TELEVISION: by Anthony CappelloNews Weekly
, April 22, 2000
The Sopranos sitcom, late on Monday night television, links New Jersey Italian-American culture with organised crime and the Mafia.
The sitcom is very violent, typically chauvinist, has frequent simulated sex scenes and drug use.
Some famous Italian Americans, like Senator Al D'Amato and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, are big fans of the sitcom.
However, the US National Ethnic Coalition of Organisations has a different view. It has started a campaign describing The Sopranos as "a negative stereotype, an embarrassment and a slap in the face to every Italian American." Other protests have come from the Congress of Racial Equality and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.
The problem, according to these protests, is that it depicts Italian-Americans as being involved in organised crime.
Cultural stereotyping by the American movie industry is not a problem confined to the Italian community. However, as Terry Golway says in America magazine, March 29, "of the many groups that wish to lodge a complaint ... this country's 25 million Italian-Americans probably have the strongest case."
The portrayal of Italian-Americans as mobsters have been around since the 1970s, since Mario Puzo's The Godfather and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. There is nothing new in The Sopranos. Rather, "Italian-Americans are making it clear that they are fed up with culture's cartoon-like treatment of their lives," says Terry Golway.
However, there are more evident problems with the sitcom. Over and above its portrayal of Italian-Americans, The Sopranos pictures mobsters as "men with hearts". Reviewers have argued that the lead character, Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, is a "not your typical tough-guy with no-heart, but a killer nonetheless." Another reviewer called Tony Soprano "sexy" - "its his coldness, the fact that he can go out and murder someone, come home, sit down and play video games with his son."
Its also riddled with infidelity - the mobsters' method of coping with nagging wives and dominant mothers.
It remains a major cultural problem that another sitcom portrays Italian-Americans as mobsters and criminals, turning them into "sexy" TV stars with their amoral lifestyle, where life's struggles are resolved with drugs, infidelity and violence.
It is a problematic portrayal of American culture in general and really not suited or recommended for our Australian screens.
The current television ratings of The Soprano's in Australia thankfully confirms this view.