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« Interview With Mike Snider, Part 2 | Main | Weekend Movie Tips »

September 05, 2003

Tacit Knowledge -- Thugs

Friedrich --

I was talking with a friend about gangsters and movies, and I was no doubt unwittingly putting on display what a smalltown rube I remain. My friend, who grew up in a genuinely Scorsese-esque world -- he still refers to it as "the Neighborhood" -- interrupted me.

"You don't get these guys," he said. "And neither do most of the movies and shows about them."

"I don't? What's missing?"

"What you don't understand about these guys is why they do it," he said.

"OK," I said. "Which is why?" I was eager for his explanation, expecting observations and insights steeped in sin and lust, at the very least.

"These guys," my friend said, leaning closer and looking around us to make sure no one was looking, "they take up the life because they're lazy, that's why. What people don't realize is that what motivates most thugs is that they don't want to have to do any real work in order to make a living. They're lazy, that's what."

Wisdom from the Neighborhood.



posted by Michael at September 5, 2003



For what it's worth, I agree with your friend. Having grown up in a Brooklyn "Neighborhood" myself, the one thing you get used to is seeing wiseguys (or wiseguy-wannabes) just sitting around while their wives get on the subway to go to work.

Posted by: Gerald on September 5, 2003 01:39 PM

This mirrors comments by Scorsese about his motivation behind "Goodfellas". He said he was tired of seeing gangsters glamorized by Hollywood, when it was so different from the people he actually grew up with. If there is one thing "Goodfellas" did brilliantly, it was to reveal why the main character is drawn to the mob in his youth (glamour, little work, easy money) and and reveals just how truly UN-glamorous his cocaine-addicted life becomes.

Posted by: annette on September 5, 2003 02:56 PM

I am not sure why watching teenagers being picked off one by one is fun, but I've always felt that audiences like thugs because there dream of a world in which being a fat, lazy, asshole who bullies everyone and gets laid is heroic and manly and traditional and stylish and whatever else they would like to be if they, the audience members, were not busty being fat and lazy and bullied and not getting laid.

Sienfield is mob genre without the killing.

Posted by: j.c. on September 5, 2003 04:41 PM

Speaking of mob dramas, am I the only person to have considered the first season of the "Sopranos" as a very funny sit-com in which the level of drama was raised to a comic level by the Mob context? You know, lots of old people put in nursing homes are resentful; in the "Sopranos" Mom actually tries to get her little boy whacked. The show was really about the trials and tribulations of the average middle-aged family man, except that--because of the Mafia context--things get "resolved" via violence as opposed to just internalized, they way they would in real life.

But then the show started taking the mob context seriously, and the humor evaporated.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 6, 2003 01:08 AM

Ah, finally a blog I can relate to! Gangsters, my favorite film mode. From the Godfather (would you EVER call Michael lazy??--certainly not to his face) to the Goodfellas, yes, the glamor gets him in the end, to Sopranos (which I DON'T miss) the life seems to be full of action, and yet, these guys seem to have it all so easily. In a world where the family biz started out as a machine to contain injustice upon the common everyday man, it has turned into something that uses violence drugs, sex, and manipulation as a means to an end. The original Godfather would be turning in his grave. Who doesn't love these films, it sort of gives us permission to vicariously live out our fantasy life of revenge and 'justice' without responsiblity. And who wouldn't want to be Sharon Stone in Casino--those clothes, the jewels, the money, the prestige (for a while anyway). BTW, Sopranos is still a bit humorous, a dark humor, to be sure, yet so dark and nasty as to be hilarious if you care to see it that way. It's edgy and forbidden, and yet we all love to be the voyeur to Tony and his 'family'.

Posted by: debra on September 6, 2003 10:14 AM

Actually, this was also one of the things I liked about On the Waterfront, the portrayal of the mob as mere thugs, using muscle just to get out of working. There are a lot of things in the film I don't like, but Brando standing up to Lee J. Cobb's boss at the end is beautiful.

Posted by: Ian on September 6, 2003 03:22 PM

All I remember about Sharon Stone in "Casino" is her screaming like a banshee, and whining about how, if Robert De Niro left her, she "got her jewelry", she wasn't going to get cheated out of "her jewelry." I could live my whole life without being that character! (Sort of like Connie, the sister in "The Godfather." Screaming at Michael to give her money). One thing that's really missing from mob dramas, except maybe the "Sopranos" (which I haven't watched enough to know) is any female character that provides women with the same visceral outlet that the male characters do. (Except Michelle Pfeiffer in "Married to the Mob."). And it isn't just that the women don't have the power. It's that the women in them are always so whiny and dumb. Do goodfellas only want stupid, whiny, only marginally good looking women?? Or is that all they can get?

Posted by: annette on September 6, 2003 03:36 PM

I think that Carmella (Sopranos) is rather on the smart side,if not quite intelligent, she is just stuck ( or chooses to remain stuck because of the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed) in a situation she can't control. She won't save her kids from the 'life' though, so how smart can she really be? However, she did use her power to get Meadow a recommendation to Georgetown). And, the other 'women' around her do defer to her as Tony's wife. And let's not forget Janice, the sister, who is at least as cunning as her brother. The other women do seem vapid and somewhat blind (by choice) of the 'work' their men do. As long as they bring home the "pasta', and they can get their (big) hair done and their (long, long) nails done...what's the harm?

Posted by: debra on September 8, 2003 09:50 AM

Criminals are, for the most part, people who want a 'shortcut' to wealth and ease. Partly because they're lazy, but also because they want to feel smarter, wiser, and more powerful than the 'straight' people. Thus the term 'wiseguys'. They crave the feeling of superiority. As A. J. Liebling quoted a fellow once, they want that 'soft dollar' so bad they work twice as hard for it, and end up with the miss-meal cramps.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on September 11, 2003 05:12 PM

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