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.
Now more than ever, it is up to Italian Americans to join together and fight back in defending our heritage. It is also up to us to lobby for the promotion of positive representations in the media. There is an organization you can join…an organization whose sole mission is to combat bias and the denigration of Italian Americans and secure the positive representation of our culture: The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition (IAOVC).
This 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.
We have been given the privilege of having this column in The Italian Tribune which we are using to address these bias issues across many different levels.
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.
Over the past few years, we’ve enjoyed successes in a number of areas, and have made our voices heard:
On a related note, we also honored Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer for her decision to bar a “Jersey Shore” spinoff from filming in Hoboken. Weeks later, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy unfortunately decided to allow the show to be filmed in Jersey City, and in a twist of karma, was himself given the boot by voters, suffering a resounding primary election loss.
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.