The Camorra is a pile of shit and Gomorrah is an ad for the Camorra

This article is a translation of a piece by Rosario Dello Iacovo which addresses the image of Naples presented by the television series (rather than the film or book) Gomorrah, and the way it glamourizes a criminal existence without making any reference to the struggling anti-Camorra or anti-Mafia movement in Italy. I thought it should have a wider readership, especially given that the series seems to have been adopted into the Eurocrime canon in the English-speaking world, and Rosario kindly agreed to let me present this translation.

If you want to see a great film about the anti-Mafia struggle, try The Hundred Steps/I Cento Passi.

I lose my patience, when my nephew answers the phone with the umpteenth phrase from the series Gomorrah. I thank the three thousand kilometers which separate London from Salento that my rage has no repercussions worse than the dressing down he has coming. He is not even thirteen, he comes from an honest working-class family, he works hard at school, he plays football well. A normal child who has the luck to grow up in a peaceful environment, but to hear him speak at times he seems anything but.

For some time in Naples youths not much older than my nephew have been taking shots at each other. Not with words but with bullets. And it is not teenage pride which is wounded, but bodies in flesh, bone, shit and blood spread on the tarmac. Is it the fault of Gomorrah and of Roberto Saviano if it happens? No, the Camorra was shooting when Saviano was still his parents’ dream of love. And long before, because the Camorra took over Naples when it entered the city on the bandwagon of United Italy plc, even if to say so seems unforgiveable Bourbonism to some. So what is the question?

It seems clear to me this morning when I read the dialogue between Stefano Piedimonte and Roberto Saviano, published yesterday on the site of the Neapolitan daily Il Mattino. I know both men. I will not say “friends”, but I know them well enough to be saddened that I cannot lay out my point of view looking them right in the eyes. Dear Stefano and Roberto, we agree: the fault does not lie with the narrator. New York is not scorned because of a series which shows one of its darker sides, and the same holds for Naples. No, what is nauseating and unacceptable is the pretence that this narrative might be educational, a means to fight the Camorra which it describes.

Will I tell you everything? This series, unlike the film and the book, is based on the mythicization of personalities. If in the work of Garrone there was an effort to identify a single figure who triggered the mechanism of identification, the series instead draws wholly on the thread of coolness. Which youth who lives in one of the areas idealized in fiction would not want to be stylish, rich, violent, triumphant, Savastano and Conte, if even those who live in the area and normal families are removed? If that story were told without a counterweight?

So there are two alternatives, without resorting pointlessly to Medea and Breaking Bad: either we are faced with a crime story with no pretence of redemption, or this series is an ad for the Camorra. Let’s not beat around the bush: if there is another Naples which opposes the Camorra every day and Saviano decides to say nothing more about it, we are faced with a narrative choice. If you decide to focus the lens in a claustrophobic manner on a self-referential context, without ever framing even the least last gasp of revenge, revolt, rebellion, you cannot pass the buck to your detractors accusing them of wanting to absolve themselves.

Does the Camorra exist? Of course it exists, anyone who has anything to do with the streets of Naples and Campania knows it well. As with the other mafias which infest this country, we need a long discussion on its nature, its structural collusion with a system of power which draws in the legal economy and institutions. But what kind of resistance does this series represent, if it deliberately chooses to show nothing but the dominance and violence of the so-called system?

Years ago—the film Gomorrah had just come out—queuing at the post office in Scampia, I fell into conversation with a youth who was there to pay bills. He told me a story of redemption which reminded me of the best of Edward Bunker. “After seeing Gomorrah,” he told me, “I understood that I would have a nasty end. I made 500 euros a week working in one of the bases of the estates, but I didn’t hesitate to leave it all to sell bread around the city.” I met him by chance two months later in Fuorigrotta. With his mother, he travelled round in an old utility vehicle: in that rusty wagon, in those faces hollowed by misery and poverty, I saw eyes that screamed revolt. Against the Camorra and against the state, complicit when not colluding.

Today instead, if I happen to talk with the youths on the London estate where I am living, if I say Naples, they answer me: “Fuck me! Gomorrah!” In this working-class housing complex, in an area of South London where very young people of a different skin colour contend with the same methods in the same market of death, from Naples there comes no story of redemption. No youth who gives it up and goes to sell bread. Only a cool story of gangsters who have learned how the smoke turns and life is lived. But most of all what is the best way to get ahead, when you are born and grow up in a place with zero opportunities like Brixton, like Scampia, like Salicelle or Parco Verde in Caivano.

Maybe those youths needed other stories. Or at least one that does not repeat that crime pays. As Gomorrah, the series, does.

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