Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Imaginary Gangsters

SPOILER ALERT: Don't read this before you've watched The Usual Suspects.

After the alleged end of the Cold War seemingly everyone in the United States, and some other bastions of capitalism, became terrified of imaginary Russian gangsters in their midst, who supposedly were unimaginably ruthless and cruel, even compared to other gangsters. Sometime between now and then the bogeymen became Ukrainians -- and Chechens. If the unwashed-looking, stubble-faced, black-leather-jacket-wearing objects of horror in countless Hollywood movies and TV dramas aren't Ukranians then they're usually Chechens -- instead of Russians. How did this happen? Did Russians buy off the people who somehow are making us believe all this horseshit? (And why, at long last, are we supposed to believe that unimaginably ruthless gangsters, who can afford snazzy leather jackets, can't afford homes with showers in them, or shampoo, or razors?)

I'm not saying that there have never been any Russian or Ukrainian or Chechen gangsters in the US. I am stating flatly and with certainty that there have been many more imaginary ones than real ones, and I'm saying the same about Irish, Italian, Jewish, Japanese and Chinese mobs and also about mobs which don't discriminate ethnically, and I'm sincerely sorry about any imaginary gangs I left out, the list is not meant to be comprehensive.

I also wonder to what degree the types of gangs referred to in The Usual Suspects are meant at all to be understood as actual kinds of things: are there actually a lot of Guatemalan gangsters in Argentina -- or any at all? Or Hungarian gangsters in Turkey? I have no idea. Maybe a lot of Guatemalans have fled their country and ended up in Argentina and had trouble finding legal employment there, leading to suspicions about their being gangsters -- or maybe Giancarlo Esposito as FBI Special Agent Baer muttering about Guats from Argentina pulling stumps for Turkey is one of the many straight-faced details in the movie which Singer and McQuarrie want us to laugh about by the time we've seen it 20 or 30 times, no more fact-based than the story which Keyser Söze -- if that actually is his real name -- is putting together for Dave Kujan from Customs with the help of keywords on Sergeant Jeff Rabin's bulletin board. For all I know there could be more Argentinian gangsters in Guatemala than Guatemalan gangsters in Argentina, more Turkish gangsters in Hungary than Hungarian gangsters in Turkey and more American gangsters in the Ukraine than Ukrainian gangsters in the US. In most countries, unfortunately, foreigners are sometimes subject to inaccurate suspicion. And in all countries, the line between gangster and legitimate businessman is grey, fuzzy and subjective. And all over the world, our mommas love us all -- almost always much more than Tony Soprano's momma loved him.

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