“We talk through our guns”. I was 8 when, passing by the headquarters of a mafia clan to reach my school, I heard this sentence. It’s a memory that periodically emerges from the depths of my mind, often in conjunction with one of the many acts of violence linked to the feuds among Neapolitan criminal cartels. It seems to be a clear and demonstrated truth: for instance, the war between local gangs Ascione – Papale and Birra – Iacomino killed 18 mobsters and wounded several people, between 2007 and 2008. The latter is one of the most recent mafia wars, and many examples are from that experience.
Wars and murders make many people think that weapons are the best means of communication for mafia groups, but that is incorrect. Actually, these organizations’ power is widely based on the ability to communicate to people, in various forms, their dominion over the territory, the capability to dispense life and death, success and failure, favours and punishments. “It is usually hard to find solid evidence about the power of communication”, Mario Morcellini, Professor and Director of the Department of Communication and Social Research at the University of Rome “Sapienza”, says. “On the contrary, when we see how criminal cartels use communication, this power appears to be crystal clear. They are enterprises, built on a communicative and symbolic dimension, and communication is the most valuable commodity they sell”.
These criminal organizations have extensive and articulated communication strategies, which mix traditional ways to communicate with new and technological ones. Guns, parts of animals delivered to intimidate people, Skype, and the radio, to name but a few. The cases of journalists Giancarlo Siani, killed 28 years ago by Neapolitan mafia, Rosaria Capacchione, Roberto Saviano, and many others threatened because of their articles, show how mafia bosses have always paid great attention to communication.
Traditional communication. There are some traditional ways used by criminal cartels to communicate, and some of them have been depicted in famous movies. Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather”, for example, shows the communicative use of animals: fishes wrapped in a bulletproof vest meaning that the owner of that vest is now sleeping with the fishes. In this case, cinema is not too distant from reality.
Blackmailing is a fundamental criminal ritual. Shooting at shop windows, and burning cars are the most common messages. Sometimes, instead, the communication is more symbolic. In September 2008, after the City of Ercolano pulled down several illegal buildings, the official responsible for that program received a pig’s head with a knife in its skull, and a letter with insults and threats. Clear allusion to that person’s qualities and the potential "risks" of his job.
Cinema and criminal cartels have a two-way relationship: the first depicts the second, which, in turn, is fascinated by the cinema. Movies like Scarface and Pulp Fiction feed criminals’...