The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition: Who Are We and What Have We Done?

By: Sebastian Delia, IAOVC Executive Board Member

Since the debut of Mario Puzo’s “Godfather” movie more than 40 years ago, Italian Americans have been fighting an uphill battle for positive representation in mass media, especially including television and film productions. For many years after “Godfather,” there was rarely, if ever, a positive non-stereotypical portrayal of an Italian American on television or in a film production, as the defamation of Italian Americans became big business—think “Good Fellas,” “Sopranos,” and to a lesser extent shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and even “Friends.”

Mass media tabloids followed suit, sensationalizing the stories of “real” mobsters in the never-ending quest to sell newspapers—there was the “Dapper Don,” the “Chin,” “Sammy the Bull,” and so many others given colorful nicknames or buffoonish aliases that drew in readers.

Meanwhile the defamation took its effect on many Italian Americans who accepted these stereotypes, and even absorbed them into business names and marketing concepts. There was “Godfather Pizza,” and “Good Fellas Pizza.”  Restaurant establishments in many parts of the country still use derogatory terms such as “Wop, ”“Dago,” or “Guido” either in their menu items or for their name. For example, New York State recently banned a lunch truck dubbed “Wandering Dago” from one of its race tracks.

And just as many of the traditional sit-com shows and movies that defamed our heritage began to slowly fade away, the first wave of reality shows immediately ushered Italian stereotypes back into the limelight with a vengeance. Spurred on like wild fire by social media, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like, these stereotypes spread far and faster with lightning speed, making the defamation of Italian Americans now a global business. Shows like “Jersey Shore,” “Jersey Couture,” “Housewives of New Jersey,” “Jerseylicious,” “Mob Wives,” and so many more led the charge.

In response to this onslaught of negative images, the IAOVC  group has created the first-ever national network of Italian American anti-bias activists. We utilize a “Rapid Response” team and multimedia effort aimed at fighting discrimination and defending Italian American heritage through social media,  emails, phone calls, faxes, written letters and, when necessary, demonstrations.

The IAOVC has been at the forefront of many of these battles on behalf of the Italian American community. You might have read about us in the press, seen our Facebook page, watched us on television or heard about us on your radio. Let me tell you about a few successes that you might not have known.

We worked through Governor Christie who revoked a $420,000 tax credit that had been issued to MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” which spurred the generation of aforementioned “reality” shows that continue to copy its wretched formula. On a related note, we also honored Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer for her decision to bar a “Jersey Shore” spinoff from filming in Hoboken.

We worked through the Paterson Schools District to reinstitute the Columbus Day Holiday after a decision had been made to cancel it.

In April 2013, we worked to secure an apology from Chrysler/FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne, who during a recent press conference promoting a new line of vehicles used the term “WOP engine” in referring to Italian made engines.  Mr. Marchionne, who is Italian Canadian, should have known better and the IAOVC took him to task for his blunder.

In August 2013, we learned of a major car dealership in New Jersey who was using mob themed puppet characters in its television commercials. Utilizing our network and Rapid Response team, the management of the dealership was contacted and the offensive commercials pulled from its broadcasting schedule. The management of the dealership issued an apology with a commitment to refrain from using any such defamatory commercials in the future.

More recently on October 1, 2013, we learned of a mob themed commercial airing on local and national television and cable networks. The offensive commercial was part of a larger group of commercials promoting Ally Bank’s “nothing hidden” campaign. Upon learning of the commercial and viewing it, the IAOVC immediately contacted Ally Bank’s chief communications officer to protest the use of this commercial. By October 3, 2013, that same commercial was removed and replaced by another without any mob theme or images. The IAOVC later obtained an apology from Ally Bank.

We also launched campaigns against the movies “Don Jon,” and Robert DeNiro’s latest, “The Family” that again, painted negative images of Italian American families. Interestingly enough, the two movies drew a great deal of negative media criticism for their stereotypical depictions. We may well have sensitized movie critics to the issue of defamation against Italian Americans.

The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition fights back in a manner that is fast and furious, and in large numbers. It’s the only way to crack through the wall and be heard in the mass media.

ONE VOICE works closely with major Italian American organizations such as UNICO National, NIAF and OSIA. ONE VOICE issues a regular email newsletter, “The Alfano Digest,” to thousands of individuals and Italian American organizations nationwide.

We urge you to join us, because as we like to say, the defamation and stereotyping of Italian Americans NEVER ENDS, and is a big business.  We urge you to continue to please subscribe and support the Italian Tribune and their effort to carry this column and raise awareness about this important issue.

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