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Feature Articles


June 2015
Mafia of the Imagination

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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     Every guy wants to be a mafioso; every gal wants to date one. Why? You dare ask. Because men want to dominate their environments. They seek respect, power and influence. The imagined mafioso is that person. If he wants a steady flow of ready cash, no problem—a guy wacked, no problem—to be feared—no problem--he’ll never get caught. If by chance he is, he’ll have the best mouthpiece in town, a wannabe, who loves hanging out with wiseguys. Hey, they got style and great vibes. That’s a turn on.

     When the big man saunters into a joint, with his phalanx trailing behind, he is not your ordinary customer. That’s when the party starts. The universe revolves around his table. There is the promise of big tips and good cheer. Like a magnet all attention is drawn to the party. A Godfather-like cheek kiss, intros all around, a night of food and boozing it up, and tall tales. Decades ago in city in upstate New York, during one extended evening, I watched the phenomenon unfold. The man’s aura was unmistakable: the Pope was in town to deliver nods of recognition, and to the precious few his benedictions. The ladies at the bar were favorites—they would scurry over—a peck here, a pinch there. They were always in need of ready cash—a slow night, which he lavished with a smile and got in return what his outsized ego craved: adoration. For a seat at that table there was attached a cost. The pull was great, and I must admit at that moment I would have paid it. I wanted in on the inner sanctum, to be part of that envied elite. Just for one evening, you understand.

     Mafia of the imagination. Why this title? The public’s imagining the word mafia brings forth an image of foreignness, evil incarnate, the prototypical crime phenomenon, a diabolical group of unbalanced, antisocial persons with a certain displaced arrogance and uniquely stylistic manner. The literature on the subject of the youthful thug goes back generations. Easily recognizable by dress, these toughs (bravi, in Italian) were outliers, who resided outside the conventional societal norms, fiercely independent and fearsome. The word neurotic is defined as exaggerated normal behavior. They were confident, but supremely confident; they had egos, but vastly overblown. They rejected the community and created a tribe exclusively theirs. One thinks of the provincialism of a little boys’ tree house on steroids. The imagination aspect is that this life style has a certain general appeal—you wannabe a wannabe. Conventions are scorned. The imagined mafia has been idealized, popularized, stigmatized, and probably most often magnified beyond the limits of credulity. It’s a messy soup in your imagination. When the next person says “mafia” ask him to define it. I’ve got mine. What’s yours?

     If you have seen The Godfather film, and who hasn’t, Sicilians represent organized crime. However, let us look at another point of view. It is a minor work, seen by few, about the so-called Kosher Mafia, Mikey & Nicky (1976), a dark and disturbing drama of friendship and betrayal, bereft of hand kisses grand figures and gestures. These two Jewish gangsters in Philadelphia, both bumbling losers, will give your imagination a flip-flap. Two men, two marriages, the dark of night (the action occurs in one night), Nicky, sweating bullets, on the border of hysteria, is on the run, with his bosom buddy Mikey (Is he really?), the mob boss having given the kill order. With little purpose, they scurry from place to place, minutes ahead of a rather dense hitman, who drives aimlessly, anxious to make his daily nut; he has bills to pay. Which film best strives for realism? Isn’t it simply a matter of your mafia imagination preference?


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