Friday, March 10, 2006

LRC pick
Mafia movies
Murray Rothbard loved ’em, which is understandable

But what he wrote is only partially true historically. Regarding Prohibition, which essentially brought the Mafia to America, he’s spot-on. John Weldon Hardenbrook has written about that in Missing From Action: puritanical Protestants (not to be confused with Anglicans, who are famous for civilised enjoyment of drink) like that nutter Carry Nation demonised alcohol, banning it, and thanks to them there’s the blowback of organised crime to this day (though, fractured and turned on themselves, the last seem on the wane). The same thing’s happening now with drugs. And of course the libertarian view of prostitution fits in with all this: consumers want a service that, if money weren’t involved, would be completely legal. The church says it’s wrong of course but that’s not the state’s concern.

Like the true story in Blow (a pro-business epic I enjoyed very much as well as being a cautionary tale), some of the magic of these classic films is from showing a slightly off version of the American dream.

Rothbard’s description seems to fit the Philadelphian mob until the 1980s: loan-sharking (which one can’t explain away like booze) and other activity in which people usually weren’t killed, led by ‘docile don’ Angelo Bruno. You left them in peace; they left you in peace. But after Bruno was murdered and, like Rothbard says, the members got into the drugs trade, things fell apart.

A good counter-balance to this is the description of real present-day Mafiosi in a book by the real-life FBI agent who posed as ‘Donnie Brasco’ to infiltrate the mob.

While it’s true that real members are annoyed by wannabes who kill for no reason (which simply gets the real Mafia in trouble), this (good)fellow points out that no, Mafia soldiers aren’t nice guys, beating somebody up for the slightest perceived insult.

Maybe GoodFellas (I’ve not seen it) shows what the mob has become.

As for religion, I’m a little amused by the situation today as described to me: tough sons of capos and dons going to religious order-run tony prep schools (like their version of the public schools like Eton, parallelling Ampleforth in England*) and sitting and standing silently while having soppy, fruity Marty Haugen songs sung at them.

As for the staff trying to put the moves on these lads... ‘You talkin’ to me?!’ LOL.

Old World Mediterranean honour and revenge would stop that right quick.

The old school were hypocritical but knew it: Catholics sin but don’t try to bend the church to excuse it. And the rituals commanded respect. Not so guitars and Haugen.

There’s a similar movie romance about con men and jewel thieves: the (anti-)heroes in those old films didn’t con or rob somebody who couldn’t afford it. They were like Robin Hood. Sure.

Same with Westerns: a lot of those movie conventions about gunfights were really from duelling. They shot each other in the back!

Linguistic note: in Italian and Spanish it’s don Paul, not don Cicero. Like don Juan! The first Godfather got that wrong.

Here is a site on the real Mafia in New Jersey.

*There a prep school is where one prepares to go to places like Eton, Harrow or Ampleforth. BTW, Eton is mediæval and thus was Catholic: the King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor, which I think is still its official name. Its original mission was to teach poor boys! In the States a prep school is equivalent to Eton: places like Andover where the Bushes went.

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