The Economist gave the series a rave review, comparing it in spirit to “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” American-made dramas hailed as two of the grittiest crime shows ever made. It also repeated the romantic, misinformed and dangerous notion that the Camorra is just another “highly successful” international business.
Of course, like any commercial enterprise, the Camorra — and its sister groups the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta — monitors the movement of global markets, checking the competition while managing relationships with regulatory authorities.
But before being sucked in by the series, viewers should know the crucial differences between Italian organized crime groups and successful businesses, which the gushing British review forgot — or wasn’t aware enough — to mention.
First, money and the quest for profitability are not what motivate these groups. Power does. Or as the sanitized version of southern Italian proverb goes: “Being in command is better than sex.”
The economic interests of crime bosses may be global, but their sense of personal worth and their power base remains astonishingly local. Italian judicial authorities were surprised to learn from wiretaps just how angry bosses became when the state confiscated even low value property. Holding that property was a way of showing locals who controls what.
Second, no matter their structure — the Cosa Nostra’s military hierarchy or the cellular groupings of the ‘ndrangheta — all Italian crime groups use family as a model. And it’s not “Modern Family.” It is a pre-Enlightenment, feudal family based on blood ties and dogmatism. Members are either in or they’re out. The family balances a “paternal” element of fear and obedience with a “maternal” element of protection and security. The Economist may claim that the Camorra rewards innovation, but clan interests ultimately override individual identity and autonomous thinking. Trust is not an option, even in the most intimate circles.
Outside Mafia-land, businesses are just businesses. Inside Mafia-land, there’s an intermingling of the personal and the “professional,” same with “investors” and “managers.” Relationships are based on collusion or coercion rather than choice or collaboration. Violence and the threat of violence glue it all together.Failure to conform when choosing a spouse, hiring an employee or electing an official can trigger such violence. The lack of trust further limits basic human choices.