Why was Tony Soprano so appealing?
Was it because he was strong, powerful, rich and totally in control? Because he was the boss? Because other men had to do what he said?
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Was it because you know if you were with Tony, you'd get the best table in the restaurant, the best service, the best wine, the best of everything. Sure, he might have to break a few heads in the process, but that was part of it. Was it because he was the ultimate bad boy?
Was that his appeal?
Bill Dal Cerro with the Italic Institute of America, which sponsors educational initiatives and teaches "the Italic language, history and culture," says that's just a small part.
"We'll partly accept the 'bad-boy' scenario — it's a feminine failure, just as it's a male failure to seek out bimbos or 'trophy wives,' " he said. "But the real reason people accept his image is a simple, unacknowledged one: Tony Soprano is a gross Italian stereotype, an image which Americans unconsciously accept due to decades of Hollywood brainwashing.
"If Tony Soprano's character were a violent-yet-loving criminal dad from any other ethnic group (and they do exist), audiences would never have mythologized him. Tony Shapiro? Tony Chang? Tony Rodriguez? Tony "Tookie" Johnson? Tony Running Bear? Tony Al-Rehani? Columnists and critics would be decrying such blatant appeals to coarse prejudice.
"Italian stereotypes have become so accepted that they're 'cute and cuddly,' no matter how crude.
"Even Italian Americans in show biz, seeing how entrenched the industry's prejudice has become, often give up and give in, much like actors from other ethnic groups in the pre-sensitive Hollywood era, from the 1900s to the 1960s, when ethnic stereotyping finally became uncool — except for Italians, of course.
"As our Roman ancestors would say: Caveat Emptor! Let the buyer beware," Dal Cerro said. "The unconscious acceptance of any stereotype is a form of brain pollution."