"The commercial media, including HBO's The Sopranos, now has full control of our Italian heritage," asserts the Chairman John Mancini of the Italic Studies Institute, a New York-based educational nonprofit. "We no longer have the ability to protect our children from the pernicious propaganda that distorts our 500-year legacy in America."
"It is impossible to gauge the economic consequences of these images to Italian American adults but as a teacher, I have seen the direct effects of this negative stereotyping," declares Bill Dal Cerro, the Institute's Chicago media officer. "My students, both Italian and non-Italian, mimic the speech patterns and crude mannerisms of the fictional characters on The Sopranos. These are the dominant images that the American public is given of a diverse community of 20 million citizens. There was certainly more balance in the 1950's and 1960's, as many can recall. Unbalanced propaganda absolutely affects our youngsters' self-esteem as well as the perception of them by others, Italian surnames make them easy marks - just ask some political candidates who have run the media gauntlet."
"We realize that the media holds all the cards," continued Mancini, "but we intend to get to the heart of our concerns - how demonizing media affects America's youth." The Institute is commissioning a sociological study to measure the propaganda effects on pre-teens and teens, the first of its kind for the Italian American community.
The much ballyhooed third season of the HBO series The Sopranos, with its seductive blend of Italian American culture and degenerate gangsters, sends the message that average Italian Americans, even their children, are not really what they seem. It is the oldest form of propaganda that demonizes a minority using repeated visual images that linger long after in the minds of viewers. "This series rates with Birth of Nation and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in inculcating a compelling negative image of a people." Says Rosario Iaconis, the Institute's Director of The Italic Way Magazine.
The recent aggressive advertising and promotion behind the series through provocative posters, broadcast television ads, and publicity stunts have bombarded even non-HBO subscribers, including children, with a menacing image of Italian Americans as murderers and thieves. "Those who claim that the Italian-ness of the characters is no reflection on the Italian American culture or community would probably also deny the power of Madison Avenue to sell fantasies," says Mancini, "When the show held an audition for new characters recently, the only requirement was to 'look Italian'. It is time to end this charade."
The Sopranos is the logical culmination of over 30 years of unbalanced film and television portrayals of Italian Americans as gangsters and buffoons. Led, in part, by misguided Italian American filmmakers and actors, these works have given America an ethnic scapegoat onto which all the woes of society can be cast. It has influenced newspapers and even police authorities to focus on Italian American criminals rather than the more lucrative and heinous crimes of other ethnic groups. Italian American racists, criminals, dummies, and clowns have become easy stock characters for lazy scriptwriters.
The Institute's Report on U.S. Films since 1928 has revealed that of 1,200 feature films 69% have been unquestionably negative to the Italian American image. Of these, fully 58% bear the genetic markings of The Godfather I produced in 1972. Of the 487 films which feature Italian Americans as gangsters 88% are fictionalized stereotypes. (a copy of the report is available upon request)
"Replace the Italian-ness of The Sopranos with any other ethnicity, fleshed out with their own stereotypes and cultural traits, and you will easily see how unacceptable such propaganda is," says Iaconis. "Why should our children bear the burden? Either let every ethnic and social group join us in defamation or allow us the right of an "American" standard. Hiding propaganda behind the guise of art or free expression is hypocrisy at its best, especially if FCC or local cable licensing requires a 'benefit' to the public."
The Italic Studies Institute was founded in 1987 and publishes a national magazine called The Italic Way. The Institute also produces educational videos and conducts an Italian language program known as Aurora, which is offered free to 5th & 6th graders in the Metro New York area at 15 locations. Preliminary sampling has revealed that some 10 year olds view The Sopranos with their parents and are influenced by the show.
For information and requests: 516-488-7400, fax 516-488-4889.
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