From Mob Bosses to Bankers

The 2007 finale of The Sopranos marked the end of a decades-long stream of Mafia-themed media, as audiences said goodbye to one of pop culture’s most iconic gangsters. Today, movie screens favour white-collar criminals, with drug smuggling and shootouts replaced with embezzlement and tax evasion. One thing remains the same: we love watching crime, greed and excess. But why have we shifted from mob bosses to bankers?

Since the Godfather, many of the greatest American films have dissected the workings of the Mafia. As we enjoy watching stylish and iconic actors like Robert De Niro scheme and steal, we are always hit with the grim reality of organised crime’s brutality. Think (fifty-year-old spoiler ahead) Michael Corleone having his own brother killed, or the betrayal at the end of Goodfellas. Their messages were powerful, but they were also cool and exciting and often pretty funny. Still, nothing lasts forever, and the real-life decline of the Italian-American Mafia was mirrored in Tony Soprano’vs final appearance on TV screens. Aside from some exceptions, the mob movie’s presence in today’s pop culture landscape doesn’t really go beyond parodying its clichés in cartoons and sketch shows.

The Mafia film is decisively dead and in its place stands the story of the corporate empire and sleazy CEO cheating the common man. Even Martin Scorsese, patron-saint of the mob movie, embraced this shift to white-collar crime with The Wolf of Wall Street. Perhaps it’s to do with a key event that aligns with this cultural change: the collective frustration following the 2008 financial crash has manifested itself in media that depicts the greed and incompetence of those who control our economy. In HBO’s Succession, we watch in gleeful horror at the corruption in a family’s media conglomerate, getting caught between compassion and hatred for its totally unhinged characters. I think shows like this are meant to make us feel angry. We are placed in front of ridiculous displays of wealth and selfishness to really rile us up against the ruling class, but unfortunately, this can backfire. Jordan Belfort actually gained some disciples after Scorsese’s depiction of him. There are really people out there who see a morally (and literally) bankrupt stockbroker and think, that’s going to be me one day. 

As much as I love ‘rich-people-are-the-worst’ media, my preference will always be a gritty mob flick filled with gratuitous violence and thick New York accents. Sadly some genres have a sell-by date, and this one ran out of things to say. That classic image of the wise-cracking capo with slick-back hair just doesn’t reflect the modern world anymore, and the recent deaths of so many mafia movie icons, like Ray Liotta, are sad reminders that their films are now beloved relics of the past. I can’t predict what genre will follow after the cultural zeitgeist moves on from white collar crime dramas, but one thing is for certain: it’s really fun to watch movies about breaking the law. 

by [Lauren Maclaren – she/her]

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