Che cosa é “la fantasia di Italiano?”
This blog intends to analyze at how the media commodifies Italian and Italian-American identity across a variety of platforms.
Movie and television studios have long economized pejorative representations of ethnic minorities. Italians and Italian-Americans are one such affected group; the glorification of “the Mafia” is as old as Scarface (1932). Contemporarily, the mafia genre is defined by The Godfather (1972) and (the remake of) Scarface (1983), Goodfellas (1990), and The Sopranos (1999); all of which depict Italians or Italian-Americans as materialistic and money-grubbing. Since the 1930s, though, these stereotypes have attained a coveted place in pop culture and new media. Although having a criminal background is less common amongst them, figures and characters in reality television shows that play with Italian-American identity are garnering large audiences. Consequently, these shows are developing a visual real estate market for commercial advertising and promotion. Jersey Shore, Mob Wives, Cake Boss and The Real Housewives of New Jersey—these shows promote materialism and chauvinism under the guise of cultural identity, while the actors and actresses shamelessly develop their own product lines and literature (in the case of Snooki, of course). The commodification Italian and Italian-American identity also exists in video games, a story-telling medium with growing appeal to mass audiences.
One of the earliest popular games featured Italians, Mario and Luigi, who continue to peddle degenerative ideas about Italians almost 30 years after their conception by Japanese game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. These portly, moustached, mushroom-munching lady-chasers exclusively belonged to Nintendo, though. It wasn’t long before the mafia genre began to play out on other game consoles; Grand Theft Auto debuted on Sony’s PlayStation in 1997, and Gangsters: Organized Crime was published by Eidos Interactive as a PC CD-ROM game in 1998. In 2010, 2K Czech published Mafia II across 3 platforms, but the game’s imagery and theme is almost identical to games like it developed over a decade ago. Borrowing from media before it, video games treat Italian and Italian-American stereotypes as proverbial cash cows.
The blog does not intend to explore definitions of ethnicity or race. Entire communities and volumes of literature exist that debate the authenticity of ethnic identity, and what constitutes ethnic identity—is it about blood or cultural upbringing? This blog only analyzes those labels that individuals adopt themselves. For example, Snooki and J-Woww, while not ethnically Italian, are indirectly labeled as such. This blog hopes to explain why the media chooses to reinforce their assumed “guidette” identity.