The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for January 3rd, 2010

Gangster town

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m hooked on a few basic cable crime “reality shows” at the moment, as I sit out the “dark and cold” season. My favorite of these entertainments, so far, is the lurid charm of “Mobsters“. Cheaply produced by overseas staff, the show presents a basic reportage of the New York organized crime story- as told by federeal prosecutors for an international audience. A topical and shallow montage of the “official” story is what TV shows such as “best of breed” “Mobsters” present, as it were or as I’ve termed it- Mobster-Porn.

What I find interesting about the storytelling technique of these shows are the usage of long tracking shots featuring Astoria which underpin the narrative. The shot above, for instance, is similar to one of the mobster-porn standbys. Usually this is used to demonstrate an ethnic neighborhood, a tracking shot interspersed with depression era stock footage of the lower east side, which birthed the racketeer focused on in a particular week’s episode.

Ironically, this is one of the nicest blocks in all of Astoria, a nearly suburban lane which abuts Astoria Park.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the past, I’ve mentioned that Newtown Pentacle HQ is housed in a Matthews Model Flat “new model tenement” apartment. The particular block I live on is the setting of much of “A Bronx Tale“- Sonny’s Bar (in reality a Karate Studio) is on the corner, as is the apartment house Robert DeNiro was meant to live in. The church seen in the film is St. Joseph’s and the funeral home is across the street from it on 30th avenue. The school attended by the kids in the film is a block away as well. Area delis and restaurants proudly sport pictures of the great actor stuffing their wares into himself and exhibiting his trademark grin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course the hollywood angle in using Astoria for its location shoots is that the older housing stock and relict buildings of the ancient village are reminiscent of what Manhattan once looked like. The radical theory of Urban Renewal practiced in the 20th century, which has only just gotten around to Long Island City and North Brooklyn using the alias “up-zoning”, wiped out the old “New York” in Manhattan.

Ironically, many of the Racketeers showcased by “Mobsters” made the predominance of their fortunes in enterprises that were directly related to this Urban Renewal. Gambling was their primary source of income before the politicians offered up lucrative construction and carting work in the 50’s, especially a certain racket called “the numbers”. Ahh, the good old days…

Fascination with the “outlaw” archetype is buried deeply in the psyche of westerners, but trust me when I say that to be in the presence of such characters is actually not very much fun. Its a little scary hanging out with people for whom killing other people is “just another day at the office”. It’s not just the mobsters that make me nervous, of course, off-duty cops and soldiers also make me uneasy. I’m no warrior.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The effect of this media imagery on the kids of the ancient village is profound. Admittedly, their major cultural influences in the decadent 21st century emanate from the violent gang cultures of the 1990’s, but maturing in an age which delights in youtube cruelty and televised urban warfare has had risible effects on the latest New Yorkers.

Of course, they aren’t acting like real gangsters, just emulating things that they see on TV- acting like actors acting like gangsters. A lot of blood gets spilled in this kabuki, but that’s all it really is, as the old rackets don’t pay as well as they used to and the new ones have a high mortality rate. Crime went official back in the 70’s, anyway, when Lotto was invented and the politicians muscled their way into the numbers. The government will be getting into the “new rackets” soon enough- organ brokering and drug legalization come to mind.

Modern New Yorkers know who runs the modern numbers racket, because the citizenry is always forced to pay “mob tax” in gangstertown, no matter who collects it. There’s only two warring crime families left these days, and they’re headquartered at executive palaces in Albany- not sipping espresso in some outer borough Salumeria.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 3, 2010 at 3:18 am

Posted in Astoria

Tagged with , ,

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