THE GODFATHER SUCKS
It’s always been a matter of personal curiosity as to why the Godfather 2 & 3 are considered untouchable movies, certainly in terms of the mainstream press. IMDB, Rottentomatoes, and so on, all list this movie with scores around 98%, and as someone who had never watched them, I had this habit of asking people I knew who were into films and production, what they thought of the movie; the answers were so diverse that it seemed to create even more confusion within me than before. What has been consistent, however, is that there is some reverence afforded to these works, as if it is not appropriate to really pass criticism on the Godfather, as if the movie was the Godfather himself, someone you don’t question. Having now watched it, the confusion has compounded into a specific interest. Is it untouchable because of the cinematography or the subject? They were okay, character development was okay, the music was okay, whatever; it was also extremely boring at times, especially when compared to other trilogies. While I, as an amateur, can accept that these are well-made films, there is something else keeping them at the top, other than “being well-made films”. The Godfather’s success is owed to its genre. Mafia and mobs as a theme have been successful for a long time, and there is never a shortage of new documentaries, films, whatever, about this topic, and now Netflix regularly have actual ex-mafia people narrating their own TV shows about their exploits. This is not, after all, an essay about why I hate the Godfather, because I don’t hate it, I found something within it that is truthful, as if it reflects a reality that really exists behind the illusion of capitalist realism. It gets me onto thinking about the Culture Industries in post-Adorno sociology; we are the industry we criticise; we enact our own demise. Even today, the idea of capitalism having a cultural wing, as a concept, has not fallen into as much obscurity as Adorno in general, it is rather one of the few things that we hold onto.
I often fall back onto the idea that our tastes are forged in relation to dominant ideologies, and that the market does not reflect genuine demand, but rather reflects what we are guided towards demanding. The main idea here, is that our collective reverence for the Godfather, or our collective guilty-obsession with gangster movies like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, whatever, and our guilty-obsession or morbid curiosity with Netflix documentaries about the Mafia, involves the small truth that exists within them. If you can accept the idea that capitalism has a cultural wing, manifesting as entities such as Hollywood, FOX, the Guardian, the media-news-industry in general, the music industry, and so on, and these entities speak on behalf of who they represent, which is "capital", then it becomes reasonable to suggest that our love for the Godfather is something trained. In this Ghetto Capitalism, we know that the State does not maintain power in the way that we have been trained to believe, but rather power is maintained in some balance between the State and the other; the underground markets are interlaced into the overground. As Capitalism itself breaks away from morality, evidenced by the undeniable victory of drugs in the war on drugs, companies like Netflix have less and less need to play into the desired narrative of the State. For example, no matter how good “The Crown” was as a TV show, it seems to offer a totally demystified and eye-opening take on the State and Crown as the status quo in British politics. Ex-mafia guys, as another example, have less need to hide, as the new culture industries, who speak on behalf of capitalism alone, actually frame mafia guys as idols; they are, after all, capitalists par excellence. A 2020 documentary on Netflix entitled “Crack”, has one 'ex-gang' interviewee conveniently state this exactly in an interview: “we were just being street capitalists”. It is as if the Godfather’s dominance over all popular or mainstream movie top 100s acts like a baroque oil painting sitting above every courtroom. A reminder that it is not the church, nor the state, who are really in power, but rather power is distributed through a vast web, upon which sit warlord-like figures. It’s important for us to know who our masters are, so we know whose orders to follow, and Netflix has become this weaponised force for killing off the church or state democracies by making them look antiquated and insane; “look what we can make movies about”.
Historically speaking, the general public of the West have only enjoyed some minor freedom to express dissent in the past century, it is a relatively new phenomenon, to be able to dissent against institutions of authority without consequences. The assumption has always been that we are allowed to dissent because our dissent has no impact on power structures, as if we are so inescapably assimilated into capital that even our protests have no power. Yet, what we see today is something of a pendulum motion, from being able to criticise the State to us being able to broadcast almost anything without any impact. While it is more subtle than the infamous image from "1984" of the TV screen dominating the room and commanding the citizen, sometimes watching something like the Godfather can lead one to that trip: here we have a white, male mafia boss, broadcasting globally, projecting his dominion globally — then you change the channel, and a 'real ex-mafia boss' is detailing how they maintained power — then you change the channel, and Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" is on, and current Fascist leaders are on camera delegating and rejoicing with ex-death squad goons, revering in their violent history. The TV is just actors, but we are all actors, this is a damned theatre of spectacular simulacra: as some people say, none of this is real, except the artillery each nation points towards the other, and the loyalty of henchmen to the boss.
There are other functional elements to Television that are also exhibited by this styling of media and entertainment. Not only does it subtly remind you that the State is partly illusory, and that power is distributed only partially across public or knowable entities. For example, another function can be to continuously entrap us in viewing everything from the perspective of the police, a form of immersive content that can incite the viewer into festishing “justice” in the form of wanting the bad guy to be captured or destroyed. The Godfather inverts this somewhat, and tempts the viewer into disliking the police, as those who begin to develop emotional attachments to certain Mafia characters begin to demonise the cops, which can at first seem anti-authority, but in reality, you move from supporting one manifestation of patriarchal-capitalist power to another — this is a drama, not just as in actors on screen pretending to be Mafia or Cops, but the entire choreography of the Mafia and the Cops is a drama, its a performative power ritual.
There are other shows which do try to explore the perspective of the perpetrator, such as ‘Manhunt’, a series about the Unabomber. In this show, you are encouraged to sympathise with Ted, the protagonist, you get a sense of how society afflicts Ted with such a weight on his mind and nervous system that he ‘snaps’. So while maintaining that Ted is rightfully imprisoned for his actions, the show also tempts you into thinking how easily you might ‘go off the rails’, by having the protagonist endure the very pressures that the viewers do. It is quite easy for someone to curse the Industrial Age while their phone vibrates incessantly as they are commanded tele-communicatively.
AGE OF AQUARIUS
Another show, Aquarius, is about Charles Manson, and for perhaps the first time, it follows the young Manson very closely, an uncomfortable proximity to the main perpetrator, you get to know them quite well, and while you may never sympathise with him as a person, the deluded romance that fueled Manson’s violence are sometimes very relatable: Manson’s dream (without the race-war part) does not seem so far away from the dream of a lot of the West, to go back to some simpler time and live on a ranch with a gun and loads of girls, and while this is obviously despicable, the largely white male audience is going to relate. In both cases, the protagonists are given the smack-down, ending up in various hellish conditions, which sharply responds to all of this emotional attachment being facilitated: you may sympathise with some aspects of the vision of these characters, but any attempt to alter anything will lead you directly to jail.
Between the lines of shows like Narcos, Manhunt, or Unsolved, and so on, there is the message of powerlessness. None of the people who are guilty are contactable, and the working class struggle is turned in on itself, like an elaborate game of cops and robbers, while the "real mafia" and politicians operate unseen, in some external space. To attack industrialised society, one must attack its representatives, most often working class graduates who were offered just enough money to do whatever they are told.
Images of the riots, whether on the news or in Harry Brown, remind us of this clear image that Byung-Chul Han describes, where we have been abandoned by the traditional masters, who now operate their systems of exploitation from far away, and the job of maintaining disciplinary order has been given to the working class. That is what is perhaps most fascinating about this all, is the missing component of any "mysterious cabal". There is no board room full of Netflix executives talking about mind control, they're just talking about projections, speculative finance; the executives are themselves enslaved by capital, serving its agenda mindlessly. In other words, the Netflix executives are not there having meetings about what kind of messages should they be putting into their next productions, they're making decisions in favour of making the most capital, based on data about sales, popularity and so on. What actually drives the creation of these movies that educate us about power is our own tastes. We are maintaining our own inter-communal disciplinary society, by consuming this kind of movie out of a morbid self-obsession, we continue to demand more of the same content. It is therefore quite tempting to say that, we are so under the influence of capital, that our desire and tastes have aligned with capital, as in we value making more capital above all, therefore we enjoy watching or consuming content that, above all, makes the most capital, and aligns with those values the most: we like branded designer clothes because we know they are produced for the less, and sold for the most, and to not buy designer means someone lost a whole load of potential efficient profit, and as good capitalists, we cannot have that. We love Mafia movies because we, as capitalists, are aroused by the thought of this authoritarian business-like approach to consolidating and managing power.
Capital is the silent mafioso, and everything we demand into existence is designed in the image of Capital. Capital is both the Mafia and the Cops; there are no sides, no teams, no humans even, just an immense loyalty to capital orchestrating a society of subjects, leading us around like lemmings by inhabiting our nervous system like an electrolibidinal parasite and dictating our desires. Film and media have documented this transition from traditional authoritarianism to neoliberalism, with the shift of power away from a single Kingly figure to a faceless parasitical energy that we all channel. The working class war on itself is the new technology of power, and we are all addicted to the spectacle of this civil war. Either we are on the front lines, in conflict with other workers, all unanimously believing in their own self-sufficient righteousness, or we are at home between shifts, watching brother kill brother, chatting about it like the audience of The Truman Show, or the Hunger Games.
Just as Adorno was concerned so long ago, the content we consume does not just distract us or confuse us, it teaches us our place in society, it conditions our desires, and it shows us the dreaded consequences of non-compliance. Take any movie, and TV show, and within it there is the fundamental structure of a non-compliant person, and a story of how the state destroys them.
As an end note, and as a means of joining this article to a later one, successively mentioned Rosi Braidotti raises a very interesting point about true crime obsessions, introducing to us the role of necropolitics. Positioned as the inverse to Foucault’s Biopower, the technology of maintaining a certain particularity of order within a large population, Necropolitics deals with our relationship between the human, and death. Rosi Braidotti describes our current era as the era of the corpse, where after thousands of years of mysticism, the notion of death has invaded reality, embodied by a near-permanent display of the human corpse all over our TV screens.