Now comes MTV, in the bigoted
footsteps of a show like the Sopranos, with a new show called “
One of the last stereotypes our
American pop-culture still believes it is OK to exploit is that of the Italian
American – if he’s rich he’s a mobster, if he’s poor he’s too stupid to be a
mobster, but in a lovable, illiterate, Joey Tribbiano from “Friends” sort of
way. In the movies, Guido never goes to college.
Why are stereotypes and wiping them out important? Because
a stereotype impedes assimilation.
What is most important to any ethnic group, Italians
included, is to assimilate into
Unfortunately in Pop Culture, it’s Ok to stereotype Italians,
because our “identifier” has changed. We are no longer branded with real
names like Galileo and Da Vinci; instead we are identified with fake names like
Corleone and Soprano.
What caused this shift in identifier for Italian Americans? The movie The Godfather.
In real life, organized crime had many ethnicities: Dutch Shultz, Bugsy Segal and Meyer Lansky were Jews. Dion O’Bannion and Bugs Moran were Irish. Of the Midwest Crime wave including John Dillanger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Ma” Barker, Bonnie & Clyde and “Machine Gun” Kelly, none were Italian. Movies reflected that.
came The Godfather. So successful was it that everyone tried to copy the
genre. After The Godfather more than 400 feature films have been made
where the mobsters are JUST Italian, despite the historical inaccuracy.
Add to that the TV shows and
endless parade of advertisements showing Italians as criminals and clods, and
suddenly people forget Marconi invented radio telegraph but remember Moltisanti
on the Sopranos fenced radios.
This stereotype is still “OK” in
I’m not saying other ethnicities don’t take it on the chin
– they do. But when we catch someone
being insensitive to Blacks, Jews, Gays, etc., we make them pay for it.
Don Imus got punished heavily for his “nappy headed hos”
joke. Here’s something no one
At that year’s Academy Awards, the song that won was called, “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” The song uses the word “Hos” 4 times, “Bitches” 8 times and the word “Niggaz” too.
Since we are giving lyrics of
such “creative genius” as “Bitches, Hos & Niggaz” the Academy Award, the
highest accolades we give in American Popular Culture, are we really going to
pretend to be surprised when a 60 year old man says it on the radio, or worse
yet, a 6th grader on a school bus?
His own remarks were not Don
Imus’ fault – they were our fault for lavishing praise on that song.
Will stereotypes like we will see
Twenty years ago when I was in law school, three students
were in the booth next to me at a campus restaurant. One said, “In
criminal law we’re studying a case where all the defendants had these looooong
Italian names…they were sooooo guilty!” I wonder where that student is
today – a judge? A prosecutor bringing charges against Italians because their
long names make them soooooo guilty?
There was a criminal indictment in
Press reporters won’t help the
Italian American in Court either, with newspapers insisting that all Italians
must have a middle name in quotes.
Locally where I live there was a trial involving a man the Press called
James “Jimmy” (last name). Is “Jimmy”
such an unusual aberration of the name James that it requires quotation marks,
or are the marks just a media signal to the jurors that the defendant must be
guilty because he’s “mobbed up?”
That the characters on MTV’s “
Let’s just hope the show doesn’t win an Emmy, further solidifying the bigoted Italian stereotype into American Pop Culture.