Mama I’m in Love with a Gangsta: Our Cinematic Obsession with the Mob

By  · Published on December 15th, 2016

Why bad boys make us feel so good.

There’s nothing admirable about being a gangster. By their very definition they are criminals who harass, extort, steal, cheat, harm, hurt, and even kill for their own selfish gains and the gains of their “family,” which they view as superior to everyone else in existence. Gangsters are the worst kind of xenophobes, the empowered and cruel kind, and they view everyone outside their circle as peons to be used at best, and threats to be eliminated at worst. They are holdovers from an old world of fierce exclusion, and the less relevant they become, the more desperate and devious they become as well.

Given all this, why does Hollywood celebrate their bloody influence on American culture? White Heat, Scarface, The Godfather, Goodfellas – gangsters are the heroes of these films, they’re portrayed as self-made, no-nonsense badasses, less like ruthless sociopaths and more like noble vigilantes carving out a success for themselves that otherwise the culture would deny them. But why? Why have we taken these criminal figures and turned them into emblematic embodiments of the American Dream, that is, doing what you have to in order to ensure the thriving success of you and those closest to you? This is a question for either a psychoanalyst or an erudite film scholar, and lucky for you we’ve got the latter in the form of Jack Nugent¸ creator of the Now You See It channel on YouTube.

In his latest essay, Nugent examines the depiction of and resulting fascination with the American gangster from film’s silent era right up until the present day, when a certain amount of emotional coddling has been applied to the gangster in an attempt to understand and sympathize with the inherent sociopathy that drives them. The question Nugent asks – why do we love gangsters? – is not a new one but his approach to finding an answer is fresh and intriguing, and well worth the seven minutes it takes to digest. Long story short? Our love of gangsters might just say more about us than it does La Cosa Nostra.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist