A Warped View Of Crime

By Meri Ulrich
June 7, 2012

There is a show on vh1 called "Mob Wives". It has become very popular and the women who appear on the show have become icons to some people. One of them got her own spin-off show as a result of her likability. This woman, "Big Ang Raiola" has a son who was recently busted for selling drugs and has a substantial criminal record at the tender age of 21. Big Ang took him to a jeweler on a recent show and bought him an expensive watch and all the gold he could ever want. I suppose that this was some kind of reward for being such a good kid!! The problem is that what most of us consider a "good kid" is far removed from a son who steals, traffics in drugs and assaults people by hitting them over the head with a pipe.

The other "wives" swear like truck drivers (my apology to truck drivers) and fight like street thugs. They brag about their husbands who are either serving time or running around committing crimes. They take their kids to visit these so-called gangsters in various prisons and tell them that they are going to a "college" to see their dads. The dads go in and out of prison on a regular basis because soon after they are released they break the law again and revert to what they are...thugs.

I grew up during a time when the members of the Mob were very secretive and NO ONE in their immediate families (meaning wives and children) talked about what they did or asked any questions of them. If they went to prison it was usually kept very hush hush and was often for unrelated white collar crimes like Income Tax Evasion. I knew a lot of these men and they treated me well when I was a child. I didn't find out who they were or what they did until I was well into adulthood and most of them were long dead. To see shows like "Mob Wives" glorify the so-called gangster lifestyle and pretend like it's a birthright makes me angry. I did not grow up to be a thug or a criminal. I do not beat up my friends or enemies when they make me angry and neither do any of the people I knew growing up. Times have certainly changed if what is portrayed on that show is true. The first time that I watched the show I was amazed and confused at the same time. How could these women be a part of a real mafia family? How could they sit around discussing their family members so openly without any consequences. In my time, if you had been foolish enough to voice any concerns about what the men did for a living you would be sent to a convent or if not catholic, tied to a post somewhere until you were too old to talk and needed a walker to get around. It just wasn't done and wasn't even considered. The women on this show are the granddaughters (and sometimes great-granddaughters) of the original mob members (also known as Mustache Petes) and have no idea what the lifestyle was all about when it was the real deal. Most of these men were born in Sicily and other parts of Italy and came to America for the same reason that most of our ancestors came escape oppression and make a better life for themselves. They also came to escape their own people who were the original mafia members and and were constantly fighting and warring with one another.

They usually resorted to what they knew best and eventually the American Mafia was born. It was a ruthless and dangerous group and one did NOT go around bragging about your association to it.

Now, it's glamorous and warrants various reality television shows to spread the word of what they do and how they do it. It's amusing to see them punch each other and call each other names. As they show each "Wife" they put sub-titles under their names explaining their association to a mob member and show where the person's loved one is incarcerated. They also show the difficulty of raising innocent children as single parents while their criminal spouses make collect calls from various prisons demanding goodies. Clothing, food, sexy pictures of the wives are just some of what the men demand from their wives. This is all made to appear as if it's a normal way of life and one that they were either born into or have chosen as an acceptable way to live and raise children in. This makes me angry because these neo-mob guys are usually bank robbers or drug traffickers and nothing that they do or have done is glamorous in any way.

The mob was never really glamorous, even back in the day but it was different and the inside operations were mostly secretive. They weren't any less dangerous but there was never any possibility that anyone associated with them would appear on a television show to discuss their lifestyle. There were a few acceptions to that rule and they usually featured a "Rat" like Joe Valachi appearing before a senate committee during a hearing which was televised. I guess you could call this the first mob related reality television show!

Mr. Valachi was by no means considered a hero by his former associates and his wife and children had nothing to do with his activities nor did they appear on television to cash in on his infamy.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano" was a latter day version of Joe Valachi and he was also a "rat" who sold out men like John Gotti, a more modern version of what a mobster was supposed to be. His daughter Karen, her child and even her mother have made appearances on "Mob Wives" and milked Sammy's fame for all it's worth. That's a perfect example of how things have changed and Karen's bestselling book about her life in that "lifestyle" has been on The New York Times Bestseller List. Once again, the mob has been glorified and popularized.

Recently Rene Graziano, who's dad was a member of a major crime family, was married to a man named Hector Pagano (aka Junior) who was a "rat" and even sent his own father-in-law to prison along with many of his close personal friends. Rene capitalized on this by emoting on "Mob Wives" and continued to play to the cameras for weeks on end as she portrayed herself as having a nervous breakdown. Her sister Jennifer produces the show!! The differences between yesterday and today are sharp and clear and perhaps that's why it's popular to create television programming about thugs who do nothing to contribute to society yet their wives get paid to wallow in their bad deeds.

It's all about supply and demand I suppose. As long as there is a demand for this sordid, amazingly ugly lifestyle there will be a supply of it via television and books. "Build it and they will come".


About the author: Meri Ulrich has a Medical/Legal background and is a former forensic researcher specializing in psychological profiling.

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