6 luglio 2017

Long live Hollywood stereotypes. Ok, but do you know how Italian cinema has mocked the US people?

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 womanizers. That originated from the myth of the Latin lover Rudy Valentino, and finds it 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, life 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. It 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, another stereotype is 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 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  recent years, however, something changed. Hollywood is more sensitive to Chinese people due to their massive audience and toward African-Americans due to the political correctness. But just for the Italians and Italian-Americans they insist on using the usual stereotypes of 4 (the 4 M's): 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 what would happen 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 the United States this September and October in schools, universities, foundations, cultural institutes and associations. 

In the end, after analyzing 100 years of Italian cinema, what conclusions can we draw about the US people?

It has been a big battle that has lost both Italians and Americans.

Movies are mainly a commercial product and not a tool to understand peoples, so both Italian and American movie industries have cynically exploited their stereotypes rather than analyze cultural differences with humor and real anthropological interest.

Because both movie industries have been entrenched in a century of history smiles and songs, applause and laughters, kisses and slaps, hugs and insults, hands on the butt and bombs, I also thought to create the "Golden Moron" prize to award the worst Italian and American films that represented the two peoples, reducing them to postcard stereotypes.

The award aims to stimulate Hollywood TV producers, screenwriters and directors to "study more" and at least play with stereotypes, focusing on more intelligent solutions and stories, such as in the comedy "A Fish called Wanda" where Americans insult the British, magnifying the Italians...

This live documentary is a new format created by me that mixes sociology, history and mass media through stand up comedy and academic remarks. 

It is promoted by Centro Studi Americani in Rome. 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.

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