Archive for the ‘Mission Mafia’ Category

A Proposal-ish

Monday, January 10th, 2011

So I finally made it back to school, a place where I can write my blog posts at random intervals of the day. (I really excited about this :D ) However, the return to school means the return of coursework. I am finally writing my senior thesis paper this semester and that means the work starts… well now. As you know I have been doing research to gain a better understanding of the Mafia and the Italian american culture. Needless to say this research will continue throughout this project. However, realistically writing a history essay based on secondary sources will not happen. So hopefully by writing out this blog post I can gain a better understanding of the questions I want answered and the methods I will use to answer them.

I guess the one question that keeps resurfacing over and over again as I do research is why did the US become so obsessed with the idea of the Mafia and Organized Crime? It seems strange that they became so popular since they made money off of what was illegal. (And still do!) However, it also makes sense because many people opposed prohibition to begin with so if they could defy the system, they did. When prohibition ended and the Depression came in full force, the memories off bootlegged alcohol and speakeasies still lingered. A memory of better times perhaps? So Hollywood began making movies about the Mafia in the 30′s and well…. it turned into a pop-culture phenomenon. This is all speculation from reading up on secondary material. I think to really look into the mind set of the time I would have to, not just watch a couple of movies. But branch out into newspapers, magazines, books, and anything else which might provide a personal opinion about the Mafia.

However that is a lot to cover in a semester, I cannot feasibly look through every article in every newspaper ever published. (However, if I had a time turner…..)So I was thinking about looking at 2 national Newspapers at least. Magazines are a little easier however I am not sure how much easier. For magazines I think I will focus on the educationalish/political ones such as Time and National Geographic. (Mostly because I am curious to see what they have written) Books… well are prob the easiest to find. I already stumbled across a few which I can use as a primary source. (Herburt Asbury) However, books are also difficult because in some cases I can use them as a secondary source. Actually the same might even go for magazines….  I think this means I will be taking a couple of trips to the Library of Congress, I mean it is there I might as well use it. =D

However, the 30′s itself is an interesting time because of everything that happened. It is interesting to look at how people coped during difficult times. (kinda like now :D ) I think the US (and probably other cultures) has always harbored a fascination for what is unlawful (Wyatt Earp?) or criminal. However just as the Wild West became America’s symbol for expansion, one has to wonder what the Mafia was the symbol. Maybe I can answer that :D

Like I said this is just a rough sketch of what my proposal will be, I just wanted to get ideas written and to begin actually thinking more about what my paper will be about. To begin to tie up the loose ends basically. :)

Becoming Italian-American

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

So I decided to take my research waaaaay back and look more into why the Italians began immigrating to the US in the latter part of the 19th century. I was actually wondering this for awhile and thought it would be useful to look into. For this I had to step out of American history and research a bit of Italian history. I started by looking more into the period where there was a large influx of Italian immigrants into America, between 1890-1920. 1 What I found was that most of the immigrants came from southern Italy because they were escaping an incomplete revolution, more or less. The second Italian Revolution, which took place in 1859 was largely a response to the “defects in Italian Constitutionalism.” 2

The second revolution formed largely in Southern Italy because of the oppression the peasants faced under the Bourbon Regime. The leader of the second revolution was Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian military figure. The revolution succeeded, the Bourbons were overthrown, and Garibaldi put a new government in place. However this new government turned out to be even more oppressive because it completely ignored the needs of the peasants. Taxes skyrocketed and their was a loss of industrial protection, which in turn led to the closure of many factories. 3 Tariffs were raised which helped northern Italy but actually hurt the South. In turn the peasants lost faith in this new government and began supporting others. This lead to a period of violence where, “the government sent some 60 battalions of crack combat soldiers to teach a lesson  to the Southerners.” 4 Here an agricultural Depression set in and southern Italy began losing more faith in their own government.

This is only a condensed version of why many of the immigrants who immigrated to the US were from southern Italy. I think that it is interesting to note that the origins of the Mafia are believed to be in Southern Italy. So I think from here I will research more about the origin of organized crime in Italy. Maybe it will help answer why the Mafia became a popular culture phenomenon in the US and not in it’s country of origin, Italy. But here is a quote to end with, which I found interesting.

“If the legitimacy of the new Italian government was now to be assessed in terms of the degree to which the new government (in contrast to the old) secured respect for the basic rights of human dignity and harnessed political power to justice and the common good, it was fundamentally defective.” 5

  1. David A. J. Richards, Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 98.
  2. Ibid., 98.
  3. Ibid., 99.
  4. Ibid., 100.
  5. Ibid., 104.

Organized Crime: 15% of the World’s GDP?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

A friend sent me this video because they know about my research topic, so they thought I would be interested. And honestly it was an interesting talk it serves as a reminder that the Mafia didn’t die down in the 30′s. Organized Crime is still going strong and a problem today, because it is profitable. Misha Glenny, the speaker, focuses more on the Russian Mafia than the American Mafia. However there are still some points he makes that are interesting to note. He talks about how organized crime works and why it is successful.

One point he made that really struck me was that it was “the western desire to consume that is the primary driver of international organized crime.” I wonder if this also applies to the American Mafia and its sudden rise during prohibition. It makes sense, the Mafia grew by providing boot legged alcohol, which Americans wanted. If American’s didn’t want alcohol they wouldn’t have gone to speakeasies and kept the Mafia in business. Or the Mafia would have just found something else that Americans would consume….

Take on Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I was trying to think of ways that I could actually enhance my digital project a bit more, I was getting no where fast and began to do more research for the next post. Well I somehow ended up on Wikipedia (not that it is difficult) and was looking for a section on Mob Films, and I found it. Here it is. It is quite unimpressive, no? This then got me thinking, what if I edit this section of wiki? Obviously the things that I am researching are about Mob Films so it would be (relatively) easy to update it. Information wise.

As for actually updating a wiki page, I have never done it! Most likely I am going to get my boyfriend to help me because he created this page for the FFXI game. So technical stuff I am not to worried about. What I want to know more is what you guys would think to be good to include in the page? Any historical information you want to see, also what the layout should be. I was thinking about separating it into 1930′s, 1970′s (the next peak of the Mob Film), and Present day. Any suggestions? I am really excited about this by the way!!!! :D

Hollywood: Business or Art?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

The Mafia Research is back! I have a moment of quiet before all the work picks back up again, so I figured it would be a good idea to get a post out while I can. Whoot! This post is going to focus a bit more on the history of Hollywood.

The one thing that really influenced censorship in Hollywood would be the creation of the Production Code in the 1930′s. However before this code was created Hollywood had to become organized as an industry rather than a group of independent filmmakers. The Great Depression itself was largely responsible for this organization, especially the passage of the National Recovery Administration in June 1933 which called for cooperative action among big businesses. Because of this law Hollywood had to regulate their production and trade practices. As a result, the Code of Fair Competition for the Motion Picture Industry came into being in November 1933. 1

However, before all of this the Production Code (or Hays Code, named after Will Hays) was already created, in 1930.Many people believe that it lacked proper enforcement until 1934. That is not to say that films weren’t concerned about censoring, it was more of the companies didn’t really know what was allowed an what wasn’t. Most of the guidelines set for by the Code itself was left for interpretation. Films created in the early 1930′s were more focused on questioning troubling times, which would make sense because it was in the height of the Great Depression. Like mentioned in an earlier post about Scarface, there was a call for help from the people. Where the people had to take action if there was to be any improvement.

The reason why Censorship became more important during this Era is one, because of influence and pressure from Christians, and two, because the industry was looking for away to make it “safe” to watch a movie. 2  Because let’s face it, when you go to watch a movie do you know exactly how it will play out? While this does contribute to the intrigue, it can also hurt the industry. In a way to draw in more audiences during difficult economic times Hollywood wanted to guarantee that their film watching experience would be worth it.

However, there was an unforeseen (well maybe some people did see it coming) backlash against the Code. Mostly because people thought that if Directors had to adhere to the standards of the Code then the film industry couldn’t produce really works of art. However, by 1934 most directors agreed to work within the system and accept the Production code and a “convention of representation.” 3 By this time the Code was more organized and filmmakers and Christians alike understood more of the boundaries of the Code. After 1934, directors began to work more within the Code and used it to “explore the possibilities as well as the constraints of the convention.” 4 So for the time being, at least until the decades after WWII, audiences and Filmakers have reached a hesitant agreement.

So for my next post I want to step away a bit from cinema and look more into the actual role that the Mafia and Italian Americans played in America. Also looking into the relation between Italian immigrants and Americans.

  1. Tino Balio, Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939 ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 18. Link
  2. Ibid., 49.
  3. Ibid., 64.
  4. Ibid., 64.

Mafia invades YouTube and… Legos?

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

A Quick Post! It seems that the Mafia has invaded all facets of American life… even YouTube… Here are a couple of videos I found on Youtube about the Mafia.

For the first one the embedding is disabled, but if you click here you can watch the video. I think this was a documentary made for National History Day. It is very well done, the only bad thing is that it focuses more on the take down of the Mafia in the 1950′s. This is not my focus at all. Either way it provides another interesting view of the Mafia.

On the less professional side of things, there are a couple videos about people replaying certain Mafia figures or events. Such as below, where they are retelling Al Capone:

Then there is the Top Mafia Movies of All Time category. This one I found to be interesting because it highlights how much the Mafia has become part of the mainstream american culture. And I may or may not have picked this one because of the soundtrack :)

Even major learning corporations such as National Geographic and the History Channel have their own Youtube channels where they upload videos. Here is a video for the National Geographic. Once again it doesn’t deal with 1930′s Mafia, but I feel like this one shows that the Mafia is a dangerous organization. It is something people forget about when they see all the romanticized films provided to us by Hollywood. As a side note I am also watching the History Channel’s Gangland series for more information. They actually do have a lot of information and it is helpful… maybe I should do a post of that too :D

This final clip is one that I thought was really creative and not only combines Mafia with film but also showcases it through the use of Legos. :D I have to say the final product is worth me posting it, even if I can’t use it for my research it still shows that the Mafia has become an iconic symbol in our culture… along with Legos!

Scarface Battles Censorship

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

After watching the movie, Scarface,  I was actually struck by how censored it was. While it was in essence a classic “gangster” film, there was a legitimate attempt to point out that the actions taking place in this movie were wrong. In the beginning, where there were normally credits the viewer was greeted with these two panels: 1


It kind of reminds me of a pre- Uncle Sam “We want you!” Basically what this is trying to show is that the people have the power to make things like this not happen. It strikes at the core of Democracy in the US, especially by emphasizing in the movie that the people can make a difference. If that wasn’t enough, there was more censorship within the film itself!

It’s at about seven minutes in, where there is a random scene about the Newspapers publishing Tony Camonte’s (the main character, Scarface) dealings in the city. It shows the concerns of citizens, varying from the politician, police, journalist and even the Italians are represented. I am thinking for my next post I am going to look more into film censorship in the 1930′s, because I think it is something important to understand. Especially if it affected a movie production in such a dramatic way.

As for the movie representing the Mafia. Well it definitely did that.I can definitely see how later portrayals of the Mafia came largely from this film. First off, I am sure we all recognize this photo:

The typical Man in the Window photo, looking at this photo you know he is a shady character and you know what he is up to. For me, personally this is an image I definitely equate with the Mafia. Dealing with problems underground and through violence. Speaking of underground, the final photo I want to show is one where the new “Chief” is giving a speech about changes he will make in the gang.

This is yet another iconic Mafia shot because of the outfits, location, and general attitude of the picture. They deal with their business in back rooms, not in public places. And if anyone is curious the speech is about how he will reform the gangs so that it will run like a “business” and be more profitable for everyone involved. He is bribing everyone to listen to him through money. Typical Mafia, right? As for my personal opinion of the movie, if you have it (its instant on Netflix) and you have time I recommend watching it. Especially if you are into Mafia and organized crime films such as the Godfather.

Next post will be back to the history stuff! (Censorship!) Dr. McClurken gave me a long list of potential sources that I can sift through, so I am excited about that. I just wanted to share my thoughts on the movie before I completely lost track of them :D

  1. All of the images were screen shots that I took while watching the film.

“Scarface” Al Capone

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I figured that to start with for my assignment I should look more into the Chicago Underworld (click here for a brief history), since that is what we usually associate with the Mafia in America.  I also thought that it would be best to start with researching the life of “Scarface” Al Capone, see he is the one Mafia leader Americans really recognize. To start with I did some basic research on Al Capone’s early years in Chicago. For this I turned to Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of Chicago. I chose to start with this book for a couple reasons: A. In this text he provides a history of the underworld in Chicago and B. He actually wrote the original book in 1940, which is kinda good for my topic because I am looking at interpretations of the Mafia in the 1930′s. However as it turn’s out Herbert Asbury was a journalist who focused on crime in the 1930′s. I feel like I struck gold :)

Now, Al Capone’s story actually began with Johnny Terrio. When Johnny Terrio killed off Big Jim Colisimo he stepped up to become the new “Gangster Chieftan” in Chicago. 1 It was at this time where Al Capone steps into the picture because Terrio brought him from New York so that he could work with the Four Deuces. At this time Capone was only 23 and he already had a history of run ins with the law. He was also affiliated with the notorious 5 Points Gang.

However, he was still relatively anonymous to the public. In August 1922, he was in an automobile accident and the local papers referred to him as “Alfred Caponi.” 2 In the “underworld” he began gaining prestige and became known as “Scarface Al Brown.” 3

The time where Terrio was the Master Chieftan of the Underworld was a relatively peaceful time. The reason being that Terrio handled it like a business, he manipulated his partners and very rarely used violence, or brute force to make something happen. Which his unlike Capone, who did favor violence. The elaborate network that thrived during Capone’s time was actually put in place by Terrio! In a sense he was the “mastermind” behind Chicago crime. 4

The Movie- Scarface (1932)

This will be my next post! I plan on watching this movie first because it deals directly with the story of Al Capone. But first I want to do more research on film-making in the 1930′s. And then popular culture in the 1930′s, as you can see from the sources I have found so far. Basically I want to get a sense of  how much the Mafia influenced the popular culture of that time. Of course, if I hope to gain any sort of understanding of how that happened I need to research the real story of the Mafia, and then compare it to the possibly romanticized story. Sounds fun, right?  If anyone knows any good sources about the Mafia, or even has a suggestion of what I should research next let me know :)

  1. Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of Chicago: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002), 318.
  2. Ibid., 319. –I want to find a copy of this paper, along with others, when I move on beyond secondary sources and onto primary…
  3. Story behind the name? Good Question! One that I plan on answering in the future!
  4. Asbury, The Gangs of Chicago, 324. –most likely I will include a blog post about Terrio himself, since he is so influential

I wanted to share….

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I found this image randomly on my computer and it cracked me up!

I feel like it sets the tone for what my project is to be! I mentioned in the Project Mafia section that I will be researching the Mafia this semester, so I figured it would be cool to share what I research or come across here. Not everything will be explicitly tied to my project- and this post is an example of that. But I will post some things about Movies I watch and primary sources I gather.

Today I just wanted to talk about out current obsession with the Mafia, and using the Zynga Game, Mafia Wars as an example. I am sure we have all heard of it, or at least some part of it on Facebook. I actually do play it to help kill time, or procrastinate. I believe that this game has become so successful because it appeals to our romanticized version of the Mafia. We are constantly being battered with more films, books and documentaries about the Mafia. Through this game we can pretend that we can be our own Godfather and make our own millions through corruption and various scandals. Even though in real life, none of us would ever imagine doing so.

Where did this obsession begin? I believe it began a long time ago, around the same time that Hollywood began making it’s debut. While the Mafia has been around in the U.S. since the end of the 19th century, around the same time as the rise of industrialism, most of our modern conceptions of the Mafia did not begin until the Prohibition Era. The 1920′s was an era famous for flappers, speakeasies, boot legged alcohol and in general a care free way of life. A perfect time for notorious Mafia Criminals such asScarfaceAl Capone and Lucky Luciano to rise to power and gain fame.  (As a side note, I am incredibly sorry about using the History Channel but you see History as a subject has been rather slow on embracing the internet, so to find great articles and sources I would have to go through databases which are not commercially available to everyone.) It is no wonder that during this time film makers see the potential in releasing many Mobster related films. Then when the stock market crashed in 1929, the people needed an outlet, and somebody to pin as the “bad guy.” And who better to pin than actual bad guys? Which is why in the 1930′s there begins a rise in mobster films beginning with such films as Little Caesar (1931),  The Little Giant (1933),  and the original Scarface (1932). Which I plan on watching Scarface sometime this week, and of course there will be a blog post about it. :D