Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Problem is It's Just Too Easy


When you're reaching for an analogy to help describe a situation that's a bit shady, high pressure or even criminal, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the Mafia. It's an easy one. And everyone gets it right away.

Well, that's the problem. It shouldn't be that easy and it shouldn't be the universal symbol for all things that are wrong. Sure the members of the American Mafia are criminals and are bad people. And sure they are Italian-American. But not all Italian-Americans are in the Mafia. This bears repeating. While all Mafiosi are Italian-Americans (at least all made Mafiosi anyway), not all Italian-Americans are in the Mafia. To associate the two groups is wrong, unfair, insulting and perpetuates stereotypes.

How long would it be tolerated if African-Americans were continually associated with the Stepin Fetchit character? How long would it be tolerated if all Jews were associated with the Shylock character? Not very long.

But it seems to be readily accepted that Italian-Americans and the Mafia go together. Well, I'm here to tell you they don't.

As an example of how easy it is to reach for and grab the Mafia analogy, even though it has nothing to do with anything and is irrelevant to the situation at hand, is a recent article from the Associated Press about the sale of two Philadelphia newspapers to a private company. A columnist for one of the papers being sold spoke to the Associated Press and complained about the corporate mentality that has overtaken the newspaper business. He expressed relief that the newspapers would no longer have to please Wall Street and the company's shareholders above everyone else.

Here's what the columnist, Stu Bykofsky, told the AP:

"That is enormously important because Wall Street has been the poison that has destroyed American journalism by its constant demands to return, say, 25 percent annually on investment, which is a figure that only the Mafia used to get," Bykofsky said.

His point being that trying to please the shareholders is akin to extortion by the Mafia. Sure, it's a colorful analogy. But is it necessary. No. Could he have used another, less stereotypical, less offensive analogy. Yes. But it was an easy one. It came to mind quickly.

That's the problem. It's too easy. It's our job to make it less easy.

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