Espresso-sized book reviews for readers on the go.
Deconstructing Organized Crime: a historical and theoretical study, by Joseph L. Albini and Jeffrey Scott McIllwain offers a fascinating look into how organized crime is prosecuted and defined in a post-9/11 world. Despite being an academic text aimed at those in law enforcement studies, the book is highly readable. Deconstructing opens with an in-depth analysis of what it terms “the Mafia Mystique,” a cultural construct created by the media and politicians to characterize Italian-American organized crime as a massive, nationwide, all-powerful, and secretive cabal. Two Congressional committees were instrumental in creating the Mafia Mystique, the Kefauver Committee (1950-51) and the McClellan Committee (1963). By contrast, Albini and McIllwain depict Italian and Italian-American organized crime as more dependent on patron-client relationships than a secretive heirarchy.
The book also lays out how organized crime operates on a day-to-day basis. It describes the operations of numbers, book making, and illegal gambling. This lays the foundation for their comparative study of law enforcement practices in Russia and Las Vegas. In the latter, since gambling was legalized, organized crime transitioned from gambling to skimming casino earnings. The authors also criticize the heavy-handed tactics of the Las Vegas Black Book strategy. With the public ceremonies originally intended to deter organized criminals, it came off as a sensationalized means to stereotype Italian-Americans as members of a criminal element.
The readability gets temporarily derailed in Albini and McIllwain’s investigation of globalization’s impact on organized crime, the challenge being how to properly describe the process of globalization, since it is a process still in development. After some theoretical groundwork, they proceed into important discussions on organized crime’s links with human trafficking and international terrorism. The latter feeds into their innovative discussion of the “organized crime continuum.” They lay out four broad, occasionally overlapping, categories of organized crime: political-social, mercenary, in-group, and syndicated organized crime.
In the end, the book proves useful for those searching for a more intellectually rigorous approach to organized crime. Make no mistake, this book has a catch-all approach that covers many topics and lacks depth in specific areas. It covers areas like Colombia, the former Soviet Union, and the United States, but can be a handy resource when reading about Sri Lanka’s battle with the Tamil Tigers, an organization that encompassed both political and criminal elements. The book succeeds, not in denying that organized crime exists, but in how one perceives criminal behavior.
Posted in book reviews, books, film, Reviews in Brief
Tagged academic, book reviews, books, capitalism, crime, culture, economics, ethnicity, film, hollywood, McFarland, non-fiction, organized crime, politics, pop culture, sociology, TV
Because I read a many books here at the Driftless Area Review, I can’t hope to give them all a thorough long-form review. Reviews in Brief are short-form reviews that offer a concentrated dose of information.
One doesn’t have to walk very far to see the impact of the shapeshifter on popular culture. As the last installment of the Twilight movie series lumbers through cinemas nationwide, it is important to take a step back from the marketing onslaught and Robert Pattison-induced hysterics. Werewolves and Other Shapeshifters in Popular Culture, by Kimberley McMahon-Coleman and Roslyn Weaver, approach the material through thematic analyses. The pair of Australian academics investigate how things like marriage, sexuality, disability, addiction, gender, and spirituality come to play within the novels and films.
The material covered is vast, including the Being Human TV series (UK and US versions), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series and comics), True Blood (books and TV series), Twilight (films and books), and the Vampire Diaries (TV series and books), among others. Included in the analyses are more obscure Australian novels like Jatta by Jenny Hale. For those oversaturated on the Twilight phenomenon, the “Works Cited” list offers some fascinating recommendations.
Werewolves proves its usefulness in its good timing. Coleman and Weaver investigate the numerous pop cultural pieces here, analyzing how specific treatments reflect attitudes of society at large. For those curious as to why Twilight is so huge with teens these days will find the thematic analyses illuminating. Make no mistake, not every TV series, film, or book covered here would fit into the Great Literature category, but it is a wonderful addition to the growing field of reader reception theory. (Similar reader reception studies have been done with romance novel readership.) The book is a handy resource for those interested in understanding pop cultural trends, but who have neither the time nor inclination to read through the primary source material.
The thematic analysis is an advantage but also a liability in Werewolves. The various rubrics (addiction, gender, etc.) put the primary source material through various lenses, all thought provoking. Conversely, the numerous lenses make the analyses thin and superficial. As a theoretical starting point in exploring shapeshifters in popular culture, the approach delivers. Unfortunately, the weakness shows itself most in the section on spirituality, itself a soft, mushy term acting as a catchall for ritual, religion, and cultic social behaviors. This is seen when McMahon-Coleman and Weaver apply Christian symbolism to the Twilight series. While spiritual and ethical issues like sacrifice, eternity, and morality get explored sufficiently, the analysis of spirituality in Twilight would have benefited immensely from a specific reading attuned to the uniqueness of the Mormon faith. The Mormon concept of blood atonement in a vampire novel series would have proved fascinating, along with the Mormon’s specific understanding of links between Native American and Jewish groups. In Mormon theology, Native Americans are descended from the ancient Jewish population. What does this mean in light of Twilight’s Native American shapeshifter characters, especially since those shapeshifters pass on their powers via hereditary transmission?
Werewolves is a great starting point for those interested in the significance of the shapeshifter in popular culture and how it reflects modern mores.
Posted in book reviews, books, film, Reviews in Brief, TV
Tagged book reviews, books, buffy, capitalism, culture, economics, fantasy, fiction, film, gay, hollywood, mormon, movie reviews, non-fiction, philosophy, politics, pop culture, religion, science fiction, series, sex, team edward, TV, twilight, UK, UK fiction, vampire, werewolf, whedonverse