The Commodification of Whitey Bulger

james-whitey-bulgerWith the capture of FBI Top Ten Most Wanted fugitive Whitey Bulger in 2011 and now the ensuing trial, where Bulger will finally have to face the music and pay for his alleged crimes of running the Irish mob in Boston for two decades, committing multiple murders and remaining a fugitive for another decade, a media frenzy has erupted. “The buzz in Boston has reached a fever pitch regarding the trial of Bulger. It’s attracted national and international media attention. Everybody is trying to get a look inside the mind of the man that many consider to be the most high profile gangster of his time. A man that controlled the street as well as the government agencies that pursued him. Is he man or myth?” Mark Silverman, a Boston organized crime figure and author of Rogue Mobster says. “I truly believe that Whitey wants his day in court. He wants to tell his side of the story. It’s his show and he’s the star. From what I understand, he feels as though the witnesses have everything to gain and nothing to lose by telling lies that implicate him in crimes that he may or may not have committed.”

Everyone related to Whitey is cashing in. Numerous books by his former cohorts in crimes have appeared, including Rat Bastards by John “Red” Shea, Brutal by Kevin Weeks, Hitman by Howie Carr (the story of Johnny Martorano), A Criminal and an Irishman by Patrick Nee and Street Soldier by Edward Mackenzi. The only ones without books out are Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and Whitey himself. But plenty have chronicled their underworld escapades and more are soon to come.

Some journalists have made a career of covering Whitey. Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill have written not one, but two volumes on Whitey’s criminal exploits- Black Mass and the recently released Whitey, can a third not be far away, after the trial? Boston Globe reporters Keven Cullen and Shelly Murphy, who worked under O’Neill at the paper also have a book, Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster. And there have been many others and will most likely be many more, as Whitey Bulger has remained a vivid figure and gangster icon in popular culture.

“He rose to the top of a vicious underworld and managed to get away with it,” David Amorso from gangsterinc.com says. “The fact that he’s been caught doesn’t really change that in my opinion. He lived out most of his old age in freedom, in sunny California no less. He’ll spend the few remaining years behind bars and in court, all the while enjoying his new found fame. That’s why people are so mesmerized by his story. A violent gangster who rose to the top by all means necessary. Breaking all the rules of both the legitimate and underworld. Even manipulating the FBI. A true outlaw and now the ending.” If you locked Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Francis Ford Coppola in the same room, it’s debatable if they could come up with anything as entertaining as the real life story of Whitey Bulger.

He has already been characterized by Jack Nicholson in The Departed, and more movies are in the works. Mark Wahlberg, Johnny Depp, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are all said to have projects in motion, but who will receive Whitey’s blessing? Certainly not his former partners in crime who will all be testifying against him. Not only do they have books out detailing their lives in crime with Whitey, but now they are trying to bury him under the jail. “I don’t think the witnesses who’ve written books ever thought Whitey would be caught. The defense will use their own words against them now. It will raise many issues of witness credibility,” Silverman says. “The Stevie and Whitey reunion will be a show down. A war of words with a Machiavellian undertone.” The accusations against Whitey are many and have been spun to suit the needs of the ones telling them while he was on the run as the books were a means to profit for his cohorts. But now it will all come out.

“Whitey is a brilliant tactician and strategist. He may be guilty in the court of public opinion but the jury will see another side to him that’s rarely ever been seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls a rabbit out of his hat,” Silverman says. “Whitey is claiming that he paid the government cash and gifts in exchange for information and protection. He claims that he gave them ‘shit and got gold in return.’ The gold is the implied immunity agreement. I’ve never been around any high level gangsters who didn’t have contacts inside the circles of law enforcement. A rat testifies. He gets up on the stand and points the finger at the friends who cared for him his entire life.” The questions about Whitey being an informant remain.

“Cheaters justice?” David from gangstersinc.com asks. “He played the same game and lost, so he can’t start complaining now. I think it serves him right to have so many of his former crew members looking him in the eyes as they share all their secrets. If we know one thing about Whitey it’s that he had no code of honor whatsoever. He was looking out for himself. Everyone else could go fuck themselves. I don’t see it as a problem that all his cohorts have out books. At least they have a script to go by for the trial. It would be nice if they donated the proceeds to their victims, but I doubt that will happen. As far as breaking the code of silence, they already did that. Most of them anyway. So a book is the logical next step. Especially if there is a market. And after The Departed, there is a huge market for books about gangsters in Boston.”

Another ex-crew member, John “Red” Shea, who is actually one of the only solid guys from Whitey’s crew is involved in a new documentary film, Whitey Bulger: The Making of a Monster, which Dick Lehr was also instrumental in. This is probably just the first of many, as Hollywood is ready to pounce on the story and glorify it for the big screen. But right now the ending is yet to be written. “If Whitey decides to open his mouth at the trial, anything can happen,” David from gangstersinc.com says. “I don’t think anyone will be happy if he does that. Either way it will be very interesting for the public and media outlets.” And it will further enhance the legend and mythology of Whitey Bulger most definitely.

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