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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

The Image:

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

The Image:

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.

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3
Biker Gangs

The Image:

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.

2
Wall Street Brokers

The Image:

Greedy and ruthless businessmen who will exploit the system, ruin lives and even naked-wrestle their own grandmas if it means they get to wear fancy suits and slick their hair back with the fat from endangered polar bears. The sort we gladly blame for the recent recession, and occasionally spit on.


It's OK -- they can afford the dry cleaning. Plus, they're hardly people.

Totally Stolen From:

Wall Street.

Since the premiere of Oliver Stone's Wall Street in 1987, countless people have told Michael Douglas that his portrayal of the movie's antagonist, Gordon Gekko, is why they got into the broker game. As Michael Lewis notes, hedge fund wunderkind Seth Tobias "gave an interview for Wall Street's DVD bonus reel, in which he said, 'I remember when I saw the movie in 1987. I recall saying, That's what I want to be. I want to start out as Bud Fox and end up as Gordon Gekko.' "

When Tobias was found dead in his Florida swimming pool soon after delivering that commentary, he became the first person to have ever fatally misread a movie. See, Gekko was supposed to be a villain, and you were supposed to hate him! He was a caricature of the "greed" culture of the 80s, a cartoonishly evil human-shark.

The 80s had their share of greedy stock-market assholes, but nobody made it look as good as Gordon Gekko. In fact, Gekko looked so much better than anyone looked on the real Wall Street that according to Ellen Mirojnick, the film's costume designer, it almost got her in trouble. Stone warned Mirojnick that, "My friends tell me that on the Street no one looks like that." But she persisted with her vision to make Gekko dress like an old-school movie star, and soon enough the actual bankers followed.

"It became all the rage -- the whole idea of it from his slicked back hair ... to the horizontal striped shirt. It became the language of power-dressing for men." Of course, Stone was right. According to Mirojnick, "I later went on to discover ... the Street ... was very conservative at that time."

The rest of Gekko's character wasn't exactly authentic either. Stanley Weiser, who wrote the movie with Stone, spent a few weeks doing research before realizing that most of these guys were boring as, well, businessmen. To help add some glamor, he chose to incorporate other nonbanker characters into what became, "an amalgam of different personalities that I had studied" both on and off Wall Street.

The strangest part is that, according to the writer who created him, "Gekko's dialogue actually was inspired by Stone's own rants. Listening to Oliver's early morning cajoling and sarcastic phone calls exhorting me to work (provided) the precise varnish with which I needed to coat Gekko." So the banker whom everyone on Wall Street thought they were imitating was actually a pinko lefty filmmaker who wanted to make America hate bankers. And he would have succeeded if he wasn't so creatively gifted at being an asshole.


Something like this. Only millions of people lose all their money 20 years later.

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1
Cowboys

The Image:

"The cowboy" is probably the most iconic character in the history of the U.S. Everyone immediately recognizes them by their cowboy hats and fancy belt buckles, riding their horses while shooting at each other or, as was more often the case, at Native Americans.


Go back to whatever country you came from, Indians!

Totally Stolen From:

Wild West shows and silent Westerns.

We've already mentioned how the "Wild West" saw less gun violence than Amish daycares, and we've also challenged the common misconception that there was ever any significant difference between a cowboy and a hobo. Both myths were started by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. These late 19th/early 20th-century vaudevillian spectacles were about as representative of the real West as porn movies are of the pizza delivery business. It was those shows that created the template for the "Western look," including, among other things, the "10-gallon hat" invented by Buffalo Bill specifically for his performances.


It's a hat! It's a bucket! Nope! It's pure bullshit!

Despite what the movies taught us, a silly hat and unironically ending each sentence with "partner" doesn't make you a real cowboy. An uneventful life of working for minimum wage and poor personal hygiene are way closer to the mark. In reality, the only real difference between a typical cowboy's attire and a burlap sack was the occasional presence of buttons. The colorful cowboy look created by Buffalo Bill survived thanks to stupid people who brought it with them from the East and whose only interaction with the Wild West was the shows they'd seen. This would be like making assumptions on African culture in the outback based on the way lions interact with lion tamers at the circus. Stupid, right? Well, everything you think of when you picture the Wild West is just that ridiculous.

The style was later immortalized by silent Western actors such as Tom Mix. After launching his career in 1917, Mix appeared in a number of movies sporting the 10-gallon hat, silver buckles and clothes full of fringes, popularizing the made-up look among later "cowboys" who just didn't know any better. In their defense, the notion that movies can lie to you must have been new at the time.


They had no way of knowing.

The modern image of "the cowboy" was completed with silent films starring G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, who defined the stereotypical cowboy personality: cordial to the ladies, deadly with a gun, presumably hated by his horse for constantly putting it through dangerous stunts. In reality, however, most cowboys were dirty, underpaid farmhands with insanely boring lives.

And really, if someone started making your shitty job look awesome in the movies, you'd probably go with it too ...


Accounts Receivable just got real.

Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance online journalist and Japanese-English-Polish translator. Contact him at c.j.strusiewicz@gmail.com.

And learn how future authors will be imitating us by picking up our new book!

For more bullshit from Tinsel Town, check out 5 Ridiculous Gun Myths Everyone Believes (Thanks to Movies) and 5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do.

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