But Ianni’s portrait was markedly different from the romanticized accounts of Mafia life that have subsequently dominated popular culture. There were no blood oaths in Ianni’s account, or national commissions or dark conspiracies. There was no splashy gunplay. No one downed sambuca shots at Jilly’s, on West Fifty-second Street, with Frank Sinatra. The Lupollos lived modestly. Ianni gives little evidence, in fact, that the four families had any grand criminal ambitions beyond the illicit operations they ran out of storefronts in Brooklyn. Instead, from Giuseppe’s earliest days in Little Italy, the Lupollo clan was engaged in a quiet and determined push toward respectability.
As always, I'm taking Gladwell's conclusions with a grain of salt, but it's a fascinating theory all the same. I'd argue that what he's stumbled upon has a bit more to do with race; I think there's still a look-the-other-way element in our society today. It just doesn't apply where he looked.