Mob activity, dominated by a handful of Italian families, has fascinated Americans since such gangs first made their mark on New York City in the late 1800s.
But for more than 10 years, one SUNY Purchase professor has made it his goal to understand the workings of collective criminal activity in Naples, Italy.
Jason Pine, Assistant Professor of Media, Society and the Arts, first began his research in Naples in 1998. He spent two years there from 2002 to 2004 and has travelled back and forth on shorter trips since then. The information he's gathered looks at the centuries-old Camorra crime syndicate through the lens of an underground music scene in Naples called Neomelodica.
He explained that the Camorra, comprised of thousands of people with a constantly shifting clan power structure, uses the underground Neomelodica scene as a smoke screen for illicit practices like tax evasion, money laundering and the trafficking of weapons and drugs. Young men who often lack education and come from poor families are attracted to the glamour of singing in Naples' clubs and bars.
"Neomelodica is mainly male dominated. These young men don't have a lot of resources, and have often dropped out of middle school. They don't have regular employment or consistent income, and they see an opportunity there," Pine said.
But these young men are often lured into a situation where they become exploited by their managers, and some are even murdered.
"The mobsters will give large loans to the singers and say, 'You need to look successful so we can build up your image, oh, and here's some cocaine, too.' Then you're sort of owned by them and they'll pimp you off to gigs so you can pay them back. It's a form of indentured servitude," explained Pine.
"Music is interesting as a display of power. Singers are putting well-known mobster figures in their music videos and there's a big erotic charge to this type of violent manhood," said Pine. "Men are always showing off to each other and women are the excuse for the mediation with each other."
In a book set to be published by the University of Minnesota Press, Pine analyzes the relationship of ordinary residents in Naples to the persistent and very powerful presence of gang activity.
"The Camorra has connections with crime groups throughout Europe," he said. "Organized crime is anti-state; it's rogue and it affects everything else. My contention is that organized crime exists in the high finance world in the Security and Exchange Commission, and that raises questions of legality and complicity."
"There are a lot of people of power in politics and the judicial system who are complicit in organized crime and are corrupted. They're either coerced into looking the other way, granting release or informing organized crime suspects of the process of investigations, or they can be paid off or forced to accept a payoff."
Pine's firsthand research, through which he possibly interviewed ranking members of the Comorra, wasn't without a few nervewracking situations.
"I interacted with several people involved in organized crime, but how do you know anything in an environment with so much secrecy, simulation and dissimulation? There were people who wanted to seem like they were tough. They were pretenders to power, but there were also people who really were powerful."
"There were situations that got out of my control," he said. "If things seemed a certain way but actually weren't, that was enough for someone to get angry."
He recalls being present for a police raid of a Neomelodica studio and fearing that the Camorra-affiliated owners would suspect him of helping the authorities.
"I'm a stranger with a video camera from America who's been [at the studio]. After the raid, I ran into one of the owners of the stations and he was watching my reaction to read if I was responsible. I had to think about how I was going to react. I didn't want to seem too artificial," he said.
Pine's book, Neomelodica Music, Organized Crime, and the Art of Making Do in Naples, is due out next year.