FHM asks Mafia and Camorra expert Dr Tom Behan about the new real-life mob movie, Gomorrah, gunfights, and just how bad it really is down Napoli way.
Were you impressed with Gomorrah?
I was, because one of the irritating things for me as someone who tries to teach students about the mafia and the Camorra is that if anyone’s got any understanding about the mafia it comes from films like The Godfather and TV shows like The Sopranos.
This is a film that is very different from that. It tells an accurate picture, an awful, unglamorised picture, because, simply, that’s what it’s like. This film will give people a reality check - these criminals are not nice, romantic, flawed people… they’re lying murderers. You’re thrown in without any explanation, and it’s so chilling because of it – but this is really how people live their lives in Naples.
What direct experience have you had with organized crime yourself?
Whilst I was in Italy, I’d seen a few guns go off but I’ve never seen any actual blood – it’s an atmosphere. The Camorra is everywhere, running so much of day-to-day life. Everyday you’d come across some manifestation of organised crime.
For example during the years I was there the Mayor decided to crack down on untaxed, illegal on-the-street selling of cigarettes, called the press and make a statement about it. A year or so later and a small article in the newspaper appeared, saying that the Mayor had decided not to take any action about the sale of contraband cigarettes “for social reasons”.
What that means is that if he were to close it all down, you were talking about tens of thousands of people depending economically on this industry, a camorra run industry, not voting for him and he’d never get reelected.
What’s the difference between the mafia and the Camorra?
If you look at the historical evidence, the Camorra starts a good 130 years before the mafia in Naples, they’ve always had separate histories, and the relationship between the two over which is the most powerful has oscillated over the decades. Over the past 15 years statistics show you that the Camorra is far more influential than the mafia, and it’s something that’s just not known.
The mafia has rural roots and very strong family ties, whereas the Camorra was born in a big city, in Naples, and that means it’s always been a bit different. The mafia’s traditional, men of honour thing, is a big contrast to the Camorra’s urban, unstable environment. It’s never had a ‘governing body’ like the mafia has had from time to time.
This makes the Camorra’s gangs more unpredictable and more difficult to trace. There’s no need to have family ties in the Camorra. This unpredictability makes for a bigger level in violence in Naples, compared to, say, Palermo.
The other big difference is that the Camorra is a bigger employer, which makes it more popular in the city than the mafia. Simply put, it gives more people more jobs – and that really matters.
There’s a lack of industry and a lack of basic welfare. There’s no unemployment benefit as we know it, or any housing benefit, so if you’re unemployed, tough luck. Put it this way, imagine no dole when you’re 18, no dole when you’re 25, no dole when you’re 30 and then one day someone comes up to you and offers you a package, tells you to take it from A to B, and whacks £1000 in your hand… in that context, you might do it too.
There’s an area north of the city centre that’s basically an open air drug supermarket. There, the unemployment rate is 61 per cent, which is higher than the Gaza strip. That’s why there’s so much criminality there. They’re not all born criminals – people turn to crime because of their circumstances. If there was 61 per cent unemployment in Hampstead, there’d be more crime there too.
What examples are there of arrests in organized crime in recent years?
Italian justice works very slowly. It’s very difficult to convict people accused of colluding with the mafia, as trials often only take place years after the accusation. Politicians have been known to be accused of being mafia members, only to be re-elected anyway, despite the claims against them.
Which are your favorite mafia films?
Well, besides Gomorrah… there is one film that should get more recognition in the whole mafia genre, and that’s “The Hundred Steps” – and it’s phenomenal in the sense that it’s Italy’s biggest grossing film in the last ten years and no one outside Italy has heard of it.
And the reason why is because, like Gomorrah, it breaks the stereotype that surrounds the mafia – it’s a film that fights against organised crime. Most distributers avoid it because of that, thinking it’s not what people want to see. It’s a perfectly true story, and has won plenty of prizes in Cannes and elsewhere.
Dr Tom Behan is a Senior Lecturer in European Culture and Languages at the University of Kent. His book on the Camorra "See Naples And Die" is out now. Gamorrah is out on out on DVD & Blu-ray 9th February 2009.
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