scorta,” and “Gomorra.” Movies that do not romanticize the Mafia, but that shows its sad, grim truth, and that tragically describe how corruption destroys the lives it touches.
So again why is it rather perceived as an awesomely cool and adventurous way of life in America?
I’ve been thinking about it, and of course, I could be entirely off the mark, naive and clueless, but I feel like I might be onto something.
So without further ado: I think that America’s mafia true romance has to do with the fact that America is a safer and overall more upright country.
I don’t mean to say that in the US people don’t steal or kill.
But perhaps because America is such a young nation founded on the values and ideals of Positivism and since it is not only a country but a vast continent, the Mafia mindset with its bribery, and intimation tactics hasn’t taken hold as much as it did in Italy.
So how old are these Italian Mafia values? Well, I remember reading Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) when I was in high school. Set in northern Italy in 1628, during the oppressive years of direct Spanish rule, the novel narrates the story of Renzo and Lucia, a couple living in a village in Lombardy, near Lecco, who are planning to wed on 8 November 1628. One day the parish priest, Don Abbondio, walking home on the eve of the wedding, is accosted by two “bravi” (thugs) who warn him not to perform the marriage, because the local baron (Don Rodrigo) has forbidden it. That passage in the book reveals that practices mafiose are old, have deep roots and touch the lives of innocent people.
Already at the beginning of the 1200s, nobles, in the absence of laws, were
appointing GODFATHERS to coordinate bandits and form their private policies; bandits had the impunity (until they were not considered useful anymore and betrayed)
In 1569 the reform called biennalità of the judges controlled by Spain
enabled the members of this tribunal (called familiari), and their friends and relatives to:
– Not pay taxes
– bring weapons
– Avoid the Ex Abrupto procedure (the nobles knew when they were accused, and with fake testimonies, they could demonstrate their
‘innocence’); the corruption of this tribunal was justified with today would be called “reason of State.”
In any case impunity to the nobles and their criminals was the rule.
People never testified because they perfectly knew what side justice was on. They practiced omertà: the cultural acceptance of mafia values, and the refusal to collaborate with the Authorities of the State.
Extortions at the Palermo market are documented since the 1500s. These forces shaped the values of Southern Italy, and are still active today.
So, again why are Italian films about the Mafia so different from the American ones?
I believe it has to do with the fact that in Italy the Mafia is pervasive in the lives of regular people. The Sicilian Mafia controls the water supply and the construction business. In Naples, it manages the garbage business.
Assassins might ride a motorcycle and shoot their target in plain daylight killing innocent bystanders, and the police won’t do a thing. You might be at the local bar on a sunny Sunday afternoon when a bomb goes off, or a shooting spree occurs killing everyone.
People through the centuries have grown accustomed and resigned to this way of life. They’ve been beaten down, and they’ve never been saved. Every hero or heroine who has stood up for them has been assassinated. There’s no faith in justice. People must leave to escape that way of life.
Thankfully for me and everyone else, this way of life is foreign in America. The severity of this criminal existence is unknown for many Americans who lived outside of major cities where the Mafia operated.
American Mafia doesn’t affect ordinary people, as much as it alters the lives of the Neapolitans or Sicilians. However, the Mafia did impact many blue collars workers, in particular, the Teamsters, whose pension funds were diverted in the hands of the Mafia to build Las Vegas casinos along with the drug trade, racketeering, and gambling.
Many Americans even though they were not aware of the mafia were impacted, but they can still fantasize about the “cool life of crime” through shows, games, and movies like the Sopranos because they don’t experience bombing and shooting on a regular basis.
The reason why Italian films and shows don’t glamorize the Mafia is the same reason why Americans don’t glamorize slavery. There are no shows that romanticize slavery, am I right? Everyone would be appalled at such and rightly so. So the same goes for Mafia shows in Italy.
Film and TV are a reflection of the culture and the time we live in, and thankfully for us, we live in America where the basic honesty and decency of people allow us to fantasize about the outlaw experience instead of living it.