Thursday, January 10, 2013

Floating On Brackish Water

Scorseses' interpretation of Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York resembles a dance after reading this this work of nonfiction(?). Since I can remember I've never really cared for gangs. The fascination with 'Gangland' boggles me. But this epic written in 1958, of the gangs that plagued New York's Five-Points district, now Chinatown, is comparable to Herodotus' Histories. Hegel's 'Original History' would have a commentary on this piece.  It has that nice blend of, "(What! 8 foot man uprooting a couple trees to bash his foes with! This is fiction! Or....)." I read quite a bit and I must say that no book has held my attention like this one for sometime now. I didn't put it down until I finished it (4.5h). Speaking on reading ergonomics, the wordage is not too pretentious, you may need to use a dictionary a few times because he did write it in the 1920's, and as we all know some words do expire. Comma count is fairly low, so eye flow is constant. Prose is surprisingly smooth.

Getting to the good stuff. One of the reason this book is so fascinating is simply for the gang names. We get names like The Forty Thieves (petty criminals, on of the first to run 'the Points'), The Daybreak Boys (labeled as the first organized criminal organization, they robbed ships on the coast one hour before dawn, ironically they were also the first to be exterminated), Plug Uglies (hulkish brutes, always loves a good tussle in the mud), Slaughter Hausers (I don't recall they were German,  but they have a Warriors caliber name), the infamous Dead Rabbits (One of the biggest, Irish ), The Bowery Boys or pronounced B'hoys (I find them a little boring, but they must be mentioned in that they were the largest gang for most of the Points existence, they resemble the Plug Uglies),  Native Americans (my favorite name, the irony in their mission, lo! the gang of Bill the Butcher, they despised foreigners, immigration, and abolition).

Although I would like to asses the topic of abolition in the Points, I cannot at the moment, I hope you will find the time to DIY(-alas). One point, Scorsese did not expand too much on was the opposition of abolition in the Points. Asbury made it appear that all gangs were opposed to abolition. Regardless of their motives (e.g. Civil War draft), the people of the points were surprisingly tolerant of all races. Although many were living in abject poverty, living in caverns below tenements (projects) or abandoned buildings (sometimes it was too dangerous to walk up to ground level so residents of the earthy caverns simply didn't leave, it is recorded that ten families (or residents) did not leave the caverns for over a week), there were interracial couples - marriages - and they were tolerated (and not simply traditional 'interracial,' but Asians too), whereas the Confederates may have had a different opinion on the issue. Moving 'Forward,' I will stop.

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