Call me crazy but I sense a sea change. What do I mean? In the last six months I have been pleasantly surprised in seeing complimentary and often flattering stories in the media about Italian Americans.
I know, hard to believe.
On September 21, 2014 we were treated to a lengthy report on ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ about the musical and personal relationship involving singers Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Correspondent Anthony Mason went out of his way to mention their Italian American heritage and how Mr. Bennett is assisting Lady Gaga in learning the intricacies of the music business. In a touching moment Mr. Bennett also talked about how Frank Sinatra helped him early on in his career. Established Italian Americans reaching down to help other Italian Americans just starting out achieve greatness. As some of you know, this is, and was not always the case.
For those of us used to the media’s fascination with the subculture of organized crime these kinds of reports represent a profound shift. I doubt not more than 10-years ago a national TV correspondent doing a profile of Mr. Bennett or Lady Gaga would have even mentioned their Italian American heritage.
Best yet this well watched show is seen throughout the U-S. For those watching that day it served as a counter balance to the nonsense of reality shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘Housewives of New Jersey’.
It’s also not the first time we Italian Americans have been surprised this year.
Over the summer we were were treated to several glowing profiles of Louis Zamperini. This extraordinary man and Italian American was a pilot for the U-S Air Force during World War II. He later spent time as a prisoner of war. Most remarkable however was that emerge from that ordeal to famously and very publicly forgive his captors then went on to become an Olympic long distance runner and later an inspirational speaker.
He recently passed away at the age of 97. His story is told in the 2014 bestselling book titled ‘Unbroken’. It will soon be a major motion picture.
Then there’s the story of Colonel Henry Mucci. A Connecticut native who’s World War II exploits were featured in not one, but two, major motion pictures. The story of Colonel Mucci’s ‘Ghost Soldiers” tells the tale of the mission he led behind enemy lines to rescue 513 survivors of the Bataan Death March. He did so despite being heavily outnumbered. It is widely considered the largest and most successful rescue mission in the history of the United States military.
What a relief. Positive reinforcement for a change. A sea change indeed.
Say what you will but I truly believe the efforts of all Italian American groups, most notable the Italian American One Voice Coalition, are making a difference.
Thanks to all who politely challenge and object to what we see all too often the media is starting to understand we are no longer easy targets. That there are consequences to objectionable stories, shows and movies about Italian Americans. In short we have a voice.
We saw it as we battled the Columbus Circle Statue cover up. Objecting to the cover up of one of the most famous Italians in an art display during the month in which we celebrate his arrival in the New World. We saw it as we put the death of James Gandolfini in perspective. Politely applauding the actor’s body of work while also denouncing the character he portrayed on the ‘Sopranos’.
The best example in our fight against these worn out stereotypes was the recent ‘Mob Puppets’ ad campaign. These puppets with names like ‘Tony Two Trunks’ were clearly a take off on the countless depictions of mobsters in the media. Thanks to a unified front we were not only able to garner national attention with appearances on Fox Business – but when a New Jersey car dealership began running the commercials several phone calls and the threat of media attention was enough to get the dealership to immediately yank the spots!
All Italian Americans should be very proud of what we have done. In a way the lack of Italian American insults in the media of late is actually a credit to us. Those who would make fun of us now know we have an apparatus, media contacts and stern but polite voices to fight back.
We all need to move beyond the ”lighten up’ stage and let our friends and neighbors now than it may have taken a century of fighting but insults against Italian Americans will no longer be tolerated.