Made Men

Mafia Culture and the Power of Symbols, Rituals, and Myth

By (author) Antonio Nicaso, Marcel Danesi

Paperback - £16.95

Publication date:

05 July 2013

Length of book:

182 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442222267

The novel The Godfather (1969) and the movie of the same name (1972) entrenched the myth of the Mafiosi as valiant knights, men of honor, and defenders of the traditional concept of family. As a result of this movie and other popular portrayals, the image of mobsters as “men of honor and tradition” has become iconic throughout America. Yet the truth of the matter belies this more noble image. The Mafia is a ruthless organization. Their concept of family is a twisted one. But viewed through the lens of popular culture, it is often difficult to separate the fiction from the reality. Made Men demystifies this image by dismantling the code of honor that Mafiosi live by, including its attendant symbols, rituals, and the lifestyle that it demands.

Since the end of World War II, the Mafia in Italy and America has undergone major changes, which are charted by the authors through the present day. Nicaso and Danesi also consider all kinds of related organizations, not only the Italian ones, including the Yakuza, the Triads, and the Russian Mafia. The authors look at organized criminal culture in general, attempting to explain why its symbols, rituals, and practices continue to draw people in, both as literal members, or as consumers of the pop culture that glorifies them. This story traces and decodes the origins, history and success of the mafia in the U.S., bringing a better, and more accurate understanding of this ultimately brutal, violent, and corrupting “family business.” It is a story that has rarely been told in this way, but which is believed, nonetheless, important to tell.
Journalist Nicaso (Middlebury College) and anthropologist Danesi (Toronto) demystify the Mafia. Instead of perpetuating the cinematic image of Mafia members as misunderstood patriarchs, the authors spotlight the discrepancies between popular culture and reality. More importantly, they shatter the myth that all Italian mob families operate alike, as well as the myth that organized street gangs, in general, are one-dimensional entities, making this book a valuable addition to the scholarship on organized crime. Nicaso and Danesi clearly show that what keeps these organizations' "thugness" disguised as honorable criminality are the cultural markers and rituals that become the social glue for members. Included in these markers and rituals are distinct clothing, vocabulary, nicknames, and initiations intended to provide a veneer of exclusivity to members. Nicaso and Danesi drive home the point that no gangs, including the Mafia, can be classified together in a homogenous lump. Both anthropological and sociological, the book is exhaustively researched yet lightly written, assumedly to reach a wider audience, particularly at the less initiated undergraduate level. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries.