I write to analyze Chris Cuomo not to defend him.
Was it an innocent mistake or a rightwing provocation that took place last weekend when a man addressed Chris Cuomo as “Fredo” instead of his name? If you didn’t know, the name Fredo isn’t from Fettucine Alfredo but from The Godfather, the name of the not-so-bright son of Don Corleone. Just another name that has slipped into our Italian American identity bag like Guido, Mario & Luigi.
But the name may as well have been capo di cazzo for the way Cuomo reacted to it. The CNN celebrity worked himself into a lather, at first correcting the man then unleashing a torrent of F-bombs and physical threats to throw the man down some stairs. A Latin temper? Worse, a brainwashed Italian American. Chris Cuomo went from Fredo to Santino in nothing flat. (Santino was Don’s hot-headed other son.) But, he couldn’t help himself.
We know that Cuomo’s father Mario hated The Godfather series as well as all Mafia movies because they distort Italian American culture to other Americans. How his sons Andrew, governor of New York, and Chris view those movies I cannot say. It’s a safe bet that they eventually saw the many works of Coppola, Scorsese, and Chase. In Chris’s case, his tirade could have been an audition for any one of those movies. Just say some standard phrases – “fuggettaboutit,” “fuckin’ guy,” or “with all due respect” – with the right neighborhood accent and, presto, you’re Italian American.
Mario Cuomo and other defenders of our heritage saw an image problem in movie stereotypes. But worse, the more insidious threat is internalizing the culture of stereotypes. Even a well-educated fellow like Chris Cuomo can become a Manchurian Candidate (a condition depicted in the Frank Sinatra movie about a GI brainwashed during the Korean War). You have to see the video of Cuomo’s tirade to appreciate how a man who attended prep school, Yale, and Catholic Fordham University to become an attorney reverted to someone out of The Sopranos. It’s as though his mind shifted from a Shelter Island vacation to a Mulberry Street brawl.
Cuomo regrets his reversion to the depths but he insists that the word Fredo is equivalent to “nigger” for Italic people. Get real! A few years back I was in a hardware store looking for a valve to use in my winemaking. When I told a clerk my mission he innocently responded, “Oh, you’re making guinea red.” I didn’t go ballistic, but I pointedly asked him why he used that word. He was truly stunned that someone took offense and apologized. That and wop are our n-words. Fredo struck a wholly different nerve in Cuomo.
Our Minnesota associate Mario Ignagni shed light on this, recalling an interview Chris Cuomo had with Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa. Sliwa referred to the Cuomo family as “La Cuomo Nostra (sic)” to which Chris replied “Who am I then, Fredo?”
Chris is often characterized as Fredo by conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, so the insult goes deep and personal. Maybe our boy needs a shrink. Whatever the fuse, Cuomo’s reaction was Manchurian.
How many Italian Americans have been programmed by the relentless exposure to cinematic Italians over a half century? Minorities complain that they have few positive role models on-screen for their children. We have none! Mannerisms, language, and attitudes from characters in movies and on television have seeped into two generations of Italian Americans. Chris Cuomo is only 49 and a veritable Brahman among us. So, I was shocked to see him regress. I am often surprised how other immigrant groups have risen above stereotypes by the second generation while some of our paesani wallow in a Jurassic version of Italianness.
My associate Don Fiore in Chicago fulminates at the Ital-asses he encounters on Facebook. There is a reason they still exist – cable streams a continuous loop of Mafia and goomba movies daily, while Scorsese and DeNiro still churn them out.
In order to preserve their beloved cinematic genre, the purveyors of Italian stereotypes play another mind game with us. Without embarrassment they claim that Mafia movies aren’t about Italians at all, but about American greed. With that logic, the word Fredo has no Italian connotation. It seems to work.
“You are getting sleepy…” -JLM