Lately, I feel like I'm surrounded by this negative Italian American stereotyping. But, I have to say its not stereotyping by other cultural groups....it seems our own home grown Italian Americans are putting themselves in this box of negativity. By this, I mean acting like or comparing themselves to 'mobsters' or 'wise guy' type personas. Now, we have shows like the Sopranos, which was attacked because of the negative stereotyping. But mind you I think the problem with that show is the audience and not the show. Granted, ok..why isn't the show called some other ethnic last name...? The answer is simple, its about capitalizing on an negative image that many people are fascinated with which makes everyone money.
What makes this even worse is that most Italian Americans lets say from the tri-state area can't seem to separate fact from fiction. Yes, you may know someone who looks or acts like Tony Soprano, but really is that what every Italian American looks or acts like? Yes, I do know a few people who look and act like that too...but I know the difference between fact and fiction. Just because a show is shot in New Jersey and your neighbor is kinda shady, doesn't mean they're in the mob.
So, the responsibility of keeping the Italian American image upstanding does also belong to the audience-YOU. Now, many of you scholars will say its more than that and television programmers, producers and studios need to stop this type of defamation, which I agree. I will also say as a television producer that if we never produced anything about this (which is a factual part of history-organized crime) then television would not exist and no one would produce anything. Again, I reiterate we should all be responsible for our own actions and image portrayals.
I don't watch the Sopranos because to be honest with you...its a little much for me, but if I do catch a re-run..I don't feel the need to go out and get acrylic nails and act like Carmella Soprano. Its up to the rest of us as producers, writers, teachers, professors, professionals to upkeep the Italian American image. This ties into my original question, how can we keep the attention and interest in our heritage with young Italian Americans? I realize I'm lucky because I am very close in the generation gap of being Italian American and I think it must be harder for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations to keep the traditions, culture and social characteristics within reach.
Its all about education. If we can keep the younger generations interested in what its about then we can succeed in preserving our heritage. For every Soprano show, there should be more positive, savvy programming to counter the negative imagery. You can't have any good if there's no bad. So, if the Sopranos show exists, then it exists- but we have to educate and be more media responsible to portray all the images of being Italian American.
This leads me into general media and television programming. For example, I was watching PBS, and there was an Italian American show about promoting an Italian American music CD. The whole show including hosts from PBS was a complete disgrace. Usually, I love anything PBS including their educational and cultural productions. But, this was just not right, you have a few cast members from the Sopranos promoting a CD and their latest projects. It seems to me they put themselves in their negative Italian-American stereotype characters and literally act like that typical gangster persona to capitalize on their careers. Is this real? Are they for real? Maybe they're for real, but if we're going to show one type of Italian American, then you must show all types of Italian American. So, again..there isn't much Italian American programming on television. (PERIOD) I can only hope that we can produce Italian American programming in the near future that portrays all of us. If not, our generation, my generation-- will truly begin to believe that Italian Americans are gangsters and talk like they have meatballs in their mouth with limited vocabulary and Cadillacs in their driveway.
I'll finish this off by saying yes, there are people who are really for real and act like this because that's who they are and don't capitalize on it, then there are those who act like this and capitalize on it to create the negative stereotype. We must be fair and educate on all parts of the Italian American. I'm on a roll today, too much bullshit out there and nothing real. Let's get real. Get me interested!