How weird the Mafia must find The So­pra­nos

National Post (National Edition) - - LETTERS - Na­tional Post robert.ful­[email protected]

Those of us who fol­low the crim­i­nal world were star­tled when a re­cent news story de­scribed what the po­lice dis­cov­ered when they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the emer­gence of an al­leged Mafia branch in Hamilton, Ont.

On a raid they found the usual: com­put­ers, bun­dles of cash, cell­phones, mar­i­juana, etc. But they also found, and pre­sum­ably tucked away in an of­fi­cial ev­i­dence bag, “a signed poster of the cast of the The So­pra­nos,” as a re­porter put it. The sig­na­tures, pre­sum­ably ver­i­fied, were a key point. The Mafia al­ways goes first class.

This means that our own lo­cal (and al­leged) Mafia are fans — or care­ful stu­dents. They are such devoted fans or schol­ars that they had to have a signed and to­tally au­then­tic pic­ture of the most fa­mous TV Mafia mem­bers at their most glam­orous. Why were they fol­low­ing the ex­ploits of Tony and the other New Jersey So­pra­nos? Were they check­ing the So­pra­nos to judge whether their own crimes were up to date? Were they learn­ing how big­time Mafia guys talk? Were they learn­ing from the So­pra­nos the tech­nique of mo­nop­o­liz­ing vul­ner­a­ble in­dus­tries, like garbage dis­posal?

But thoughts like those re­veal a sim­ple-mind view. The truth is that the Mafia is no or­di­nary band of rogues. It’s an in­sti­tu­tion and a cul­ture, dis­tantly re­sem­bling an eth­nic group. Mafia bosses and soldiers de­serve the at­ten­tion of so­ci­ol­o­gists. Their back­ground should be stud­ied in his­tory de­part­ments. In decades of ex­is­tence they have de­vel­oped their own rules and their own lan­guage.

As­pir­ing Mafia soldiers ap­par­ently con­sult the in­ter­net to prac­tice the lan­guage be­fore they sub­mit to job in­ter­views with the lo­cal boss. A help­ful site, Mob­s­peak: The Lan­guage of the Mafia, de­scribes the jar­gon and ex­plains how to use it. Care­ful at­ten­tion must be paid when in­tro­duc­ing a new­comer.

If a Mafia “made man” (an ac­cred­ited mem­ber) is in­tro­duced to an­other made man, he’s de­scribed as “A Friend of Ours.” If a new man has worked with mob­sters, but hasn’t been asked to take the vow of Omertá (Si­lence), he’s con­sid­ered al­most con­firmed, or a nearly made guy. He’s clas­si­fied as an “As­so­ciate.” If some­one is called the Boss, that means he runs the show. As the guide puts it, “He de­cides who gets made and who gets whacked.”

Since the 1930s the Mafia has pro­vided a sta­ple of movie ma­te­rial, from Lit­tle Cae­sar (1931) to Goodfel­las (1990), from White Heat (1949) to the God­fa­ther (1972). Decade af­ter decade, they pro­vide what Sa­muel Johnson called “the pub­lic stock of harm­less plea­sure.” That’s how most of us see it, but a made man must find it weird to see and hear a rough replica of his daily life.

That must be a spe­cial kind of ex­pe­ri­ence when a Mafia se­ries hits a sen­sa­tional mo­ment, as the So­pra­nos did in 2007 when 11.9 mil­lion peo­ple watched its 86th and fi­nal episode. Tony is hav­ing din­ner with his wife and chil­dren but his mind is on dan­ger. A Mafia fac­tion wants him dead (there’s been a con­flict over a garbage-dis­posal deal) and he looks around the restau­rant, won­der­ing whether this could be the mo­ment. The au­di­ence wor­ries, too. Then David Chase (the in­ven­tor of the se­ries, from the begin­ning to the end) lets the ten­sion build. Sud­denly, the screen goes black and the cred­its roll.

Did Tony get whacked? Some guess yes, oth­ers guess no. No one knows the truth ex­cept David Chase and he’s not telling.

Right through the episode, a juke­box played a tune called Don’t Stop Believin’. Prob­a­bly in Hamilton there are made men who think that’s good ad­vice.


James Gan­dolfini, left, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico, right, mem­bers of the cast of HBO’s So­pra­nos.

RobeRt Ful­FoRd

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