Deb Saunders discusses a PC flap over Italian mob stereotypes and the Columbus Day parade in New York, since Italian-American groups (I hate every permutation of the “x-American” terminology, but if they wanna be silly and call themselves that, fine) refused to let Bloomberg’s guests, actors from the Sopranos, walk with him, thinking it cast a negative light on Italians, and encourage racism, or something…

Now, the mother’s half of my family is 100% stupid wop dago (see, I can say that, being a 50% dirty guinea bastard). In fact, both my grandparents on that side were born and spent their childhoods in Sicily (ask any native Italian and they’ll tell you that makes me half-Sicilian, not half-Italian), and my grandfather’s family was personally touched more than once by mob violence. And on the whole ethnic side of things, it basically goes without saying that I’ve never run into any kind of anti-Italian prejudice in my life . Indeed, the idea sounds so ridiculous that if someone actually hurled some sort of sincerely virulent epithet at me, I can only imagine being amused, feeling like I had stepped into some sort time machine and ended up in 1930 or so. In fact, if I ever do run into any kind of racial prejudice in my life, it will probably be because I was thought to be Arabic or Jewish, a mistake which has happened before (not that I expect any prejudice ever to happen to me because of this, what with the hugely manufactured “wave” of anti-Arab feelings post 9/11, where a few isolated idiots doing a few isolated idiotic things were portrayed as being indicative of the nation).

So I have something of a personal perspective on this. I’m sure most of you will say, “So what? That doesn’t make your opinion on this any more valuable or correct!”

Quite right, but I just had to work in some racial slurs into this post somehow, and a discussion of my greaseball heritage seemed the most opportune way.

So let me say this, coming from an Italian family, I am often quite annoyed both by Italians’ often wholesale denial of any kind of mob connection with their ethnicity, and also the strange urge in many corners of Italian life to celebrate this aspect of their ethnic background, apparently because it is a thing unique, exotic, and one with which popular American culture seems to be inextricably fascinated.

Regarding the former, I recognize that this isn’t nearly as much of a problem, since society in general has found so many other pressing needs to attend to in the last 10 years or so (not to mention the fact that the Italian mob is no longer the single big player in terms of ethnic organized crime), but I can still rememeber when Mario Cuomo got all huffy about characterizing the mob as an “Italian thing,” claiming that was racist and libelous .

William F. Buckley responded at the time with what I thought was a completely sensible question: if Cuomo’s ethnic brothers aren’t involved in organized crime, then what’s the deal with all those men with Italian sounding names going to the electric chair? I believe the same point then was made in relation to Italians and the mob as is made today regarding Arabs and terrorism: namely, that Italians are generally not mobsters, but mobsters are generally Italians, so if you wished to target mob activity, it was inevitable that you were going to be focusing mostly on guys with names like Diego and Antonio and Giovanni.

So there. In that sense, the flap over the Soprano actors seems sort of silly, don’t it?


What is perhaps more curious is the tendency for Italians in America to embrace and celebrate the mob mystique. It isn’t something that’s serious or really thought-out . It’s not as if they sit around thinking, “My ancestors murdered and stole and corrupted large parts of American urban society for years, and mostly kept from getting caught. Isn’t that cool?” I’m pretty certain that the cognitive version that inhabits most people’s conception of Italian mobsters is a highly sanitized, romantic one, where the mobsters are merely exoticly romantic and ethnic rogues, with their own set of customs and sense of honor. I repeatedly recoil at this denial of the simple fact that these people were brutal and ruthless killers, who killed grusomely and occasionally en masse for personal profit.

Perhaps it’s part of what Perry De Haviland described in reference to Slovakia’s current ails:

So what is Slovakia really like? A country of which we know little and care even less, it hasn’t yet found any symbolic associations that gets small, and big, nations through the day – Switzerland has cheese and cuckoo clocks, Scotland has whisky and tartan, Czech Republic has beer and Prague, Russia has vodka and chaos etc.

And the Italian version: pasta and crime (hell, they even call the mob cosa nostra, “our thing”).

The Sopranos is fabulously popular among Italians, possibly more so than among any other demographic, in the same way that the Godfather was and is, and I can see how Italian-American PR groups (really, what else are they?) chafe at this, though I’m a little surprised that they don’t simply go along with the trend . For this, at least, they should be commended.

So was it foolish for the parade sponsors to not allow the Soprano actors to march? A little.

One point to be made is that these people are simply prominent Italian celebrities, regardless of the parts they play. Perhaps if Bloomberg had chosen a couple of non-Italians who were on the show, there would have been more justification for the sponsors’ reaction, but in either case it’s something of a minor point.

What really concerns me is the St. Patrick’s day parade and all those dirty, barbarous Micks. I just hate them so much!

last update : 23-5-2018

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