The story of Mafia begins in 1930 – the time of the Great Depression, which severely crippled the standard of living throughout America. And although the city of Lost Haven, in which the game takes place, is completely fictional, the problems of its inhabitants are the same as in real cities – unemployment, poverty and rampant crime. The hard life of ordinary workers in Mafia is mentioned in passing, but it was the lack of confidence in the future that made ordinary guys, such as Thomas Angelo, the main character of the game, embark on the thorny path of gangsterism.
At the beginning Mafia, Tommy finds himself in a difficult situation – having involuntarily entered into a confrontation between two criminal gangs, he miraculously remains alive and asks for protection from the boss of one of them, and then becomes a member of it. In such situations, it is usually said that there is always a choice. Thomas didn’t have it, but what if he did? What if he kept turning the steering wheel, honestly earning his bread? Let’s see what Mr. Angelo could have expected if he hadn’t met the two mafiosi who had changed his life so drastically that evening.
Better to die old but poor than rich and young
The US economy experienced extraordinary growth before plunging into the deepest recession of the 1930s. The modernization of production led to an increase in consumer demand, giving rise to a modern consumer society in the 1920s. Fundamental changes have affected almost all spheres of life: music, cinema, clothing, food. It was a time of prosperity and new hope, aptly described by Francis Scott Fitzgerald as “a burning desire to live – today, immediately, here and now.” In the fall of 1929, a collapse in stock prices ended the fun, leaving millions of people without jobs and livelihoods.
Stock Exchange Panic, New York, USA, 1929
What did an ordinary American’s day look like? Not very happy. By 1934, about a quarter of the working population in the United States (approximately 30 million people) did not have a permanent job, and those who were fortunate had to put up with both constant wage cuts and reduced working hours. In large cities, such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago, from the pieces of which the game Lost Haven was assembled, the situation was still managed to be controlled, but small towns were less fortunate. For example, in Lowell, Massachusetts, the unemployment rate reached an incredible 90%.
Herbert Hoover, then President of the United States, believed that the state should not interfere in the regulation of the exchange market, so the whole country lived on the principle of “Eat to the crumb, wear to the hole, eat – use, and no – get by.” The vegetable gardens, where herbs and vegetables were grown, became a real salvation from hunger. In some cities, public charity gardens were created, set up in abandoned wastelands, where experienced farmers taught the intricacies of farming to yesterday’s white collars.
Unemployed people in line for free soup, Chicago, USA, 1932
Thomas stopped carrying passengers in 1930 – the time for taxi drivers is not the best. Then the number of drivers significantly exceeded the number of potential customers, and the lack of state control made every trip unpredictable, because anyone could be behind the wheel. But if Tommy continued to drive, then in six years he would have faced some difficulties.
In 1936, the New York City administration took over the business, dramatically reducing the number of taxis. Now the right to carry passengers was provided by a special token, the number of which was strictly limited. There were even taxi companies that leased these tokens to other drivers – you could make money on transportation even without your own cars! Later, other states adopted the experience of New York, and this situation persists in the United States to this day.
Herald Square, New York, USA, 1935
By 1933, Tom had a family and thanks to his work for Don Salieri, he provided it perfectly. Not everyone could boast of the same. The only possible family form in those years was the patriarchal family, in which the man was the center of attention and the indisputable head. The economic crisis, which took this man’s job, completely devalued his role as a leader and earner.
It was difficult to cope with such psychological pressure. Some escaped from problems to the bottom of the bottle, others simply left the family, ashamed of their inability to provide for their wife and children (popularly, such cases were called “divorce of the poor”), and someone finally gave up. The Great Depression was a time of struggle that seemed endless. Unsurprisingly, in addition, in 1933, cases of domestic violence and suicide peaked.
Family dinner during the Great Depression.
It’s darkest under the lantern
Parallel to the life of law-abiding citizens, there was another, dark side of American society, to which the protagonist of Mafia also switched . By the time the game began, the crime syndicates had gained unprecedented power, in no small part thanks to the US government. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, popularly referred to as Prohibition, since 1920 prohibited the production and sale of alcohol stronger than 0.5 degrees. It’s a golden age for the mafia.
Of course, street gangs existed long before the ban, but the scale of their activities was incomparably smaller. Ethnic groups of Irish, Italians, Jews, Germans and Poles were engaged in, by the standards of the 1920s, petty hooliganism – extortion, robbery, drug dealing and theft. The criminals managed to really turn around only on illegal alcohol.
Destruction of Counterfeit Alcohol, USA.
By organizing the manufacture and supply of counterfeit liquor throughout the country, gangsters have found the largest source of income, far superior in profitability to all others. Incredible profits made it possible to significantly expand the staff of organizations by hiring qualified specialists: lawyers, accountants, drivers, pilots, captains of sea vessels.
There were plenty of policemen and politicians who wanted to bite off such a big pie, which played a cruel joke in the long term – the security and criminal structures were firmly connected with each other for many years. The consequences for society were also not very positive. During the first years of restrictions, the level of crime and drug use increased by a third, in which many found a substitute for alcohol. In 1933, Prohibition was canceled, but it was too late – the financial and political influence of the mafia grew noticeably stronger, and business interests extended to other areas, including legal ones.
New York, USA, 1930
And although no one doubts the reality of the gangster empire now, it was not always so. The first public recognition of the existence of the mafia from its direct member was received only in 1963. Joe Valachi, arrested for drug trafficking by soldiers of the Genovese family, feared revenge from the boss and in an attempt to save his life gave the American Senate many details about the traditions and customs of “Cosa Nostra” (Sicilian name for the mafia).
It is important to understand that the mafia clan is precisely a hierarchical structure, in its activities based on clearly defined rules and a code of conduct. At the same time, there were a huge number of other ethnic groups with their own laws in the United States, as well as ordinary American criminals. This is how the division into gangsters and bandits appeared.
Photographs of criminals in Police Magazine, San Francisco, USA, 1930s.
Gangsters were part of the same criminal clan, which was replenished by people of a certain ethnic group – Italians, Sicilians, Irish, although there were exceptions. Being, in fact, big business, albeit illegal, the mafia tried to capture as many spheres of influence as possible. During the game, the most lucrative ways of earning money other than bootlegging were smuggling, gaming and prostitution. And in the methods of achieving their goals, the mafiosi did not stand on ceremony, because a kind word and a pistol can achieve much more than just a kind word.
Mafia soldiers, 1931
The bandits inherited the traditions of the lawlessness of the Wild West era and came from the poorest segments of the population, mainly from rural areas. Robberies, kidnappings, murders – everything is the same as what gangsters did, but without any hierarchy. Often they were hired by the mafia to do the dirty work – crimes for which the organization did not want to be held responsible. In return, the bandits used the services of the mafia, such as buying weapons, “clean” cars and medical assistance. If the perpetrator was in a gang, then the division of the booty was usually agreed in advance. Gangsters, on the other hand, rarely showed independence, limiting themselves only to following the orders of their bosses, which Mafia showed in the mission with the bank robbery.
Charlie Birger’s gang – bootlegger and bandit, 1926
The difference between American and Italian criminals is most clearly seen in the example of two, perhaps the most famous of their representatives of those times: John Dillinger and Alphonse Capone.
Dillinger, who traded in bank robberies, in the eyes of the public was almost a hero, a kind of Robin Hood, putting in place the damned capitalists who, with their speculations, dragged the country into the abyss of poverty and unemployment. Dillinger did not have any boss, he did not obey anyone and just did what he wanted, although he was forced to hide from the police.
And Capone did not hide from anyone, lived on a grand scale, donated huge money to charity and was an annoying spot for the entire law enforcement system, because the Italian could not be caught in anything illegal. Capone stood at the head of the family, all members of which were subordinate to him, and did not feel any need to personally commit crimes.
Capone and Dillinger.
Friendship isn’t worth a damn
According to Roman Hladik, designer of Mafia, the main source of inspiration for the development for the authors was the numerous gangster films, which show the life of criminals in all their glory. Such films were popular during the heyday of the mafia itself. The dwindling incomes of the population, however, limited the opportunities for leisure, making a trip to the cinema a real holiday. But cinema was still quite an important means of both entertainment and propaganda, as US President Franklin Roosevelt noted: “It’s great that for only 15 cents, everyone can go to the cinema, look at the smiling face of a child and forget about their troubles “. The president modestly kept silent about the romanticization of the image of a criminal in this very movie. In the midst of the Great Depression, the common people liked the type of bad guy who can rise to the top of life from the very bottom. After all, in their opinion,
In 1931, Little Caesar was released , one of the first feature films that did not directly criticize the gangster’s lifestyle. The main character of the film, the petty bandit Caesar Bandello, who managed to climb to the top of the criminal empire, does not repent of the crimes committed at all, and this message found a lively response from the audience. Having understood what the public really wanted, by the beginning of 1932 more than 50 films about gangsters were shown in cinemas.
Little Caesar, 1931
Both real and on-screen mafiosi outwardly looked not like street punks, but like respectable businessmen, capable of both making money and standing up for themselves. For some reason, the developers did not include the scene of the reception of the main character in Cosa Nostra in the original Mafia , but it is quite clearly shown in the sequel. All these beautiful words, rituals, friendly hugs and vows of allegiance – Vito, like Tommy, was not accepted into a yard gang, but into a real family. At least that’s how it all looked. It was only years later that Tom realized that only dirt and blood were hiding behind a beautiful screen, and yesterday’s friends would shoot you at the first order of the boss.
Paulie, Sam and Tommy, Mafia, 2002
So popular was the Mafia movie that in 1933 the National Committee for the Study of Social Values published a report claiming that gangster movies were a real educational tool for aspiring criminals. To combat the romanticization of the image of the mafia, the Association of Producers and Directors adopted a Production Code. Among other things, it said that criminals cannot be the main characters of the film, and their screen time must end either in prison or in a grave.
This is how Mafia ended . Yes, Tommy Angelo lived eight years of a beautiful, eventful life and seemed to have managed to escape from the revenge of his boss at the last moment, but you perfectly remember the ending of the story yourself. There is always a choice, but did Tommy have one? Better to let him answer himself:
I screwed it up – just like Paulie and Sam. We wanted to live a better life, but in the end we got a lot worse than the rest. You know, I think that in everything you need to know when to stop. Yes, measure is a good word. Anyone who wants too much risks losing everything. True, those who want too little from life may not get anything at all. …
Source: The Verge