Category Archives: Followups

Follow Up: A Lit Review of Humor

vindsie

so I’ve been studying humor theory in literature and psychology, and it usually boils down to one of three things:

1. condescending/superiority theory (Bergman, Plato, Aristotle)

2. diffusion of tense energy or relief theory (this comes closer to what the author was saying but not quite, and is of course Freud)

3. comparison between two unlike things, incongruity theory (this is the most fruitful theory imo, Kierkegaard, Kant, others) the upshot is, humor has been theorized by a LOT of…

This is a good, quick, lit review. I’m more inclined to evaluate humor in the context of B. F. Skinner, rather than Freud. That is to say, humor as a learned and conditioned behavior. Which crosses all three strands depending on the initial stimuli.

Also, because I’m more interested in the reasons, than the outcome, I’m left with some amalgamation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power, and Skinner. I doubt that was going to end up in your review.

To abuse the Mark Twain quote, at the moment, I don’t care about dissecting the frog, I’m more interested in where the damn thing came from.

In the future, I would encourage you to reblog, rather than simply commenting, because it makes responses like this easier, and because it protects your post from being eaten, the way it seems to have been. There’s clearly more worth reading here, but it ends on a ellipsis.

-Starke

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Q&A Follow-Up: Bunguo

Up front, I’m not going to be fully answering this question, just shooting down a few pieces on the way through.

About Bungou Stray Dogs- the Port Mafia is absolutely not Yakuza just because they’re in Japan.

No, they’re the Yakuza. They’re also in Japan, but the organization they’re modeled after is the Yakuza.

The Yakuza has a very specific structure where the mafia (namely Italian/American) doesn’t have as a riding a structure if one at all, in reality.

Two things. First, yes, the Yakuza has a very specific structure. However, so do the various branches of the Italian Mafia. I mean, it’s right there in the name, “organized crime.”

To your, marginal, credit, I’m going to let slide how incredibly racist this is. I just want you to think about this in the context of the Triads, the Cartels, and of course the Mafia. “But, only in glorious Nippon does civilization flourish even in the criminal underbelly.” Nope.

However, if we were to take that statement at face value, the part where the Port Mafia is organized, kinda takes your entire theory that only the Yakuza have organizational structure, and makes it sleep with the fishies.

The Port Mafia is organized crime which is the only important part- if you control the ports, you control what goes in and out…

Yeah, that’s specifically a Yakuza thing. To be clear, all organized crime thrives at trade ports (of any variety.) There’s a lot of money (either as liquid currency or in physical goods) moving through a single point. Because the mode of transportation is changing (between land, sea, and air), there’s a lot of movement, and a lot of opportunities for things to get “misplaced.” Most organizations will seek some control so they can skim off the stuff coming in and going out. After all, why pound pavement when all the graft you could ever want will come to you?

“Controlling,” what comes in or goes out; that’s not something you usually see. A criminal organization may retaliate against a specific shipper for some action taken against them. They may use the port as part of their own smuggling network. But, the act of dictating who comes and who goes? That’s far more management than most criminal organizations are willing to engage in. Except, the Yakuza.

The Yakuza see themselves as protectors and defenders of Japan, or at the very least, of Japanese culture and civilization. If you wanted to be really flowery, and were writing a manga using excessive literary references, you could even call them, “Wardens of the Night.”

As with many lies people tell themselves, it’s tangentially related to reality at best. However, that hasn’t stopped the Yakuza from seeing themselves as heroes of Japanese identity in the post-war era. One element of that is using control of the ports to protect Japanese products from foreign competition.

To be fair, I haven’t seen much lit on this behavior continuing since the mid-90s, but it was prevalent enough in the early to mid-80s to show up in some contemporary academic lit. This would have been when the Japanese economy was in a massive bubble, and the Yakuza was expanding operations everywhere it could, so the idea of them having full control over port operations in a major city wasn’t completely out there.

So, no, this isn’t the Italian Mafia, it’s explicitly a stand in for the Japanese Yokuza. It uses phonetic approximation of the word, “mafia,” in katakana as part of it’s formal name, but that doesn’t change the context, inspiration, or the organization presented.

…which [fits] with the Port Mafia authors wanting to stick with Japanese styles of writing.

Pretty sure it’s not stylistic, or at least not that simple. Several of the members of the Armed Detective Agency were named after authors who took foreign concepts or genres and adapted them into traditional Japanese styles. This also doesn’t work for the Port Mafia references, because, Mori Ōgai was a prolific translator of foreign works into Japanese, including Goethe, Hans Christian Anderson, and many others. I’m not familiar with his original work, but one of his most influential acts was the introduction of European literary critique methodology to the Japanese literary community.

I’m not sure exactly how Kafka Asagiri decided to parse these authors up. I don’t have the background in Japanese literature, but I seriously doubt it’s that simple.

It also, somewhat, undermines your entire position to begin with. If the material is heavily referential, but the Port Mafia is supposed to be the Italian/American Mafia, then the names would reflect that, with characters named things like Mario Puzo, James Elroy, and Nicholas Pileggi. Though, given the subtly I’ve seen from Asagiri, I half expect Puzo would be walking around wearing a rubber horse mask the entire time. So, probably for the best that he stuck with the Yakuza.

-Starke

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Q&A Follow Up: Domestic Abusers

inquisitorhierarch

Not sure if it matters, but I believe the anon was referring to the wisdom regarding domestic violence that states that when violent partners say “I couldn’t stop myself,” you can often examine their behaviour and find that they know exactly what the limits of what they think they can get away with are. That their violence was extremely controlled, stopping at the exact point they knew was before “too far.”

Looking at the question again, I think you’re correct. The, “other fights,” thing threw me. So, in answer to that: Domestic abusers are sub-human garbage. We’ll need a tier below that, someplace in the festering compost heap to account for the ones who try to pass their culpability off on their victims. They say, “I couldn’t stop myself,” in an attempt to blame their victim, because they’re such fucking cowards they can’t even accept responsibility for their own actions.

An abuser who only stops to avoid detection is possibly worse. They’re adding an extra, psychological level to their abuse. They stop to prevent consequences from spilling back on themselves and further isolate and discredit their victim. As with domestic abuse in general, this behavior is vile. Other factors like this make it worse.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, the psychology of domestic abusers hews very close to the psychology of bullies, with similar problems associated with a third party injecting themselves into the situation.

So, yeah, fuck domestic abusers, and I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on this part in Monday’s question, and thank you to InquisitorHierarch for catching that.

-Starke

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Q&A: Lessons from Dragon Age 2

regarding your latest dragon age analysis, you state that dragon age used to be great at one point. while i agree, and origins is still one of my favorite video games of all time story-wise, i would like to know if this is actually your opinion or just what i want to hear? because i personally think that in the latest game they really lost track of what made the past games really good, but I’m not sure if that’s your opinion.

It’s not. I found Origins underwhelming, with both design, writing, and business decisions that I’d call questionable at best. The business decisions fall well outside the scope of this blog, and I covered my issue with the game design last week.

I realize it’s a dark horse in the fandom, but the only Dragon Age game I really like is 2.  The writing does a couple things very well, giving the game a truly unique flavor from the rest of Bioware’s releases. That’s kind of the problem. So, there’s four things discuss, that are worth taking a moment.

Dragon Age 2 does a good job with shades of gray morality. In most Bioware titles, it’s easy to identify the good/evil dynamic. To borrow a phrase, your choices split between being a saint, or eating babies. That’s not true in DA2. The game presents you with a lot of situations where both sides have legitimate positions, and you’re left with some difficult choices. This can easily leave you feeling like, no matter which way you went, you’d made a mistake. There’s a true to life quality to this, and it fits well with the overarching tone the game is following, but if you came here for a conventional power fantasy, the game shanks you at almost every turn. This is something that Origins claimed it would do, but 2 delivered, and the community’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.

It’s story and setting are serious, it’s characters aren’t. Origins and Inquisition both inject their humor into the events around the characters. Sometimes these are the result of character action, but often these jokes are delivered deadpan by the world. This is a familiar beat in tabletop roleplaying games, where the GM chooses to be a smart ass for a second, but it’s incongruous with the setting that the development team was trying to sell.

DA2 doesn’t do this, nearly as much. Most of the humor there comes directly from the characters responding to the horrific events around them. Again, there’s an uncomfortable truth to this kind of behavior; humor is often a defense mechanism. It’s a way to deal with things that are too horrible to deal with. In contrast to a normal heroic story, this is an arc of people falling apart, or struggling against it. There’s a corrosive quality to the events story, where characters simply trying to survive and cope with the things they’ve seen. This can leave you with the impression that these are truly horrible people, and over the course of the story, a few of the recurring characters become far less palatable than they were at the beginning.

It violates audience expectations from the developer. This isn’t automatically a good thing, and the fan reaction can probably serve as a warning against this kind of behavior. DA2 is very critical of the normal Bioware game, to the extent that it’s almost an inversion. Your character starts in a relatively stable city surrounded by loyal friends and family, but as the story progresses, the city falls to ruin, the friends and family start to scatter or die. While Hawke, the protagonist, becomes more politically important, they become more disconnected and isolated. The opening cutscene even tells you, this isn’t the story of how a scrappy hero arrived to save the day, it’s the story about how someone who tried to make things better served as a catalyst for the unspoken chaos that followed. This is more in line with authors like Michael Moorcock than Bioware’s normal stable.

If you picked up 2 after playing Origins,  you’d be greeted by a mostly unfamiliar setting. There are some superficial similarities, the game’s prologue and first chapter play out during the events of Origins, however, almost immediately the tone is unrecognizable, for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, Dragon Age 2 is in a completely different fantasy genre from every other game in the series.

I mentioned Michael Moorcock earlier, and there are some hints of Elric of Melniboné in Dragon Age 2, but the major influence, visible up front, is Lankhmar. From Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, the city of Lankhmar was a fantasy pastiche of contemporary New York City. The strange confounding, almost ungovernable mess should be immediately familiar to any player who spent any time wandering Kirkwall in Dragon Age 2. The similarities aren’t just in the architecture or denizens, but in the borderline feral quality that resists governing. Leiber’s opportunistic rogues are also instantly recognizable as kindred spirits for Hawke and party. Even the narrative structure of the game, as multiple semi-connected vignettes is very reminiscent of the short stories. There’s still a lot of Warhammer here, but it’s marinating with a diverse array of influences, and the result is something completely different.

There are some major flaws. Some critical exposition for understanding what’s going on in the city are buried in an unmarked collectible sidequest, leaving many players with the impression that the events happened for no reason. (This may have been impossible to complete on some platforms due to a bug, making things worse.) The ending is rushed, probably owing to an abbreviated development cycle.

In spite of how the community rejected Dragon Age 2 at the time, I think it’s probably the single best example of writing from Bioware. I can understand the people who didn’t like the gameplay experience. I can understand the people who felt betrayed. They were promised a specific kind of experience, and were delivered something unexpected and, at times downright vicious. Personally, I still prefer something that takes risks, and commits, more than a writer that plays it safe, even when it doesn’t quite work out. Also, the sarcastic personality was shockingly close to my outlook on Dragon Age after playing Origins, so that probably helped a bit.

-Starke

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Followup: Mafia and Children: The Camorra

lirenel

Interesting, since I was just reading an article in the Economist about Naples’ mafia, the Camorra, using kids as hitmen: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21723865-camorra-turns-teenagers-enforce-its-rule-organised-crime-naples-hit-men-are

Okay, this is worth quickly talking about, and yes it is interesting. The very short version is that, the Neapolitan Mafia (called the Camorra) has been pushed to the edge of extinction in recent years by police.

The senior leadership of the Camorra are in prison, and command has passed to their children, literally. This means that at present, segments of the Camorra are being run by teenagers. In turn, they employ other teens, and we get the headline up there.

There’s another wrinkle in that, In Italy, children under 14 cannot be held criminally liable for their actions. At the extreme end, that (apparently) means they cannot be charged with murder if they kill someone.

So, what we have is equal parts desperation by the Camorra, an unintended consequence of successful policing, and a lack of adult supervision (in the organization itself.)

Now, one thing that is happening here is a kind of Lost Boys effect, where you have kids leading younger kids. This has never been a factor in the American mafia, but it does appear with street gangs. I think Michi wanted to do a full post on that, so I’ll let this sit there. This is a good find, though, lirenel.

-Starke

Q&A: Indirect Consequences

Hi I’ve been reading your posts on Feel Good Violence and it’s very interesting. I’m writing a story which largely centers around a Sinister Dystopian Government Agency ™ that is pretty… liberal in its use of violence, and I’m worried about FGV when there is little to no personal consequence for their actions. The narrator (part of the agency) does experience emotional/physical effects (and the “necessity” of the violence is discussed at length), but is that enough to keep it out of FGV?

Let me reiterate something, I know I’ve said before, but, the entire feel good violence critique is based on violence that exists as a power fantasy. A lack of (plausible) consequences is a common symptom, not the cause.

Those consequences don’t need to be direct. It’s not necessarily a simple cause and effect relationship. It’s also important to understand, these consequences aren’t necessarily a punishment. A character engaging in violence that then affects other characters in your story is still a legitimate consequence.

For example: if you’re telling the story of someone who, in a moment of macho bravado beats someone into a coma, and then goes on with their life, that could be FGV. However, if you’re also focusing on the family and friends of the person who’s been brutalized, the entire narrative takes on a different, far less celebratory, tone, even without applying those consequences to the character who created this situation.

Violence is not a precision tool, it spills over onto others, and affects far more than just one character. If someone bombs a bar your characters hung out at, that’s gone, it affects them. If someone is killed, it affects the people in their life. That’s a coworker, friend, or loved one, that no longer exists in their life, and that absence is something that has consequences for them. Even if the killer walks away and disappears without anything befalling them. Not everything needs to be Crime and Punishment; you don’t need to torture your characters for what they’ve done, you do need to address it, however.

This is, actually, at the core of the bully vigilante scenario we’ve mentioned several times: A bully acts against a third party, the “hero” intercedes on the victim’s behalf. The problem is, there are consequences, but they wouldn’t have fallen on the character who interceded, it would be back on the original victim.

Okay, let’s step back and apply this to your setting: You have a dystopia that engages in state sponsored violence, that’s not feel good violence. If your setting was presented as a utopia, and your state sponsored violence was somehow limited to, “only the people who deserved it,” that would be FGV on an institutional scale.

To be clear, this can, and does, happen in Science Fiction. Someone’s writing a story about their utopia, and hands the police (or military) unlimited authority to chase after whomever they want. It also exists at the core of any special cadre that operates above the law in an otherwise idealized utopia. Unless that is handled very carefully, there’s a real danger of the violence being presented as a good thing, and the resulting effects are simply washed away.

There’s a lot of room to experiment with an otherwise utopian setting, where these kinds of organizations thrive, subverting the ideals they claim to protect. It would be significantly more challenging, but if you want to wrestle with that, there are certainly things to be said.

Strictly within the context of what you’ve said, there’s a lot of room for a discussion on ethics and the state’s monopoly on violence, mixed in. At that point, a general lack of punishment for your character’s actions is a very legitimate talking point. This is particularly relevant because it can easily create personal dilemmas for your character, centered on the difference between the their ideals, their ethics, and the world they live in. Especially when they’re working for an organization that uses the threat of violence as a coercive force.

It’s also possible you may have characters who enjoy violence. In those cases, they “feel good” about what they’re doing, regardless of the consequences to others. This would probably be part of a larger critique. This is something you can see from real world law enforcement and military. The consequences become something that other people have to deal with. So long as you’re remembering and addressing that, it’s not Feel Good Violence.

The issue with feel good violence has, and remains, the idea that you can use violence as a solution to any problem. The joke, “if force doesn’t solve your problems, you’re not using enough,” played straight in prose. If anything, your setting may have the framework for an argument about why these approaches don’t work.

-Starke

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Q&A: Feel Good Violence is Universal

So I’ve seen a lot of your posts on violence but how does that stuff pertain to a fantasy novel where fighting is a character’s way of life? Like his job is to fight off monsters and stuff so does fight scenes still fall under feel good violence or any other pitfalls you’ve discussed?

Feel Good Violence is the trope which makes a lot of our readers go, “I came out to have a good time and I’m feeling so attacked right now.” Mostly because they’re misunderstanding what it means, and assume that this relates to over the top violence, or exciting superhero movie fight scenes, or scenes that are written purely to be exciting and fun. That’s not what Feel Good Violence refers to.

Feel Good Violence is about violence written without consequences and scenes that have no narrative impact, which ultimately serve no purpose in the story except to show us how awesome the hero is, by itself, alone, and are scenes ultimately not worth anyone’s time. Feel Good Violence is your hero initiating a beat down on some poor schmuck in a bar at a level they certainly didn’t deserve, where they destroy the bar in the process, and everyone cheers. If you ignore the pitfalls of Feel Good Violence, you will cast your hero as a bully and most of your readership may not notice because violence as wish fulfillment translates directly into bullying and bullying really does feel good.

Feel Good Violence is your character contextually behaving the same way as a nasty anon sending nasty messages into someone random person’s inbox in the name of their fave and then being celebrated for it. Without context, without perspective, this is violence designed to feel good and violence where the action leads the narrative nowhere.

Violence has a high price tag, whether that price is paid physically through exhaustion or injury, socially through its impact on those individuals around you and the way they treat you, and culturally through the rules and laws put down by whatever governing body rules your setting. Fight scenes are great for your fiction because that high price tag (which will impact every aspect of their life) is an easy road to high key drama with high stakes.

Feel Good Violence ignores the stakes, negates tension, and destroys drama, these scenes exist purely as an abstract and float outside the narrative’s actual plot. They do nothing, they influence nothing, they incite nothing, and ultimately mean nothing. They are the character acting without fear of consequences in a narrative sanctioned environment where those consequences can never occur because the author won’t let them threaten the protagonist. Consequences to their behavior simply don’t apply, no concept of long term pay off exists, justification is broken down on the lines of “good” and “bad”. The police officer will threaten the snitch who provides them with information, beat them up, throw them into walls, in order to remind the audience that the officer is tough. Forgetting that the snitch provides the police officer with important information, information where in the same situation and in a better narrative would no longer be available down the line when the police officer needs it.

The problem with Feel Good Violence is that consequences and fallout from your character’s actions are what create tension. In fact, most characters that general audience adore adore them in part because they’re walking drama bombs. Like the bad boy loner with a temper who punches out the school bully and lands both himself and the protagonist in detention.

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Consequences

Feel Good Violence would just have the bad boy punch the school bully, and wander away while the bully lies on the floor crying while the in-scene audience cheers.

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Poot

In characters that are supposed to be combat professionals, the mentality this trope creates will lead to abdication of responsibility and them behaving in ways that are unprofessional in the extreme. You won’t have any respect for the damage the character is capable of doing because you discarded the price tag. A real professional, or even just a recreational martial artist, knows they must moderate their behavior to react in ways which are situationally appropriate. They carefully weight their response because just hauling off on some stupid motherfucker can have some terrible consequences.

Now, while those consequences can be bad for the character in-setting they could be great for the narrative and the plot as a whole; but only if you let the consequences of those choices play out.

A cop beating up a snitch and then the snitch turning on them down the line is great drama. The monster hunter who accidentally destroys a town, whose actions have unintended consequences, or pulling a Geralt and hacking off some idiot’s hand in order to get hired for a job is great drama.

So, yes, this one applies to everything you write regardless of genre because it directly relates to the consequences revolving around your characters actions. Violence is very expensive, regardless of how fantastical the setting is. Feel Good Violence is consequence free, these scenes exists purely to make you feel good without having to worry about anyone’s feelings or anyone (you care about) getting hurt. You see the best examples of this trope in wish-fulfillment characters where the end result of the mentality is a main character becoming a psychopathic bully. At least, they will when you look at the external context of the actions they’re taking. However, if you choose to never critically think as a reader, you’ll simply absorb these scenes and cheer.

You avoid feel good violence by bringing consequences home into your fiction, and having the character’s behavior impact their daily life and how others see them. For example, if your character is a monster hunter and the monster he’s hunting gets into the town that hired him and destroys it, they’re not going to be very happy with him. They will continue to not be happy with him even if he does kill it and ultimately saves their lives. There are other consequences to be had like their homes, equipment, and livelihoods have all been destroyed.  It’s like Spider-Man destroying your car by throwing it at Rhino to stop him.

Thanks for saving my life, buddy, but I still need to get to work tomorrow.

A good way to double check yourself on Feel Good Violence is to stop and think about what’s happening context wise in your story. Most of the issues with Feel Good Violence stem from being too connected to your protagonists and trying to smooth the way for them, or engineering events to try to control how others will react. Those reactions and consequences are part of what create realism and tension within your fiction. Step outside your protagonist and start thinking from the perspective of other characters in your story, about how you’d react if these events happened to you. If you saw X occurring, how would you react? What reaction would help the story to progress?

Essentially, treat violence and your fight scenes like events actually occurring in the setting with real effects on the narrative and you’ll avoid Feel Good Violence.

-Michi

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Followup: The Mafia

Thank you for the Mafia information. You mentioned the American/East Coast Mafia is defunct. Does that mean it would be inaccurate to write about them being active in present day? Because my research still brings up racketeering and drug/human trafficking cases.

It mostly depends on where you’re setting your story. So, there is a mea culpa here; I described as defunct, based on my experiences, and some quick, cursory research focused primarily on verifying names and dates.

In the late 90s, I lived in a city that had been mobbed up, and was still working out Mob influence. In retrospect, I kind of suspect that a few of the restaurants I frequented while there may have been mobbed up.

By 2000, most mafia holdings in the United States were gone. If you lived in one of the cities where they completely folded up shop, you could be forgiven for thinking they were entirely destroyed. This would be a mistake. The very one I made when I wrote the original post. So, for that, I am sorry.

Today, America’s Italian Mafia is a shadow of its former self. They started as East Coast immigrant street gangs in the late 19th century, transitioning into a fairly developed network of criminal syndicates by WWII. The post-war era allowed for explosive growth. American organized crime, effectively founded the modern incarnation of Las Vegas, and even had extensive holdings in Cuba (before the Castro came to power.)

There are a lot of factors which lead to their downfall. These ranged from backlash growing political aspirations, to the war on drugs, the RICO Act was a body blow for the Mafia, as it directly attacked many of their methods of operation. (Specifically, it allowed prosecutors to charge the heads of families for crimes they ordered, but did not directly participate in, closing one of the Mafia’s favorite methods for shielding their upper echelons.)

Today, the Mafia does still exist in a few places. The days when they had families running cities across the nation are gone. If you live somewhere like Texas or California, the idea of Mafia operating in your city is more of a novelty.

With that in mind, the Mafia still has holdings in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. The places where they were most strongly embedded, and where they’ve managed to somewhat survive.

The other major difference from the Mafia of today, and the one from 30 years ago, is a transition towards contracting labor, rather than using their own people at street level.

So, with all of that in mind, asking if it’s accurate is a bit of a loaded question, and it’s probably worth evaluating what you’re looking at with the Mafia. I’m going to pull two specific films, because they do an excellent job of establishing the dichotomy of who the Mafia wanted to be, vs who they actually were.

There’s The Godfather, and there’s Goodfellas.

The Godfather is an opera. It’s a massive story about honor, duty, sacrifice, and all of these other virtues, layered over the Mafia of the 50s-70s. It’s also, entirely, a fantasy. I don’t just mean the events, I’m talking about the organization it presents. The Corleone Family is what mobsters idealized themselves as. This sort of shadow nobility, benevolent, and honorable (to a certain degree), never existed in the real world.

If you’re looking at The Godfather and saying that’s what you want, it’s a fantasy. It’s accurate insofar as it presents an idealized self-image of who the Mafia believed themselves to be, but it doesn’t square with the reality of who mobsters actually were.

Goodfellas is not an opera; it’s not even, strictly, fictional. The film follows the life of Henry Hill (who died in 2012), from his introduction to the Mafia as a child, up through his eventual role as a witness against the mob. It’s not completely accurate, because it does abridge a few details. Some characters have their names changed, or are composites of multiple individuals. In one case, the motive behind a crime wasn’t exactly what the film presented, though the inciting incident is accurate.

The vast majority of the film is accurate to the actual behavior and identity of the Mafia. This isn’t the noble image of shadowy benefactors guarding and shepherding their community. It’s a bunch of psychopaths, kept barely in line by the threat of further violence, who have no qualms about turning on one another to save their own skins, or over imagined slights.

In some ways, the Mafia you see in Goodfellas no longer exists. RICO prosecutions, have shrunk their influence substantially.

That said, Organized crime still exists. The players are new, and in many cases it’s transitioned to new techniques, but where there’s opportunity, criminals will find a way. Skimmers, credit card fraud, ransomware, and other cybercrimes are all far more profitable, and less risky, than pounding pavement, and threatening to rough up store owners for the contents of their till in an era when anyone can have a security camera feeding images to off site data storage.

Organized crime has embraced globalization. In some respects, this is nothing new. The cartels were moving product around in large volumes forty years ago, but, things like smuggling and trafficking are far more appealing options for the modern criminal enterprise.

The very short version of modern organized crime is, if you want to do something, you no longer need to be there in person, unless you’re moving product (this includes people) in or out. If all you want is money, you can hide halfway round the world, and let your fingers do the walking.

So, here’s a fun and scary thought: If you live in the US, you’ve got a better than average chance of having been solicited by an organized criminal enterprise in the last decade. I don’t mean a few guys showed up at your front door, I’m talking about emails. In particular, where someone would contact you asking you to accept a wire transfer, and then relay it to them. This was actually about money laundering. You receive the funds from a fraudulent credit card transaction, then move it through your account. When the charges get reversed, your transfer out is fine, but the money coming in doesn’t really exist. Another popular one, from a similar time frame, was to take delivery of items for someone (usually “away on business,”) then repackage the stuff for shipping. Again, you would be used as a cutout, when the fraud was detected. So far as it goes, some of those, “secret shopper,” programs were also not on the level, and you would have been furnished with a cloned card, and sent off to turn that into actual cash.

The trick is to get the money across national boundaries and into a safe jurisdiction that won’t assist in a foreign investigation as fast as possible.

Beyond that, most of the organized crime groups that get brought up do still exist.

The Chinese Triads are real. They’re still around. There’s roughly a dozen major Triads. For reference, the largest (if I remember correctly) is the Sun Yee On, which has somewhere around 55k – 60k members worldwide. They’re active in Asia, North America, and Europe. The Triads derive income from drug smuggling, trafficking, and counterfeiting. (Not just counterfeit currency, but also media, like books, DVDs, ect.)

The Japanese Yakuza is real, and weird. Weird, because it pops up in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find organized criminal activity. For example, it’s not uncommon for Yakuza members to own hospitals, or other businesses that usually don’t attract the attention of organized crime. The explanation for this goes back to the 80s. At the time, Japan’s economy was exploding, they were seeing unprecedented economic growth, and had more money than they knew what to do with. Japanese banks were incredibly liberal with loans, because the money was pouring in (from their perspective). This lead to a lot of Japanese businesses purchasing foreign assets, and a general anxiety that they would financially rule the world in the coming century, which you’ll find in media from the late 80s and early 90s.

Around 1991 or ’92, the bubble popped. Before that happened, Japanese banks were happy to pass loans to pretty much anyone, on the idea that it would lead to further profits. This included many members of the Yakuza. (As I recall, there’s a bit of a question whether loan officers knew they were dealing with Yakuza, or if their due diligence was just that lax.) While they did buy into more conventional organized crime fronts, like shipping or construction, they were still left with more money than they knew what to do with, and proceeded to buy their way into other industries as well. Today, Japan is still struggling to clean the Yakuza out of their corporate culture.

When the bubble burst, many Japanese investors were suddenly on the hook for massive debt they’d incurred during the previous seven years. This included Yakuza members. In the face of this some committed suicide, however, many more retaliated, killing bank loan officers and threatening bank officials. This has resulted in a bizarre situation where the Yakuza (and uncollectible loans issued to their members during the bubble) is still a major factor in their current financial climate.

So, like I said, the Yakuza is real, and weird. If you’re wondering what I meant by “economic” research on them, in the earlier post, now you know.

My reading on the Cartels is spotty. As criminal enterprise goes, they are fascinating, because there’s an entire distinct sub-culture that’s built up over the years, including a distinct musical genre called Narcocorrido (culturally this is somewhat analogous to gangster rap, though it’s stylistically related to Northern Mexican folk music.) Beyond the obvious drug trafficking, kidnapping has also been a major money maker in the region. I don’t know how tightly the Cartels are involved in that industry, but it is worth mentioning.

Major street gangs are another factor. Again, these guys are active, and real. They’re a bit too diverse to quickly categorize, ranging from small, local, criminal groups, up to transnational organizations with worldwide members in the tens of thousands. Depending on circumstances, they may be working for, or with, other organizations, or they could be operating in house.

As I said earlier, the Russian Mob is more of a catch all term for a diverse group of criminals who share a common language, rather than a true organization. That said, there are criminal organizations that come from former Soviet states, but it’s not a single monolithic entity. A lot of the cyber crimes I mentioned above, are popular money makers, particularly for organizations that never left home, and now have access to the world via the internet.

So, no, it’s not inherently inaccurate. At that point any question about accuracy comes down to how you present the thing, not if it exists, or existed.

 

-Starke

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Q&A: Trope Patrol

So, would you say that humans, who have used intelligence and ranged attacks to become the dominant species on this planet, are instead the Squishy Wizard trope?

At the risk of sounding contradictory, no. If you wanted to delve into TV Tropes, and come back with humans expressed as a single example, my first thought is actually Proud Warrior Race Guys. And, before you ask, no, this isn’t because I’m constantly writing about violence.

Basically, there’s two major pieces to this:

Compared to the other animal life on this planet, we’re ridiculously resilient. Humans can survive punishment that would flat out kill anything else. It doesn’t mean that we’re invincible, somewhat obviously. What we are is durable, resistant to poisons, (though, again, not immune, obviously).

Remember, we consider consuming toxins which will kill pretty much everything a form of recreation. And, if you accidentally cut yourself, you can use hard liquor as an antiseptic.

In particular, human endurance is one of our major evolutionary advantages, up there with our intelligence, and tool use. If you’ve never heard the term persistence predation, it’s a hell of a concept. Without advanced tools, humans can hunt their prey by simply being better at conserving energy, and literally wearing their quarry down until they’re no longer able to flee. Even in modern hunter-gatherer societies, humans can simply jog an animal to death, by preventing it from having the opportunity to rest. This has even been documented as a tactic against other predators. You don’t have to be faster, you just need to be fast enough to keep them from catching their breath, and sharp enough to find where they’ve gone. Then repeat until they’re completely exhausted and defenseless. Kill, cook, eat.

If you’ve ever wondered why humans are, mostly, hairless (in comparison to most mammals), this is probably a major factor. In extremely hot climates, sweating to regulate body temperature works far more efficiently than having to slow down and hyperventilate. Also, part of why humans can operate in climates that are too hot for our animals.

The second part is, none of that matters when you’re dealing with another human. While we are hard to kill, we’re far better at killing each other. We’ve had the entirety of our history to practice.

That is what combat technology (including unarmed martial arts) has developed to achieve. Even then, most untrained fighters can’t really do much to each other, outside of accidentally getting lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view). The real danger is facing someone who knows what they’re doing.

Take two humans who know what they’re doing, and, yeah, we are pretty squishy against one another. As I said, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what it takes to make other members of our species stop flailing and screaming. For someone or something without that background, it gets pretty tricky.

There are a lot more parts to both of these thought processes, and it is important to remember that the real catalyst for a lot of this is human intelligence. So, in that sense, you’re not completely wrong. It’s just important to remember that, when it comes to humans, we’re not really that squishy; we’re just very adapted to killing one another, which is where the, “glass cannon,” comment came from.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sword Cane Followup

kuraitenshi2012:

A way to compensate for a smaller blade is having it made with “rare metal” or with “magic” whichever may fit your story better.

I own my own cane sword as well, the blade itself was dull from before I bought it, but it’s more like a dagger.

As far as cane design, if you taper it down to a strong point it’ll be less suspicious. If you have the handle lock a pressure turn you can make it look more like a 2×4 that’s been quickly sanded and turned into a cane, it won’t be too suspicious but not completely hidden.

If we’re stepping outside the range of what’s possible, and into straight up fantasy weapons, I still adore Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. It’s not technically a sword, since it goes from being a cane to a serrated whip, but still.

-Starke