Who are the Riffs?
July 11, 2011 7:47 PM   Subscribe

The largest gang in NYC is The Riffs in the movie The Warriors. Winchester calls Klinger a Riff in Season 7, Episode 1: Commander Pierce. Klinger is offended and informs/reminds Winchester that he (Klinger) is Lebanese. Who are the Riffs or what is a Riff? (Aside from the largest gang in NYC and not Klinger.)
posted by no.mad to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Riffians are Berber people in Morocco.
posted by JohnE at 8:13 PM on July 11, 2011

I'm guessing The Warriors gang is a musical reference though.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:16 PM on July 11, 2011

I don't know if this is directly related to your question, but The Warriors is based on Xenophon's Anabasis, so some references might be from there rather than the NYC scene.
posted by mercredi at 8:30 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Riff was also the leader of the Jets, the white gang in West Side Story.
posted by Adventurer at 9:34 PM on July 11, 2011

What's the context of Winchester calling Klinger a riff? Could it be that the joke is: Winchester isn't using an ethnic slur at all, it's some other kind of insult, and Klinger incorrectly assumes it's an ethnicity and says "no, I'm Lebanese"?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:45 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

transcript of M*A*S*H episode "Commander Pierce":

The episode begins:
00:00:03 Klinger, more water.
00:00:04 I'm a little busy, Major.
00:00:06 Now, you insubordi riff!
00:00:08 Riff?
00:00:09 With all due respect, sir, may a pregnant camel give birth in your bunk.
00:00:15 Levantine thug.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:52 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

(There are some typos and nonsense words elsewhere in that transcript, so I don't think we can rely on its accuracy 100%.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:55 PM on July 11, 2011

A different set of subtitles has this slightly different exchange happening in the middle of the episode, though without any relevant lead-in.

- Klinger. More water.
- I'm a little busy, Major.
- Now, you insubordinate desert riff.
- Riff?
With all due respect, sir, may a pregnant camel give birth in your bunk.
-Levantine thug! [Wheezing]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 PM on July 11, 2011

I suspect the real-world point was to have Winchester use a word that is clearly in context an ethnic slur without using one that would violate broadcast standards.

In context, the Rif War was a long colonialist conflict in the 1920s that would have been familiar to someone of Winchester's age, and you can find "riff" treated as a rough synonym for "moor" around the turn of the century.

As for The Warriors, it's probably just a riff on riff-raff (which, in case you're concerned, has nothing to do with the people of the Rif). In the novel, they're called the Delancey Thrones.
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

This might be a good question to run by Ken Levine.
Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis.
His Blog | His twitter feed
posted by blueberry at 2:43 AM on July 13, 2011

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