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Shark Tale: The Complete Story

"Are you trying to deny the existence of the Mafia?"

Of course not. But the role it has played in Italic history and culture as fostered by Hollywood is perversely out of proportion to reality. Italians, keep in mind, have historically played leading and indispensable roles in the advancement of every aspect of civilization, and the organized crime component shrivels to insignificance when weighed against three millennia of positive Italic contributions to humanity. This is supported by the fact that the majority of "Mafia" movies depict wholly fictitious characters and events. See for example the Italic Institute of America's "Image Research Project: Italian Culture on Film" (1928 - 2002). If Hollywood limited itself to depicting only real life episodes, the Mafia movie inventory would not be nearly so lengthy.

Yet, popular culture's fixation with the "Mafia," relentlessly enforced by films like Shark Tale, has created a situation , distorted from all reality, that virtually equates an Italian surname with organized crime or other anti-social behavior. This is good news for scriptwriters, since they need only assign names like "Guido" or "Vinny" to a character and can be confident that their audiences will expect some sort of crude or brutal behavior, even if it has nothing at all to do with crime.

For instance, one of the characters in the hit musical (and film) "Little Shop of Horrors" a woman-beater and sadist, is given the name of "Orin Scrivello" by writer Howard Ashman. There is no reference to organized crime (or even to Italians) in the plot. Ashman could have just as easily named this brute "Orin Smith" or "Orin Finklestein", since there was absolutely nothing essential to the story that required an Italian surname...other than providing a well-conditioned public with something they've come to expect.

Similarly, in the 1994 20th Century Fox remake of "Miracle on 34th Street", and again for no plausible reason, the devious, alcoholic sham Santa Claus character (whose ethnicity was left unidentified in the original version) is given the name "Tony Falacchi". Once again, there was absolutely utterly no reason to identify this character as an Italian American...other than the fact that he was devious and morally corrupt. More perfidious examples can be viewed at www.stereotypethis.com.

Among the spillovers into real life where the "suspicion by ethnicity" theme is a matter of record are innuendoes faced by Italian American political candidates. Journalist Sam Donaldson, let's not forget, once remarked with utter impunity on national TV that it was the obligation of the press to investigate the backgrounds of Italian American candidates for ties to organized crime based on no stronger evidence than simple ethnicity. Please note that we are not hearing Donaldson apply this obligation to presidential candidates Carol Mosely Braun or Joe Lieberman in context to stereotypes associated with their particular race or ethnicity.

A few years after Donaldson's remark, during a City Council contract-awarding session, Chicago Alderman Larry Bloom stated that one way of assuring honesty in the process was to make sure the job didn't go to someone "whose name ends in a vowel." For the record, Alderman Bloom himself was later convicted of public corruption during a government sting operation!

In Maine not too long ago, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Baldacci was targeted with demeaning radio ads by opponent John Carter in which a New Jersey-accented voice-over attacked Baldacci while peppering up the script with terms like "badda-bing", "fugettaboudit" and other phrases popularized by the Sopranos series in an attempt to draw the already familiar association between dubious ethics and an Italian surname.

Organized crime is a reality. In most American cities, the "Italian" version of organized crime was inherited from foundations established by earlier Anglo and Irish gangs and shared by Jewish counterparts. Today, there are Israeli, Russian, and Chinese "Mafias", whose activities are every bit as notorious, and often surpass in viciousness, those attributed to the long-fading Italian version. Yet, the albatross of criminality continues to be hung exclusively around the Italic neck.

back to the summary . . .
 
 

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