Media Images of Italian Americans
The Italian Americans have always been treated as ‘non-whites’ in America, just as the pervasive crime, ethnicity, and stereotypes about them in the movie Good Fellas reveal. Not only did they move to the United States to encounter employment discrimination, but also experienced lots of violence from whites, who perceived them as being outcasts (Woll and Miller, 1987). Due to Italian Americans’ once marginalized state, the race and ethnic prejudice of Italians continue both in films, as demonstrated in Good Fellas, and in the media at large.
Across different media platforms, Italian Americans are all often shown as mobsters, peasants and criminals. However, while the Italian Americans have made enormous strides, their depiction in the media and films still remains stereotypical if not troublesome. In fact, fewer Italian Americans take part in organized crimes. But watching the movie Good Fellas (Scorsese, 2007), one would think that every Italian family has a gang tie. In addition, according to this movie, Italian Americans and organized crimes are like conjoined twins; therefore, portraying a negative image that all Italians are mobsters.
Indeed, media stereotypes are sometimes unavoidable in the film and entertainment industry, since this helps viewers understand it easier. However, such prejudices are causing some false accusations for a common understanding of a social group or groups of people, often relating to race, gender, and ethnicity. In most cases, many of the social groups that are being stereotyped have nothing or very little to say regarding the way in which they are represented. Social stratification can cause severe conflicts and might make one judge others even before knowing them. Just a drawing from the movie, most of the stereotyping directed to Italian Americans is largely negative. Just because some Italian American characters are portrayed in a certain manner in the media, it does not define the whole Italian community or culture.
The socio-historical development of the media portrayal of the Italians in America can also be traced from the movie. Most of the Italians came to the United States in search of work and land. By the year 1923, there were more than 3 million Italian immigrants in America. Though, most people can agree that Italian Americans started off with a bad footing or reputation due to small Italian criminals, who were associated with gangs and groups. It is these small Italian social groups acting as mobs and thugs, which led to the making of films as well as television shows about the Italian lifestyles.
Famous Italian mobsters such as the ones shown in the movie Good Fellas have been commonly mirrored in films and television series. Furthermore, because of media, Italian Americans started being seen as criminals, hot tempered as well as very violent. As one of the major movies to come out about Italian Americans being associated with the mob, the Good Fellas portrays Italian men as being uneducated, dishonest and brutal.
Thus, besides Good Fellas being an embarrassment to the Italian-American culture, the negative traits of the characters in the media make most Americans believe that all the Italian people are just like what they watch. In retrospect, such social stratifications were none existent when the Italians first stepped in America. It is the advent of the media, which started showing Italian Americans as mobsters. However, despite the negative illustration of Italian Americans, several other movies show the positive sides of Italians living in America. These movies attempt to show that Italian-Americans are good people, and just like other Americans, they deserve respect. Moreover, with the increasing diversity in the American society today, there is no doubt that Italian American culture will gain more popularity.