Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Sopranos, baldly

After 88 disgraceful episodes, The Sopranos series has come to an end. Thank goodness. I don’t have HBO, where this farrago first appeared, but have glanced at a few episodes now that they are being rerun on regular cable TV. I find the enthusiasm for the show disgusting and preposterous.

Some Italian Americans disapprove of The Sopranos because in their view the TV series gives a false picture of persons of Italian heritage in this country. From what I can tell this is not the case. Much of the appeal of the show rests on the fact that it portrays all too accurately the criminal behavior that continues to flourish among a segment of the Italian American community.

A cliché heard endlessly nowadays is that this country was built upon the labors of immigrants. While this statement discounts the contributions of native Americans, it is basically true. What is questionable is the unspoken second premise, namely that the contributions of all immigrant groups are equal.

For one thing, immigrants participate in our society in different ways. Here in New York City Koreans dominate the mom and pop stores, especially those that offer fresh produce. South Asians have increasingly taken over as news agents and stationers. As often as not, today’s pizza makers are Albanians and Kosovars. Having largely abandoned the pizza parlors, Italians continue to dominate the construction trades. This industry, long a byword for corruption, interfaces with the mob.

If a point system had been instituted for immigrants in the 19th century the ancestors of today’s US Mafia would not have been admitted. With a point system we would still have had such productive immigrants as A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Both had roots in northern Italy. To be sure, we would still have to put up with Mr. Justice Antonin Scalia, whose father was a college professor. No system is perfect.

To many these comments about Italian Americans must seem off-the-wall. For one thing, it is deeply un-PC to criticize any ethnic group as such. With one exception, they are all just wonderful. The exception is WASPs; they are fair game. Be it noted that I am not a WASP; my DNA shows that my ethnic roots trace back to the Emerald Isle. For a later piece I reserve some well merited criticisms of Irish Americans. Let me just mention four, though: alcoholism; anti-intellectualism; clericalism; and, to a significant degree, support for the IRA terrorists. Let the chips fall where they may.

Then there is the halo effect of such figures as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Monteverdi, and Galileo. However, these people lived a long time ago, and made their homes in north-central Italy. A more appropriate comparison might be with Silvio Berlusconi.

There are immigrants and immigrants. Good immigrants are surely to be found in every ethnic group--but not in the same proportion. Hosting a flood of the wrong sort, from whatever country, produces an overall deficit, not an asset.



Blogger Stephen said...

In this instance--having, as you say, not watched the series--you know not of where you speak. The most enthusiastic fans of the program among my friends are nth-generation Italian American, but what I think would most interest you if you actually partook of the series is the therapy for panic attacks and enabling sociopaths.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

ith Camille Paglia in the lead, many Italian Americans have expressed disapproval of The Sopranos. The larger problem is that almost all the imaginative space allotted to Italian Americans in this countries is taken up with undesirable figures. The Sopranos and the Gpdfather trilogy loom largest.

What else is left. Well, there is Frank Sinatra, beloved by so many--but again a person with mob ties. Sinatra excelled primarily in phrasing and (in his earlier years) perfect pitch. His material was not original: even "My Way" was adapted from a French song.

Above all, Sinatra exemplified a kind of predatory machismo and homophobia that has long blighted America.

I could go on. The point is made. Shouldn't Italian Americans be seeking to change their image, instead of applauding it. After all, African Americans confront some of the same issues. By and large black intellectuals decry this media image. But Italian Americans applaud theirs. This adulation of criminality and violence is not good for them, or for the larger society.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Camille Paglia is an anti-authority in my view whose statements are motivated by a wish to maintain a reputaiton for provocativeness rather than by even the slightest interest in truth or justice.

Even granting an overabundance of representations (by people with names like Scorcese and Coppola) of criminals of Italian descent in mass media, there is a whole lot more to the series than violence and criminality--including growing up under the shadow of a violent, criminal, (philandering, etc.) father.

4:00 PM  

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