By Valerie Groebner
A&E Assitant Editor
Legendary and controversial works such as The Godfather, Scarface, and The Sopranos left behind a legacy, and talented and groundbreaking musical artists, such as Andrea Boccelli and Luciano Pavarotti, are no exception. But what is their relation to the most commonly seen facet of today’s pop culture?
This ethnic group turned entertainment focal point has been degraded, and stereotypes almost unbreakable. But let’s not get hasty. Although Marlon Brando, James Galdofini, and Al Pacino, to name a few, have a classier and more well-respected essence than that of personalities such as Pauly D and Snooki. Maybe they are to blame for the current wave and desire for entertainment by Italians.
Take a good look at the TV shows that air on a handful of channels. MTV started the Jersey Shore reality phenomena, which resulted in the separate spin-offs Snooki & J-Woww and The Pauly D Project.
TLC follows the lives of the loud, heavily Jersey-accented, close knit, family-owned—yet exaggerated—bakers of Carlo’s Bakery (on the reality show Cake Boss); Bravo documents the lives of five filthy rich, luxury-living wives who make it a priority to exaggerate the existence of their Italian roots.
TLC also airs the reality show Long Island Medium, about your everyday housewife with two teenagers and a husband… and so conveniently has that “Jersey accent, sassy attitude” and communicates with the paranormal. A far stretch, no? The show could be equally as interesting if it were just about a medium with an out-of-this-world attitude, sure. Her last name, accent, and fashion sense, however, seem to have to be highlighted in order to get good ratings and reviews, as well as a viewer’s attention.
In 2004, the hungry pop culture fans were introduced to A & E’s reality show Growing Up Gotti, based on the life of Victoria Gotti, daughter of the notorious mafia boss John Gotti, and her three sons.
With this, Vh1 airs Mob Wives and its spin-off Mob Wives: Chicago, which tells the personal stories of five 40-to-50-something women and their biological relations to real life, bona fide, disreputable mobsters. They express themselves to be defiant, hard-shelled, yet dependent, and express their lives to be devastating, angst-y, and somehow still inundated with the convenience of money, and lots of it. Such shows could have easily sparked the obsession of Italian trends.
The concepts of these shows are entertaining and sure can fill a room with laughter, but along with that comes a price: the negative portrayal of Italians. What we see on these shows are harshly tanned bodies, gaudy jewelry, overbearing cleavage, and incoming hair roots—we hear loud, obnoxious voices spoken in strong Jersey accents, sometimes even over exaggerated accents. With shows such as Snooki & J-Woww and The Pauly D Project, 20-something Italians are thought to be thirsty for just alcohol, addicted to the nocturnal, nightclub scene life, egotistical about outer appearance, and prideful in their promiscuous decisions.
On the shows Cake Boss and Long Island Medium, an image of high tensioned and then suddenly close-knit families are conveyed, but nothing more is shown. With The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Mob Wives, however, high tension, close-knit, drama, fuming anger, and… money are conveyed. Normal families do not thrive off of hundreds and thousands of dollars and buy one another’s happiness or love. Families, moreover Italian families, do not all own grand mansions in ritzy neighborhoods, and lavish beach houses on “the Shore.” They do not have walk-in closets adorned with designer apparel and accessories, and surprisingly, there are a large number of Italian families that can go for days without yelling or walking out one each other. This seems to be all that they are about, and it is a false image of not only people, but most importantly at this aimed ethnicity.
Thus comes the question: What is the fascination with Italians? Sure, their traditional food is a nationwide interest, their opera singers are mind-blowing, and riding a gondola would be awfully romantic, but why can’t it stop there? It’s the narrow-tracked portrayal of an ethnic group (American or Italian born) that gives viewers a negative idea and thus allows them to believe what they see and not worry about knowing what more there is.