This point for criminologists due to the attitudes

This essay will discuss thecriminological theories that can be applied to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfella’s(1990).

Specifically it will look at strain and subcultural theories, ChicagoSchool theories into juvenile delinquency and street gangs as well asinteractionalist theories such as Tannenbaum’s Labelling Theory. “Goodfella’s”is based on the non-fiction novel by Nicholas Pileggi, ‘Wiseguy’ (1985), whichexplores the biographical life of American mobster Henry Hill in the Lucchesecrime family. Gang crime has become a popular research point for criminologistsdue to the attitudes and behaviours of those involved in organised crimecircles. From a young age, Hill had ‘always wanted to be a gangster’ and beganworking at a cabstand run by the infamous Mobster’s in his city instead ofgoing to school, much to the disapproval of his parents. Many criminologicaltheories can be applied to Hill’s behaviour, from the beginning of the filmright through to his demise at the end.

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Firstly, Hill’s desire to be agangster stems from their ability to ‘do what they want’ and feeling like hebelonged to something that showed group solidarity. This could represent hisweak relationships with his own family and therefore his need to become part ofsomething where he could feel loved and approved. Whilst working for surrogatefather Paul ‘Paulie’ Cicero, who was also the ‘boss of everything that went onin the neighbourhood’, by collecting loan shark payments and bets, Hilldescribes how he began to feel respected by those much older than him – “Atthirteen I was making more money than most of the grownups in theneighbourhood”. Being ‘treated as a grownup’ and being ‘looked at differently’portrays Hill’s desire for respect and approval from these male role models.

This represents features of Elijah Anderson’s interpretation of subculturaltheory in his work Code of the Street(1999). Anderson states that competition amongst the poor for legitimatework, leads to an abundance of illegitimate opportunities and in turn leads toa ‘code of the street’.  Andersondescribes ‘Code of the Street’ as a set of rules for public behaviour where’respect’ is considered a main component and therefore absence of which,promotes violence and in turn, the desire for males to prove their dominanceamongst each other. The conformity to these unwritten rules accentuates theidea of group solidarity and gang mentality, where loyalty and deference becomecrucial.  Set in the 1950’s, theGoodfella’s (1990) also depicts a time of American prosperity and the ‘AmericanDream’, a term coined by James Truslow Adams in his work ‘The epic of America’ (1931). At this time, most of the populationof America aspired to be wealthy people in comfortable professions and would doanything to achieve it. For those who felt they were not smart enough or didn’thave the time to learn a skill, deviance was a popular way to achieve thisgoal, hence the emergence of the Mafia.

Since teenager Henry Hill grew up in apoor family his desire to be rich and live a lavish lifestyle, different fromthe way his parents lived became more and more apparent as he aged.  Being permitted to park older men’s Cadillac’sand being known by the Mafioso was Hill’s own personal goal and an achievementon his way to the top of the mafia circle. This would be an example of one ofMerton’s Modes of adaptation (Merton, 1938), Innovation; Innovation occurs whenthe deviant accepts cultural goals but achieves them through illegitimate andsocially disapproved means. For example, Hill accepts his own personal goal isto become a wealthy and well respected man within his neighbourhood. However heachieves this goal through socially considered, illegitimate means, such asstealing cigarettes and selling them from the boot of a car, or stealing moneyin order to become a wealthy man instead of working for it like the rest ofsociety.                 The disapproval a teenage Hillreceives from his parents for working at the cabstand is an accuraterepresentation of Merton’s strain theory and how parental rejection and abusecan lead to a strain on a young teenager’s life (Agnew , 1992). This thereforepushes him to lash out against his parents by going against societies norms.

 From this, we see that Hill shows a clearaspiration to live within the crime family and begins to refer to the generalsociety as ‘bums’ for making a living through legitimate means. Hill alsorefers to his education as ‘government bullshit’ and views education as a wasteof time; Hill is unable to see the benefits of legitimate education as anappropriate step towards a socially accepted and well deserved future. Thispresents a clear understanding of how role models can affect the behaviour oftheir subjects, whether the behaviour is illegal or not. Hill’s associate’sgive something for him to strive towards by giving him money and opportunitiesthat nobody else can. Walter B Miller’s ethnographicresearch on the behaviour of male gang members (1958) establishes 6 mainconcerns in such an area as Brooklyn, where most of the film was set. The sixmain concerns are toughness, trouble, smartness, excitement, fate and autonomy;many of which can provide reasons for the behaviour of most associates withinthe crime family.

For example, toughness refers to aspects of masculinity andthe nature of male dominance and battles for leadership among such groups. Inaddition, we can apply autonomy, which Merton describes as a ‘strong resentmentfor interference and intervention from outsiders’. This becomes apparent whenKaren Hill, the wife of Henry, begins to explain what it was like being a partof such a controversial group; “We werealways together, no outsiders ever, it got to be normal”. Furthermore,Merton explains the idea of excitement within such groups which explains howthe crime family was initiated.

Relating to my previous point of the Americandream the need to be at the top of the social ladder, Hill and his associatesseek excitement in everyday life. This is due to the lack of opportunitieselsewhere and the eagerness to stray away from the monotonous daily life of thegeneral society around them. Hill’s behaviour is also anaccurate representation of the characteristics involved with Sutherland’s Differential Association theory (1947).

Sutherland’s thinking behind this theory is that the nature of one’spersonality relies on interaction in social groups that share similar norms andideals; he believes that most of this behaviour is passed on through imitationand Operant Learning (Skinner 1953).At one particular moment in the film, Hill faces prosecution in court forselling stolen cigarettes on the streets of New York for friend and fellow Mobassociate Jimmy Burke. At the end of the court hearing Hill is praised by Burkefor not ‘ratting on his friends’ and for ‘keeping his mouth shut’ and receivesmoney from Burke as a reward. This is an example of positive reinforcement whichwill encourage similar behaviour in the future; this reinforcement will encourageHill to feel a sense of approval giving him the desire to continue to acceptany tasks or jobs from his associates that will keep them happy.

This positivereinforcement comes hand in hand with negative reinforcement whereby badbehaviours amongst the gang are punished through beatings or even death. Bywitnessing this behaviour Hill consequently respects his associates and followsthe unwritten rules of the gang to ensure it doesn’t happen to him as wellensure the respect of the rest of the group.When Hill is well immersed intothe daily routine of Mafioso life, he begins to expect the regard of not onlyhis associates but the rest of society through their fear of death andpunishment. Hill himself begins to reward members of society to keep them onhis side, a behaviour learnt by fellow associate Jimmy Burke. For example, onepart of the film shows us Hill taking his wife to a show, he places $20 in thehand of each worker at the event that allows him to cut corners – Not queueingoutside with the rest of the public, walking through the kitchen to avoid thecrowds inside, and ensuring a table for him and his date at the very front ofthe stage. The rest of society and even the public begin to see this behaviouras normal and allow it to occur in order to respect him and the Lucchese Mob. Peopleeven begin to start doing him favours without asking, this is a prime examplehow society’s behaviour can alter and change due to a shift in authority. Witheven the police on their side, the public turn a blind eye to any crime the Mobcommits to adhere to the cohesion within the community because of theirdominance over the area.

Society’s behaviour and opinions have a great impactin the way crime occurs in certain areas and can even promote crime to acertain degree. Following on from my previouspoint, Hill’s criminal behaviour can also be explained using interactionalisttheories such as Tannenbaum’s Labelling Theory (1930). Tannenbaum explains thatthe social reaction to crime and deviance is often what makes the criminal. Inthis case, the social reaction to Hill is mostly one of respect and thereforemay explain why Hill continues to live his life in a deviant manner. In histheory however, Tannenbaum emphasises how social reaction to crime and devianceoften leads to segregation of the criminal in a negative way, although theLucchese crime family are people that are respected widely across theneighbourhood and even authority figures such as the police allow them to bendthe rules. This would therefore promote a more positive segregation of thegangsters as they are admired and considered of high regard by most of thecommunity.

This segregation also emphasises the idea of group solidarityamongst the gang and the importance of loyalty to ensure the cohesion withinthe crime family which allows them to stay ‘under the radar’ and be moreefficient when committing their crimes.In addition, in his sociologicaltext ‘Outsiders’ (1963) Howard Beckerdraws upon the conclusion that “Deviance is not a quality of the act the personcommits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules andsanctions to an offender” (Becker, 1963); This would not only accuratelydescribe the reaction of the neighbourhood to the Mob, but also the reaction bythe Mob to their fellow associates when one goes against the unwritten rules andsanctions of the gang. The application of the rules and sanctions are mainlymade and enforced by the Mob as opposed to authority figures such as the police.Thus, the reaction to crime such as murder and assault from the society’s pointof view is one of fear and panic rather than disgust and shame, allowing thegang to continue committing the crime they commit.

The changing attitudes ofthe society lead to the gangs change in behaviour; seeing how much they can getaway with and having an excessive obsession with becoming bigger and betteramongst the community and within the gang itself.                 Finally,we can apply interpretations of rational choice theory, originally introducedto us by sociologist George Homas. The basis of rational choice theory is therational thinking behind the action of the crime. It involves evaluatingwhether the benefits of the crime outweigh the costs; if they do, the deviantgoes ahead with committing the crime. For example, in one part of the film,Hill and his close associates Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone organise theLufthansa Heist, where they successfully stole six million US dollars from JohnF Kennedy airport in 1978. The rational thinking behind this particular deviantact was that having $6million would be worth the small chance they would havebeen caught before the rest of the Lucchese crime family who aided and abettedin the act and most likely would have been caught or would have ‘taken thefall’ for their superiors.

  Sincerational choice theory works hand in hand with crime prevention, this wouldalso explain why gang crime was so common in the 20th century; theabundance of opportunity related to the ability to commit crime represents alack of importance regarding crime prevention at that time. Although it wasattempted, crime prevention methods weren’t often regulated and the police werenot as strict as they are in today’s society, which may motivate certain offenders,specifically those related to organised crime. In conclusion, specific components of each theory; Straintheory, Subcultural theory, Labelling theory, Rational Choice theory andDifferential Association theory, can all be used to accurately explain deviantbehaviours related to gang crime, specifically the crimes and attitudes of theLucchese crime family presented in Scorsese’s Goodfella’s (1990). Where sometheories focus on the thinking of the deviant, others focus on the reaction ofsociety to specific crimes. By taking social reaction into account, we can seehow general public opinion changes, as well as how the development ofauthoritarian organisations have become stricter and receive more regulationfrom their superiors. It is interesting to see how a social groupsinterpretation of the American Dream can spiral out of control when it is beingachieved through illegitimate means. Furthermore, we can see how desperation toachieve certain goals can lead to a clouding of judgement in the deviants mind,believing that they become far too superior to be caught out in the end.



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