How do American movies and TV shows portray Italians and Italian-Americans?
Is the history of ethnic prejudices really the same for everyone in the United States? If all Muslims are terrorists like Osama Bin Laden and the Jews are all greedy like Bernie Madoff, Italians are obviously all mobsters like Al Capone.
Wops, dagoes and guineas are some of the epithets once used in the United States against Italian immigrants. Stereotypes are still alive and everlasting. In addition to the categories of garlic eaters and snatchers, there are the pinch-butt greaseheads, in other words the harmless and rude womanizer. That originated from the myth of the Latin lover Rudy Valentino and finds new glory in the working class king of the dancefloor Tony Manero (John Travolta, star of Saturday Night Fever). And last but not least, there’s Guido, the derogatory nickname that Italian Americans of new generations are called.
Guidos and Guidettes are the epitome of Italian caricature and the exaggeration of the popular classes. For them, live is above all for sustaining and sculpting muscles, using bad words and having lots of sex. MTV America has dedicated a reality show to this tribe called Jersey Shore, aired in 2009 with high ranking, a year after the first Italian-American reality show entitled That's Amore (2008) with the typical disrespectful lover Domenico Nesci.
Beside the figure of the Latin Lover, there is another stereotype still live: the mafioso. From Scarface in the 30s, to the dramedy mob-saga of The Sopranos in the 2000s, through the 70s milestone The Godfather, Italian mobsters have always been a mix of glamour and stupidity, violence and sweeteness--perfect for cinematic plots. After all, gangster movies are to western movies as mobsters are to cowboys: both American heroes.
Latin Lovers and mafioso stereotypes strongly mark a century of cultural differences among Italians, Italian Americans and US people in general. This is the world, these are the cultures and the races according to Hollywood.
In the last years, however, something changed. Hollywood is more sensitive to Chinese people due to their massive audience and toward African-Americans due to the politically correctness. But just for the Italians and Italian-Americans they insist on using the usual stereotypes of 4 M: Mamas, Mafia, Macaroni and Mandolins, even though the image of Italians has changed in recent times thanks to excellence in the fields of fashion, design and cuisine worldwide.
But how would it be if people from the US were mocked for a time? Italian cinema did it many times during its golden years from 50’s to 70’s.
Stubborn army generals, dumb blondes, spoiled wealthy fat women, greedy gangly corporate men, CIA agents that pitilessly torture, racist urban and rural cowboys, negro servants, charitable and drunk soldiers, silly Italian American mobsters, doped up old hippies, dogmatic Protestant preachers, tacky and uneducated tourists.
They are just some examples of recurring stereotypes of US people portrayed in hundreds of Italian movies. Regarding this topic, I’m currently working on a live documentary in which I’ll tour in the United States this September and October in schools, universities, foundations, cultural institutes and associations.
This live documentary is a new format created by me that mixes sociology, history and mass media through stand up comedy and academic remarks.
The main goal of this live documentary is to better understand how Americans and Italians, from their standpoint, judged other countries. It had not been a win-win game, because the subtitle could be: "How Hollywood and Cinecittà (The Roman Cineland) cynically exploited stereotypes just for business".
The debut in Italian will be in July at Centro Studi Americani in Rome. Later the show will take place in the US among all scholars and lovers of Italian and American history, for future reference, with the help and support of the various cultural Italian and American institutions in Italy and the United States.
If you would like to have more details, send me a message on my Facebook page.