With the death, on June 10th, of mobster John Gotti, the era of the celebrity gangster has likely also come to an end. Gotti, raising himself up from poverty in the South Bronx, to become boss of the Gambino crime family, beat enough raps to be nicknamed the “Teflon Don.” The Teflon would turn to Velcro, though, and in 1992, he was finally convicted of murder and racketeering, based in large measure on the testimony of his former close ally Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.
For his part, Gravano, who admitted to murdering 19 people, got into the federal witness protection program, starting a new life in Arizona. This new life, however, soon became a new life of crime, as Sammy re-invented himself as a desert drug lord. The Bull, who was given his nickname as a youngster, by wise guys who observed him fighting off several older and bigger kids who had stolen his bike, is now incarcerated, and no longer under federal protection.
If it makes any difference, the 19 individuals murdered by Gravano were all fellow thugs, and he maintains to this day that he wouldn’t have ratted out Gotti, had he not thought that Gotti was going to do the same to him.
What is it about the gangster mythology, as popularized by dozens of movies, that grabs those of us, especially men, outside “the life”? What is it about guys like Gotti, who had “the IQ of a mothball,” according to veteran NYPD detective Joseph Coffey, or Sammy The Bull, who was supposedly so classless that he spit on the floor inside friend’s homes, that demands our attention?
Even if we look beyond the cinematic image, we do see a collection of bona fide tough guys–alpha males, if you will. There is also plenty of excitement, and quick deadly justice. It’s probably true that the major source of their wealth is from illegal activities that many people want nonetheless, such as drugs, prostitution, gambling, hard core pornography, and loan sharking.
For those of us who think we are alpha males, or want to be such, 21st century life holds few opportunities to express this status. Most of us don’t play professional contact sports, and most of us do not belong to elite military or police units. And, certainly, few of us can become faux alpha males like Bill Clinton, whose every outrageous move, from oral sex in the Oval Office, to stealing White House furnishings upon his exit, was cheered by a hallelujah chorus of pathetic sycophants.
And, let’s not forget, until the monstrous egos of the last Bosses were exploited by the Feds, the wise guys had a Code. They were loyal, they were family, and they stuck together. Just where can we find that now, outside the old Cosa Nostra?
The very sacred vows of marriage and the priesthood seem to mean little to many who took them. The very public accounting firms that exist primarily to protect investors appear to do just the opposite. And the very Government that should be protecting its people, is far more caught up in the sick morass of political correctness.
We see a world class terrorist being exalted to high position, and little old ladies being carefully searched at airports, while those who should most obviously be profiled walk on by. As a Christian country, we know very well who are enemies are, even if our “leaders” are too cowardly to admit it.
I have a feeling that if the mythic incarnations of John Gotti and Sammy The Bull were president and vice president, things might be far different in this country after September 11th–and I don’t mean worse. Think about it: Stand up guys in positions of civil authority, who could cut through the crud, and get the job done. No pencil necks need apply.
Some tough talk for all the fathers, and those who love them, on this Father’s Day week.