It's not right to oversimplify, but it's just how our minds work. For instance, if you're going to the bar on 70s night, you don't have to be told to wear something ridiculous and covered in sequins. When you hear the word "Mafia," a very specific image pops into your head -- stroking his chin and whispering stoically, like a dapper mascot for everyone who's ever been involved with organized crime. And while those may be oversimplifications, it turns out we don't have to feel guilty. American history is dominated by groups who looked exactly like we think they did, but only because they totally ripped off their styles from fictional movies.
#5. Disco Dancers
Polyester-clad guys and gals tapping their boogie shoes and jive talking while stayin' alive and getting down tonight! Shimmering clubs filled with swirling lights cast off by the disco ball spinning in the center of the room like the Death Star's gay cousin! Also drugs. Gigantic mountains of drugs.
"About yay high should do it."
Totally Stolen From:
Saturday Night Fever.
Almost everything we associate today with "disco" comes directly from a John Travolta movie based on journalism so yellow that it can't even be compared to urine, since you would need lubricant to get that color out of your bladder.
When disco first emerged in New York in the 1970s, it was basically the pre-Wham! George Michael of its time: virtually unknown and mainly found in underground gay clubs. But then in 1977's Saturday Night Fever, Travolta brought disco to the masses, creating a worldwide phenomenon. The movie was based on the New York article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" by the U.K.-born Nik Cohn, detailing his personal experiences with disco culture. And when we say "experiences," we actually mean some shit he made up in order to meet a deadline. Cohn's entire article was almost all made up and had nothing to do with real disco.
Cohn knew absolutely nothing about underground discotheques, but he still had to write an article about them ... so he simply started inventing stuff, mostly using his knowledge of the British mods subculture and passing it off as part of the disco scene. The mods became, for example, the source of the Saturday Night Fever character's fondness for extravagant, custom-made clothing and innovative, complex dance moves. So, when the general public got its first taste of "disco" with the Travolta movie, it was actually more of a "fraudulent mix of some U.K. subculture and parts of obscure American music as understood by a lazy British guy."
Don't you feel silly now?
The only things Saturday Night Fever got at least half right were the rampant drug use and promiscuous sex (and even then it was mostly gay sex). The staples of "disco," such as the dance choreography, the fashion, even some of the music, could not be found at the time in real disco clubs (which resembled modern rave centers) and were pretty much pulled out of Cohn's ass by the movie producers.
#4. The Mafia
Stylish mafiosi in expensive suits, sitting around, talking about family, respect and offers you're unable to refuse, like well-dressed, cool versions of mattress salesmen. These images come to us courtesy of all of those gangster movies, The Godfather in particular.
Or Mafia! in retarded.
Totally Stolen From:
According to author Tim Adler's 2007 book, Hollywood and the Mob, The Godfather "changed the way the Mafia regarded itself and ... rehabilitated gangsters into men of honour instead of what they really were -- pig-ignorant, violent-sentimental goombahs." In case you think Adler was insulting the entire murder industry without cause -- according to police records, prior to the Coppola film, mobsters were more likely to be ignorant thugs who would rat out their friends if it got them a discount at the corner sandwich shop. But after sort of making out the words "honor" and "family" from Marlon Brando's badass mumbling, the mafiosi looked around and decided that his world looked way cooler than the universe of petty larceny and parking meter smashing they inhabited.
"And then I bludgeoned him to death. Only, you know ... something about respect."
Hell, the real Mafia didn't use the phrase "godfather" to describe a mob boss until Mario Puzo totally made it up. Ex-mob hit man Anthony Fiato described the movie's effect on the most badass Boston gangster he knew, who started out as "a 'dems and dose' kind of guy" and "after the movie came out, he starts to articulate. He starts philosophizing."
To the mob's credit, they didn't steal everything about their style from The Godfather. The more modern wise guy getup of a black shirt and white tie combo was popularized by mobster "Crazy Joe" Gallo after he saw the 1955 adaptation of Guys and Dolls, in which it was rocked by ... Marlon freaking Brando.
The mob and Brando, sitting in a tree, K- I...
Of course, the real tragedy here is that nobody ever took advantage of the mob's totally-not-gay-shut-up-or-I'll-shoot-you-in-the-face boner for Brando, and cast him as a tough guy prancing around in a frilly pink tutu.
Come on, Scorsese. You made The Age of Innocence, you can make this.
#3. Biker Gangs
Loud and rowdy outlaws. Your typical biker cruises the American countryside on his chopper while boozing it up and looking for things to rebel against without a clear cause, like some causeless agent of rebellion.
Or a rebel without a specific purpose, if you will.
Totally Stolen From:The Wild One.
Bikers certainly existed before The Wild One, in the sense that motorcycles existed. But the men riding them weren't the law-defying, anti-establishment criminals the movie The Wild One (1953) made them out to be. They were mostly WWII veterans who hit the road because they couldn't bring themselves to work in offices after years of stabbing Nazis.
"Hold on a second, Cracked," you might be yelling if you don't understand how the Internet works, "The Wild One was based on the Hollister Riot, a real historical event that ripped through the town of Hollister, California all the way back in 1947." You would be right in that many associate that riot with the start of the trend of violent biker gangs. You, and most of American history, are just wrong in the sense that the riot never really happened.
So totally fucking wrong if you're keeping score at home.
"The Hollister riot" began with an American Motorcyclist Association-sponsored rally that started outside Hollister and eventually spilled over to the town itself. A few drunken assholes started racing on the streets, causing total mayhem that resulted in minor storefront damage and at least one misdemeanor arrest!
The American media, never one to allow the truth to get in the way of an outrageous lie, sprung into action. When Barney Peterson, of the San Francisco Chronicle, arrived in the town to write about "outlaw bikers terrorizing the city" and found out the story was shit, he decided to make up more shit of the nonboring variety. Peterson then wrote about bikers riding through restaurants and attacking people, and even staged what became an infamous photo of a drunken motor club member surrounded by broken beer bottles.
"Say fella, ya' drool on your collar a bit, and I'll let you and the boys get back to your chess game."
The fake story and pictures eventually got featured in a Life magazine article, which later influenced The Wild One, starring goddamn Marlon Brando, who we are now officially convinced was a wizard of some sort.
Combining Brando's magic powers of creating cultural icons and giving the real bikers a romantic "rebel outlaw" identity, The Wild One became a model for newly formed clubs, like the Hells Angels, bringing them tons of new members and even popularizing Triumph and Harley bikes. An entire group identity taken from a fictional movie based on a staged photograph. If one lie has ever been responsible for more body odor, we don't want to know what it is.