The way in which each human infant is transformed into the finished adult, into the complicated individual version of his city and his century is one of the most fascinating studies open to the curious mind.--MM 1930
Everything I love about raising kids in New Guinea has now converged with exactly what’s not to love about American TV, American life, American childhood. Thanks to StarWorld on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Hats off to Bruno Latour, too, who must have called in this Gedanlenexperiment for all of us in socialscienceland.
Sandwiched between The Family Guy and Life With Bonnie we now receive Season Two of the Old Westbury Long Island classic, direct from the hearth and home of America's favorite mob progeny where Mum is a Donatella Versace doppelganger and the very samwe brand of passive-aggressive tough love that Ms Mead recognized in Pere Village, Manus, pertains. Go figger! From the faux-Gothic McMansions of Longailan to the kit houses of Madang, now we can downlink our beau ideal of pottymouthing parenting, Victoria Gotti, lame and chrome and silicon and all. Now the place that Margaret Mead put on the map for its unique brand of child-rearing, where every tot is multiply loved, collectively swaddled, and still given enough responsibility and discipline to become self-sufficient and productive little villagers, spearing their own fish for breakfast and never crying for want of a gameboy--now our happy island can enjoy weekly installments of their American counterparts in Old Westbury, where we scream expletives $%**&^##!!! while the household help wax the all-terrain vehicles, and Mom says yes to Jesus tatoos but no to handdguns (for now).
Forget the Red Balloon and Mary Poppins, we're on the Gotti bandwagon. Baby Nancy says, Bring on the hair gel!
I do want to point out, however, that the timing of all this is impeccable.
Just when I’d convinced some of my family that what we see on the tube is not really happening, we’ve strated to talk about 'Reality TV.' Not much more than a year ago we did have a long and painful lesson in what that format means today, when National Geographic Channel shot (yet another) version of the Kaningara skincutting ‘documentary’ that involved getting villagers to repeat what the producers had scripted--verbatim-- and constructing emotional arcs for characters that left everyone alittle dazed and bewildered (not previously aware that every two weeks in a life can involve a dramatic arc), while the cynical cameraman explained to me, the consultant anthropologist (and by extension, the Kaningara villagers) how these Reality show formats are bought and sold and require strict compliance to formula, lest reality become less absolutely predictable to sponsors. No ill-mannered indigenes please. Our formula went alittle as follows: Young European male imagines himself modern day anthropologist, He takes an interest in a little-known, highly exotic ritual (first made known to him in the seen in the dog-eared plates of an old ethnography), and he travels with great difficulty and forbearance to the jungles of New Guinea to rediscover this untouched people and culture and in so doing 'collect' it for his professional resume and viewing audience. Surprise! He finds our bloodthirsty savages are really just like you and me. [No need for anthropology after all!] The parents worry about their sons during the arduous confinement of initiation, the boys think about their girlfriends, and the elders of the clan are mighty proud of conserving their culture. Insight and lessons for all of us, NatGeo.
After ‘enabling’ this experience for what I pledged to be the very last time, and feeling too gutted to also handle the postproduction translations, the company urned to our friend and hero, Lawrence Hammer, who apparently needed the cash. Sometime later I received emails of hysterical laughter as he worked on the show, saying the rough cuts shots of me interviewing characters whose heartfelt and nuanced expressions are summarily steamrolled by these obtuse safari-clad 'producers' (one of whom eventually throws down the gauntlet and just feeds me the lines I need to feed to the 'character'----indicating to me that, verite and social science aside, there are schedules and budgets to be met, Nancy)---is pretty good Reality TV in itself.
So now I can present to my Sepik-Madang family that Growing Up Gotti is Reality in the same way that NatGeo Channel is documentary. You know what I mean---like the way everyone in Kaningara thought they were making a film 'about' Kaningara, when (surprise!) it wasn't about them after all. Similarly, the premise of Growing Up Gotti :
Growing Up Gotti is an American reality television series that appeared on A&E on Mondays at 9:00 PM ET. This reality program explored the everyday lives of Victoria Gotti and her three sons, Frank, John and Carmine. Victoria is an aspiring writer who has received humanitarian awards for her work on women's health issues. Frank has written a diet book and is fond of cooking. John is an honor student who is interested in studying law. Carmine is a baseball player and wishes to be either a music executive or a writer.
(No mention of a Teflon Don or Carmine Agnello, the Capo mook ex-. But I love the humanitarian award: what was that? ) Echoes of a press release Leni Reifenstahl sent round to the PNG newspapers when she came through a few years ago to shoot underwater stuff. All Nuba and scuba, no mention of her German opus whatsoever. (Adolf who?)
These rapscallions love their Mum! And she loves them back---so much so that all their banter is subtitled for added value: Dis betta be good...Humor me and pretend youse are men for a moment...Lemmetellya samting....Dats phat!...whaddayamann?
The Smoking Gun ran a parody web site of the show called Blowing Up Gotti, which listed stills ad text from a series of family visits to Dapper Don John while he was in prison, taped with glee by prison officials (now THAT's Reality TV direction).
Blowing Up Gotti tells us:
When it comes to watching the Gottis squabble, we prefer to pop in surveillance videotapes made during a two-day family visit to the Illinois penitentiary John Gotti called home (prison officials recorded all visits to the Gambino family boss)...
Despite grandpa's suggestion that he pursue a legal career, little John says he'd rather be an athlete. The Dapper Don, however, doesn't want anyone in his family leading the degenerate life of a baseball or basketball player. Bristling, the lil' wiseguy announces that he'll instead opt for a less glamorous career. That sass doesn't sit well with the incarcerated hoodlum, who threatens the kid with bodily harm and tosses him from the visiting room. Raging at the child's bad attitude, Gotti blames his own wife Victoria: "That shit comes from your fucking mother, not from me," he tells his daughter.
John Gotti criticizes daughter Victoria's handling of a problem her son encountered at school. Seems that after a classmate slurred Little John--accusing the kid (imagine!) of being a tyro wiseguy--
We're not animals," Victoria declares, recalling how then-husband Carmine Agnello--who's now serving nine years for racketeering--behaved like one when dealing with a kindergarten matter involving son Frank. The Dapper Don says his daughter and grandsons could avoid the hassles associated with being a Gotti by using Carmine's last name. "You should stay off television. You should stay off the book covers. You should use Victoria Agnello and they won't know who the kids are and they won't be forced with this problem."
John Gotti goes off on a wild ramble after Victoria tells daddy she's his "biggest fan." The caged Godfather says his real fans are people like that girl from Idaho who wrote that he is "what America was meant to be." Noting the decline of civilization (kids "imitating all these coons...imitate niggers...your president's a piece of crap"), Gotti explains why his family is a bunch of morons: "I took garbage Gotti blood and contaminated it with DiGiorgio (his wife Victoria's maiden name) blood."
In the final installment of Blowing Up Gotti, Victoria gets a scolding for failing to send a Christmas photograph to her incarcerated dad. When the Dapper Daughter tries to blame brother John, Jr. and his wife for bumbling the group picture project, the Gambino crime boss rails at his disrespectful family: "I'm not your father or John's father or these kids's grandfather." Soon, a fidgety Victoria gets up and leaves, and Gotti explains to brother Peter how visitors like his daughter are cramping his lifestyle in the federal pen: "I told you I didn't want you to bring these people no more...I laugh all day. I'm in a good frame of mind 'til I see them...fuck you, fuck you, and fuck them."
Daughter, Victoria Gotti, a famous novelist, once said her father was a commanding figure like any other dad. "We had to remain a close-knit family," she recalled. "And I think growing up, my dad executed the values and morals that he wanted us to take through life." [Well chosen words]
Earning millions from organized crime activities, Gotti insisted he was nonetheless a $100,000 a year plumbing supply salesman… Secretly recorded tapes by FBI and testimony from Mafiosos revealed Gotti as a narcissistic tyrant with a furious temper who betrayed allies and mercilessly ordered the slayings of Gambino loyalists suspected of being informers or disrespected him. …
Like father, like son. John Gotti Sr. was a convicted murder but John "JuniorBoy" Gotti denies committing murder or that he commanded Gambino soldiers to kill for him. Federal authorities have a different story. They say, in fact, "Jr. Gotti is a murderer, just like his father."
Gotti's brothers, Peter and Richard, were nominated as the boss but veteran wiseguys deemed both unqualified. A prosecutor familiar with the Gambino operation expressed dim views of the Gotti clan. "Richard Gotti is an ex-garbage man and not the sharpest knife in the drawer." Gambino's Nicky "Little Nick" Corozzo and Leonard DiMaria were prime choices to replace Gotti Sr. but Teflon wanted Jr. Gotti to assume leadership. In a ceremonial mafia-style induction, years earlier, crime boss Gotti Sr. gave Jr. Gotti a special wedding gift (married April 22, 1990) when he enshrined his offspring into the Gambino mafia as a capo…. FBI Agent Mouw would later comment, "John Gotti has done horrible things in his lifetime. He made lots of widows, but one of the worst things I saw him do was make his son acting boss. That was sealing his son's fate."
Fate bestowed consequences upon Jr. Gotti when the FBI indicted him on racketeering and loan-sharking charges. Arrested on January 21st 1998, Jr. was later released on $10 million bond. On September 3, 1999, Federal Judge Barrington Parker assessed Gotti a term of seventy-seven months in prison.
"I'm a man's man," the younger Gotti said in a hushed courtroom crowded with supporters and reporters. "I'm here to take my medicine." (Don't drop the soap John)
Following Jr.'s downfall, Gotti Sr. berated his son's "stupidity that led to his arrest" with profanity laced words more acceptable for a comedy script. During videotaped conversations between Gotti, daughter, Victoria, and brother, Peter, at Marion Federal Prison. He called Jr. an "asshole," "imbecile," and a "babbling idiot." Adjudging Jr. guilty of "stupid acts" for allowing the FBI easy access to nail him, Gotti said he should be sent to an "insane asylum." He pointed out to Victoria and Peter that only a "crazy" man would leave (in a basement) a list of names, a list bearing Jr.'s prints, the names of men inducted into the Gambino mafia. "This is stupidity down the line," he decried.
Previously scheduled for release from federal prison on September 7, 2004, federal authorities in July gave Jr. Gotti a 'bad' surprise, announcing new indictments against him for attempted murder of guardian angle founder Curtis Sliwa, securities fraud, extortion and loan sharking, including two murder conspiracies. Gotti's lawyer says, "There's not a thread of evidence to connect him with the new charges except for the hearsay information by FBI informant Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo." … The FBI says there's evidence to prove Jr. Gotti ordered crew members "to teach (Sliwa) a lesson" for berating the now deceased Gotti Sr. as a low-life gangster who deserved life in prison for racketeering and murder. Sliwa was shot and critically wounded by two men who picked him up in a stolen taxi cab outside hisEast Villageapartment for transport to Sliwa's early morning, WABC radio talk show on June 19, 1992 - four days before Gotti was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Sustaining three shots (both legs and back), Sliwa underwent operations to repair internal damage. Miraculously surviving a life-threatening attack, still undeterred, the outspoken Sliwa went on radio accusing Jr. Gotti responsible for the assault. …
For Sliwa, indictments against Jr. Gotti are a vindication of a twelve year struggle for justice. "I hope to live to see them all go straight to hell," says Sliwa. Although pleased with the indictments, the Guardian Angel founder says he knows his life is even more in danger and has hired a bodyguard. "I know ... I've got a huge target on me now," Sliwa told reporters. This guy (Jr. Gotti) has been indicted and facing the rest of his life in prison."
When Victoria Gotti heard Sliwa accusing her brother and family of targeting him for a mob hit, she gave New York columnist Ben Widdicomb an unflattering quote during the launching of her TV Show, Growing Up Gotti. Obviously referring to Sliwa's fabrication of heroic rescue efforts as a Guardian Angel, the mob boss daughter said, "You got to look at Sliwa's record. He's a storyteller."
Can we see a Sliwa spinoff? Remember gorgeous Lisa, the sexed up Sliwa?? Growing Up Gotti could run back to back with Growing Up Guardian Angel ! A real vigilante double header.What better way to export American values to the southern hemisphere'? Maybe we can download it on our One Laptop Per Child!
But finally--Just an episode suggstion for the Sliwa show. Based on Reality of course. It's 1982 in the West Village and an ex German gay porn star, Lurch, with bad English has moved into the Washington Place apartment of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club. He has just married an American friend of a friend in a city hall ceremony that involved alot of leather and a hammer and sickle pin (him) and torn dungarees and a bowling shirt (her), as the happy bride works in one of Soho's last soda shops (featured in Woody Allen's Manhattan). Here a montage of crazy kid shots and Rocky Horror piles ups in the apt bathroom. Cut to a new apartment mate, a slightly creepy Guardian Angel named Juan who moved into the third bedroom and tells paranoid stories to the highly anaesthetised cast of Friends. Cut to shots of a lovely German woman, a camp survivor, who lives down the hall and, by life's irony, strikes up a friendship with Thomas, the German roommate, whom she cuts and delivers food coupons to daily. She is Mrs. Steinberg, roughly 85 years old. Her kindly face mades the cover of the Daily News months later when it seems our Guardian Angel Juan has fled, the police have Thomas in custody, and poor Mrs Steinberg has been stabbed to death in her foyer, apparently having buzzed in the perpetrator as if it were someone she knew. Curtis declares the Guardian Angels knew nothing of Juan, that he is a would-be Guardian who rode the subways solo--nothing but a rogue Angel. Meanwhile Thomas is released for lack of any more evidence than presumed historical bigotry, and the Rocky Horror kids are left a little shook up, but undaunted in the pursuit of parallel lives every other Saturday Midnight at the Bleecker Street Cinema. 'I have nothing to do with those creeps!' Sliwa declares!