Julius Caesar famously wrote that Gaul was divided into three parts. In the case of the media, their gall is only one part: anti-Italic.
The Italic Institute has spent the better part of thirty-one years observing how Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the press have reserved a place for Italian American culture as comic relief. Be it Italians fighting the Second World War, or the minstrel characters of organized crime, or the reality show guidos and guidettes, the media sees us as an amusing species. At best, we are kitchen prodigies – masters of mozzarella – born to literally serve mankind.
Of course, we ourselves have discarded our classical roots in favor of fun and games with the media. It began with our perverse pride in Mafia movies. Today, our half-hearted defense of Columbus Day has made even his epoch achievement questionable. Others would have not allowed the media to run rampant over the man who unified the globe. If tomorrow, historians find proof that Christopher Columbus was Jewish, he would not only be exonerated of genocide but Indigenous peoples would be relegated to accepting lowly Arbor Day as their consolation prize. The media sharks can smell our blood in the water – their prey of choice.
I bring Columbus up only as background to a letter we recently received from Agence France-Presse (AFP) of Paris, France. AFP is the third largest news agency after the Associated Press and Reuters. Back in 2011, our then-Chairman Rosario Iaconis was interviewed for an article in the New York Daily News about Columbus Day. Along with the article was a photo of some Italian flag-waving bystanders, many children, during the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan. It seems the photo was owned by AFP and licensed to the Daily News. We reprinted the article on our website with the photo. Two weeks ago, the AFP office in Toronto ordered us to remove the photo and discuss paying $625 for its use over the years. It seems that internet technology has advanced to such a point that news agencies, photographers, and artists can now find any proprietary picture on the world-wide-web and demand royalty payments.
We immediately removed the photo from our website but now wonder how far AFP is willing to go to collect $625 from us. The amount is less than a lawyer’s fee to file and appear in court (added to the money they have already spent to find us). The venue would probably be Small Claims Court – not in Paris or Toronto – but in Nassau County, Long Island. Bring ‘em on!
You may notice that many television shows blur out license plates, wall hangings, brand name products, and even store signs to avoid copyright and privacy infringements. But taking a photo of a crowd is perfectly legal. So too is exploiting entire ethnic groups for fun and profit. No law protects us against media exploitation. Only self-restraint or the fear of boycotts and “bad press” prevents Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the press from savaging groups of similar people.
Lately, the media has met their match with certain groups. The term “white washing” has been adopted by Asian- and African-Americans to denounce movies and stage plays that use White actors for minority parts. Even the Gay community is appalled by straight people playing their roles. Luckily, Italian Americans have thousands of would-be actors available for self-derogatory roles so that “white washing” is not necessary. (You may recall that 14,000 people showed up for The Sopranos’ casting call for “Italian looking” extras to play thieves and murderers. Among the contestants was the NY Times reporter himself! Some media neutrality!)
Imagine if the AFP photographer had to pay the little Italian American boy he snapped watching the parade. Imagine if Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese had to pay our community residuals every time their films are shown on TV. Imagine historians fearing exposure by Italian American academics for distorting the Second World War. Imagine the media as really impartial.
Obviously, I’m losing touch with reality. -JLM