In modern Western politics, especially American politics, it has become cliche to attack so-called “gangsta rap” in public. Indeed, like Clinton before him, Barack Obama also had to publicly attack a rapper to please the sensibilities of white America. Naturally, during these bizarre public condemnation rituals, two things go unmentioned. The first is the fact that for many years now, mainstream hip-hop’s biggest consumer demographic has been the aforementioned white youth, and the handful of record companies who control the hip-hop industry with an iron fist ensure that said demographic always gets its fill of what they want- a stereotypical, degrading image of African American culture, delivered with a safe degree of separation. What is also rarely brought up, and what is far more revealing, is the fact that not all forms of artistic expression that glorify gangsters are equally condemned. In fact, some aren’t really condemned at all.
Think for a minute about how many television shows, films and video games glorify gangsters without the slightest condemnation. Sure, people complain about the violence, but rarely if ever is there any complaint about glorifying and romanticizing the lifestyle and exploits of powerful criminals who represent one of the biggest plagues in any country. Don’t get me wrong, even I love classic films like Goodfellas, and The Sopranos certainly had interesting characters and engrossing plots. At the end of the day though, it is organized crime syndicates who, unlike street gangs, are largely responsible for the problems of drug trafficking and arms dealing which lead to so much crime in America and other locales. The whole truth is far worse though; organized crime is responsible for a whole host of other social ills and horrors that Hollywood doesn’t like to touch on.
Organized crime is responsible for human trafficking, including for sex slavery. They rob, rape, threaten and kill Mexican immigrants in the US as well as wherever else they may be engaged in immigrant smuggling. They run rings which distribute child pornography as well as produce it. They steal government money which could be used to help poor people and workers. They profit off of wars and human misery; they have no conscience nor loyalty even to each other, and every year they cause huge public scandals such as the sanitation crisis in Naples back in 2007-08. Historically they corrupted workers’ unions and were often used by right-wing governments to intimidate workers, if not eliminate them. In Russia and Eastern Europe they allow the government to kill dissidents with plausible deniability.
All of this is the work of mafia crime syndicates worldwide, but to hear Hollywood tell it, gangsters are living a romantic life of adventure and intrigue, and though it may be dangerous, it will always be glamorous. An extreme example of whitewashing organized crime can be seen in an awful “comedy” called Find me Guilty. Vin Diesel plays a member of a mafia family which lands itself in court. Diesel represents himself, jokes with the jury, and tries to convince the court that they aren’t a gang, but just a bunch of guys who grew up together and were like family. The prosecutor, portrayed as an uptight, nerdy type, goes on a rant about how the mafia steals public money, and of course, occasionally kills people. Apparently he states the truth but he is wrong for doing so. As usual, the actual victims of the mafia- trafficked sex slaves, exploited children and murdered innocents go largely unmentioned.
We need not speak only about worthless bombs that few people saw. How about The Sopranos? Tony is involved in all manner of violence and exploitation, but he is always the protagonist. This is the key thing about any gangster film; more often than not the gangster is a protagonist no matter how much of his dirty deeds we see. And of course, the extent of those dirty deeds are never shown in full. Sex slave and child porn rings are rarely, if ever, depicted.
Of course, Hollywood would most likely respond with the claim that people like outlaws. Perhaps that is true, but like street gangsters and mafia gangsters, something is not quite right. Imagine the reaction to a film about communist revolutionaries seizing their factory or starting an insurgency against the government. Such a film would be roundly condemned with shouts of “totalitarianism.” So what’s the difference?
What is a mafia exactly? It’s a collection of legitimate businessmen who use some of their capital, influence and force to open up and maintain illegal or semi-legal side businesses. Their power derives from the fact that they are essentially capitalists in a capitalist system that naturally favors them. While they end up on the system’s bad side, they have advantages in the form of capitalist property rights, plus the unequal legal system that favors those with money. Organized criminals can take advantage of political influence and pro-bourgeois laws to such extent that their de-facto illegal activities may not raise an eyebrow at all. In Russia, they merge with the government and military; the old image of some Italian family from “the old country” is just that- outdated. For that reason, organized crime syndicates are useful to the ruling class, particularly when democratic movements need to be put down while still maintaining a facade of “civil society.”
What all this boils down to is that working people need real heroes. Gangsters are parasites, not modern-day Robin Hood characters. Sure, street gangs are not a positive influence and deserve condemnation as lumpen elements, but the bourgeoisie’s repeated public condemnations of the lowly street criminals must be measured against their hypocritical stance on the far worse plague of organized crime. Our heroes should be the revolutionaries, those of past and those of our own imagination, not greedy businessmen who make more money by skirting bourgeois law, or more accurately using its inherent bias in favor of businessmen to game the system. Our heroes should be those that challenge bourgeois law in its entirety, particularly the laws of property which make organized crime possible.