[Marxism] The Mafia as the Capitalist Avant Garde: On Scorsese and The Irishman

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Sun Dec 1 12:49:02 MST 2019

Louis Project wrote

I watched this yesterday. This is a good review, except that it and all 
the reviews I've seen so far miss what is to me a crucial point,//that 
could and should have been extended as major in the plot line of the 
film (along with the connections to "higher-ups" and the relationships 
between corporate, political and mob crime) - maybe was more adequately 
dealt with in the book, I don't know - - that The Irishman , depicted in 
the first frames as shooting a couple of helpless, unarmed Italian POWs 
in cold blood and casually walking away, is simply following orders, 
convenient to the "higher-ups." This follows throughout the film. He is 
a guy conditioned by his war experience to simply follow orders, from 
"higher ups," without question and without feeling. And walk away, 
except for the largely unexplored but ubiquitous PTSD. And reject 
religious expiation because he can feel no remorse; except for his 
daughters, his nuclear "family," and the Mafia, his extended family. To 
one of his daughters, his explanation is simply and lamely that he was 
protecting them because "there's lots of bad guys out there."

In the beginning of the film this aspect of following orders without 
question as extending from Sheeran's military conditioning should have 
been emphasized, drawn out and alluded to frequently. Thereby the 
millions who will watch this star-studded, Academy award-prone high 
point of Scorsese's career would have had the point saturated within 
them as they reflect on the message.

This message could also bring home the US's increasing dependence on 
raw, remote, technologically driven military weapons, peddled to 
dictators and proxy ruling families and rained indiscriminately by the 
US military on whole populations foreign and soon probably domestic, to 
preserve threatened US hegemony in consequence of the waning of legitimacy.

The message underplayed, that the military takes draftees and the poor 
and uneducated, teaches them to hate other hapless people and then 
teaches them to kill those people, without conscious feeling beyond 
hatred of the other, calls to mind the footage made notorious by Chelsea 
Manning and Julian Assange of the helicopter-borne US military war 
criminals mowing down unarmed, clueless Arabs, with pure loathing and 
with complete official impunity. And like the "soldier of the King" Lord 
Jeffrey Amherst, "looking around for more when they were through." And 
finding their more in the rescuers and children in the van, who come to 
haul away the dead bodies.

That's where we seem headed, increasingly. This is a Roy Cohn world, 
unbridled. We've certainly been there all along and not just with Trump, 
but never before with the intensity, lethality and potentially 
devastating consequences we face now.

As I recall, in the discussion among the principals following the film, 
Scorsese alludes to the effects of The Irishman's WW2 experience as a 
major element, but he seems to have decided to dismiss it, largely 
because I gather the major actors were so well-known to the audience, 
and he couldn't extend the anti-aging technology back to do any detailed 
treatment of that period or plausibly use a younger version of the 
iconic De Niro, played by a younger actor./
I think, given the possibilities available and obvious, eliding this 
element is a major flaw of the film which could have greatly amplified 
its power./
/From the review:

"The Irishman is the mob film for the era of Trump, not to mention 
Netanyahu, Erdogan, Bolsonaro and the many other “world leaders” with 
unhidden connections to the criminal (not so) underworld.

Like Buffalino, he dies alone, with no family but the church.

The previous films were about the Mafia supplying a need to American 
society and were critiques that addressed the audience of the eighties 
and nineties, one still presupposing a formal separation between 
organized crime and the ruling class as a whole.

it is implied that perhaps the mob was involved in the Kennedy 
assassination but this is an afterthought. The point of the inclusion is 
again counter-intuitive. Buffalino and Sheeran, mob middle management 
and soldier alike are mournful in spite of themselves, but Hoffa, if 
anything is happy. He refuses to fly the flags at Teamster headquarters 
at half mast.

They inevitably turn to the church, the last refuge of the scoundrel.

The Irishman//is the end of the mob film as statement, the end of the 
figure of the Mafia. This signifier no longer has the power it once had, 
as it fades into the ruling class itself. Fading away is what these 
figures do. The classical tragedy is not how it ends, but its 
inscription of tragedy rightfully onto this tragic history of gangster 
involvement in the labor movement, forcing Sheeran to think he can play 
both sides. For a time both sides really are inseparable. He was after 
all first approached by a mobster with a sign of solidarity, helping 
with a problem with his truck. And he couldn’t help but feel that sense 
of solidarity, even as he violated it. Of course he outlives everyone 
else and wears his Teamster hat to the end. It is here, not with Hoffa, 
that one sees the victory of business unionism, as conjured up by Scorsese."

The Red Wedge looks like a promising journal. From their editorial 
statement: "...we enter the hidden abode of cultural production from a 
wide variety of standpoints and a shared commitment to the communist 
project." Much needed, to infuse the socialist message much more deeply 
into the potentially profound realm of cultural production. Where have 
we been since Salt of the Earth?

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