Law enforcement officials would declare that the tentacles of New York City’s five organized crime families (Gambino, Genovese, Lucchesse, Columbo and Bonnano) have been severed or at least its criminal enterprises are on life support.
No matter the hypothesis, and in comparison to twenty years ago, the attention and notoriety of Italian-American organized crime families have been reduced these days to a footnote or a one-time gangster’s surname or moniker being popularized in the rap industry. Furthermore, many other ethnicities are credited with being today’s soldiers of organized crime. Yet there remains an interest, nay, a fascination in particular, with Italian-American mobsters vis-à-vis the media.
It is not something new to mention the disdain and embarrassment of how Italian-Americans continue to be portrayed in the media. This ethnic and cultural assassination of Italian-Americans as mobsters or silly juiced up steroid users, who chase after girls named Snooki, is deplorable. Although this is old news and somewhat passé to write about, nevertheless the stereotypes of Italian-Americans through the media, continues after more than a century. We are still associated and subjugated to this vile label.
The point however of this article is to explore a new phenomenon that is associated with using the proper noun The Mob. What is interesting and reaching a disturbing level as well as another bone of contention for Italian-Americans to complain about is how the Mob went from a criminal organization to a commercial “brand”. Ironically, the image of today’s Mob has grown into a cash-cow money machine similar to many of the Mob’s illegal activities. In other words, the lifestyle of the Mob is being capitalized by many in the entertainment industry or those related to alleged organized crime figures.
For instance, long after The Godfather I & II, members of Hollywood and the media are profiting on selling the concept of the Mob by creating the following: an infinite amount of catchy Mob infused newspaper headlines, movies that try to duplicate the uniqueness of The Godfather, a long running cable series such as The Sopranos, or reality TV shows like Growing Up Gotti, and the more recent Mob Wives. In an article titled Mob Wives’ show far from the Mafia reality, George Anastasia, an organized crime reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Steve O’Connell, executive creative director of a Philadelphia marketing firm, saying “The mob has become a brand….It’s not what organized crime is but what people think it is.”
Now, this phenomenon on capitalizing the lifestyle and image of the Mob can be extended to the Mob Scene Museum. Yes, you read correct, there is a Mob Museum located in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood for which entrance is gratis; it can be viewed from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm (Mon. to Sat., & Sun. 12:00pm to 8:00pm). My friend and I read the information in a local newspaper and could not believe it, so we needed to visit this museum and see it with our own eyes. On the other hand, there is also the Museum of American Gangster in NYC (and in Las Vegas), but I guess this was not enough for the public.
Unlike the sensualized newspaper headlines, movies and reality TV shows, this museum represents a dark chapter in Italian-American history; and museums are meant to teach the public about the past. Since many of us are drawn to the flawed and interesting characters of the past more than most nominal figures that are less popular and lead austere lifestyles, it makes sense, therefore, to create a museum of this sort. In addition, as a perennial student and educator of history, I can value and understand the importance of opening (in 2007) the Mob Scene Museum. I think the museum inadvertently however, glorifies these thugs.
The Mob Scene Museum is coupled with artifacts such as a revolver, prison letters and drawings by Crazy Joe Gallo, wardrobe accessories of mob chieftains such as Joe Bonnano’s shoes, and curious minds frequenting the very small museum on Broome Street. Nonetheless, like any museum there is a souvenir area, where one can buy sweatshirts, T-shirts, posters, books, DVDs etc. One unusual item for sale is a T-shirt that has the logo of the Statue of Liberty with a machine gun held high in her hand. I’m not sure how this fits with the Mob, but I guess anything goes when the idea is to make a profit.
Mob Scene Museum 396 Broome Street, Manhattan (646) 872-5682 http://www. mobscenenyc.com/