I’m currently catching up on reading the September 2003 issue of The Believer which contains a fun article by Jim Shepard, ‘No Regrets: Goodfellas and American Hardball’. He compares the “honourable” morality of the gangsters in Coppola’s Godfather films with the destructive selfishness of those in Scorcese’s GoodFellas, and, all too briefly, likens the latter to the world of Enron and Bush’s government:
Part of the wiseguys’ appeal [in GoodFellas] is inseparable from what makes them so appalling. They know what they want, and they can sum it up in one word: more. Not just money and power; they have those. Halfway through the movie they pull off the Lufthansa heist, a $6 million score. And why aren’t they satisfied after that? Because they want more. It’s precisely that rapacity, that appetite, that makes them who they are, that allows them to recognize themselves. There is no end. There are only means. There’s no finish point if you’re perpetrating the kind of fraud that disintegrated Enron; there are only way stations of accumulation and deception. You go from one to the other, and keep moving. That’s the ethic on display in our foreign policy, as well: Let’s get things moving a little. Take down Afghanistan. Take down Iraq. I don’t like the look of Syria, either. And what’s up with Iran?
Part of what gives figures like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld their beltway appeal is the unembarrassed aura they project that they have done bad things and will do bad things. They cultivate that same sort of pornographic don’t-fuck-with-me-I’m-the-guy-who-bombed-Cambodia appeal that Henry Kissinger has enjoyed all these years. It’s worked for them. It’s made them the closest thing the right has to actual warrior heroes. That’s not an unimportant point: Their stature derives not from having fought in a war, but from having projected a bracing, I-never-gave-it-a-second-thought species of ruthlessness. Coppola’s Vito Corleone was deeply sad about the life he’d made for his family. Michael Corleone was steely-eyed in his resolve but, we were assured, secretly tormented and bereft in the end. Henry Hill [on whose life GoodFellas was based] made clear in every way he could that remorse or second thoughts were for other people. No hair shirts for him. Instead he collaborated on a self-celebrating memoir (though not a memoir as grotesquely self-celebrataing as the three Henry Kissinger has written) before returning to drug-dealing. He set up a website for mob buffs, including a feature called “Whack of the Week.”
And we’re the schnooks who gape and give these people our grudging or not so grudging admiration. We’re the schlemiels who shrug and think to ourselves, Well, at least they get things done.