Thursday, April 27, 2006

America's Greatest Banker was Italian-American

One of the greatest bankers in American history was an Italian-American. Amadeo Peter Giannini. He was born in San Jose, California in 1870 and founded the Bank of Italy in 1904. Today the bank is better known as the Bank of America, once the largest bank in the U.S.

The Charlotte Sun-Herald has a good story about Giannini here. It was written to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake. The Bank of Italy was started in San Francisco, but has since moved to North Carolina.

The article is worth reading, as it highlights the accomplishments of one of history's great Italian-Americans. And there's not a stereotype anywhere in sight!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Practicing What We Preach

Sometimes I think we're our own worst enemies when it comes to battling stereotypes. It's not so much the negative portrayals that are a problem, it's the ignorance that comes along with it.

Case in point: An Italian-American web portal called Virtual Italia features pages of books, music, news, features and other things pertaining to our culture. There's also a forum on the site with a bunch of categories. There's also a section for local forums for various cities, New York being one of them. In this forum, there's a post by NYnonna about John Gotti. Apparently there was a thread about Gotti and the Mafia a while back, which NYnonna read. It seems there were some posts about Gotti and his Mafiosi hoods and how they give Italian-Americans a bad name. Apparently NYnonna disagrees.

Here's some of what she has to say on the subject:

For the record John Gotti never killed anyone himself. What he may have told others to do is on their conscience.

Then there's this bit of nonsense:
I find it hard to believe an Italian would actually believe all the wasp bull about the " families" being bad people. They were people, doing what ever they had to do to take care of their own just as their forefathers did and ancestors in Italy did.

You can read the thread here.

It's ignorance like this that makes it hard for us to combat the negative stereotypes we find in the media. When people like NYnonna spout their uninformed garbage in public, it makes it that much harder for people to take our complaints seriously.

These people do not help our cause, they just help to reinforce the stereotype.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paulie Walnuts to Push Netflix

Online DVD rental company Netflix on Monday (April 24) plans to unveil a new 30-second television spot on broadcast and cable TV titled "Gangster," featuring The Soprano's star Tony (Paulie Walnuts) Sirico. In the spot, according to the company "Sirico portrays a gangster who comically 'encourages' a homeowner to sign up for Netflix. The homeowner's wife puts her two cents in, at her peril."

Check out the commercial:

Friday, April 21, 2006

Image is Everything

According to the Italic Institute of America (IIA), there have been a total of 1,233 Italian-related films produced since "talkies" were invented in 1928, up until 2002 when their study was released. Of those films, 374, or 31%, portray Italians in a positive light and 859, or a whopping 69%, portray us in an unfavorable light.

The IIA study also points out that mob characters represent 40% of all the movies produced from 1928 to 2002. Interestingly, 88% of those mob characters are fictional. Only 12% are based on real gangsters.

And things have gotten worse since the release of The Godfather in 1972. The IIA says since that movie's release, more than 300 movies have been made featuring Italians as criminals.

According to the IIA:

Positive or complex portrayals of Italians are often treated fleetingly – i.e., as supporting characters. It is indeed rare to have a film featuring a complex, non-stereotypical Italian character as a main protagonist from start to finish (e.g., Al Pacino in 1973's "Serpico" or Meryl Streep in 1996's "The Bridges of Madison County").

The 40-page study is available from the IIA for $10. For a summary of its findings, click here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Negative Portrayals of Italian-Americans in the Media Must End

Welcome to the Italian-Americans Against Media Stereotypes blog, better known as IAAMS (not to be confused with the company that makes pet food, which by the way only has one “a”!).

On a regular basis, this blog will alert you to advertisements, statements, broadcasts, articles and anything else I can find that portray Italian-Americans (and Italians, too, for that matter) as buffoons, Mafiosi, idiots, morons and other negative stereotypes. The purpose of this blog is to point out these instances and hopefully enlighten you to the problem of negative media portrayals – if you’re motivated to write a letter or send an email to the offending party, all the better.

This blog is not about censorship. I do not advocate (as some groups out there do) that Italian-American actors who portray Mafiosi on TV and in the movies should be ashamed of themselves and never work again because of it. I will not demand that a particular television network pull a show or series off the air because it may portray Italian-Americans in a negative light. But I will point out that it is happening and you can either stop watching the show (which is the best course of action – if the ratings slide, the show will eventually be cancelled) or write a letter or send an email to the network’s president and let it be known that you don’t appreciate the negative portrayal. I’ll also point out any instances of positive portrayals of Italian-Americans in the media (though unfortunately, those posts probably will be few and far between).

I hope you find this blog entertaining, informative and maddening. Italian-Americans are one of the few ethnic groups left that the media feels are fair game for negative stereotyping (along with gays and blondes!). To borrow a phrase from the movie Network,“We’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

If you come across an instance of negative stereotyping in your local newspaper, a magazine, on TV, radio or the Internet, drop me an Email and let me know. I’ll be happy to blog about it and hopefully together we can help change the all-to-pervasive negative images of Italian-Americans in the media today.