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Ethnicity In Hollywood And American Culture Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 5568 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Hollywood movies have preached the assimilation of the ethnic “other” into American culture. This is a dangerous prospect as media representations are used to frame our understandings of ethnic groups and sub-cultures. In this study, a social semiotic approach is used to frame the violence, food, musical score, and set furnishings present in The Sopranos. By contrasting these elements with those found in The Godfather, assimilation of the ethnic Italian is revealed. Using an interpretation that rests on the theoretical framework of symbolic interactionism, this study adds to our understanding of ethnic representation in media. Through a deeper understanding, we can resist negative media representations of ethnic groups.

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In 1997, The Godfather Saga, a revised version of The Godfather and The Godfather II, was televised to a national audience. This was a broadcast landmark as it was preceded by a disclaimer to forewarn the audience that the characters were not representative of any ethic group (Cortes, 1987). The statement became a model for television broadcasts that depicted any ethnic group as criminal and violent. The disclaimer was indicative of a burgeoning awareness that entertainment films possess the power to create, reinforce, and modify public perception of ethnic groups (Cortes, 1987). While a number of factors likely influence public perception of ethnic culture, mass media representation has been documented as a significant factor (Jamieson, 1992). Indeed, some researchers suggest that much of the information people acquire about ethnic culture comes from mass media (Bodenhausen, Schwarz, Bless, & Wänke 1995). A century of media representation of Italian culture and its mythical link to organized crime, has created paradoxical visions of admiration and disdain; fascination and fear; endearing attractiveness and aversion. Central to the popular vision of the Mafia, the depiction of Italian family culture is a dichotomy between family values and violent family “business”. The existence, success, and continuation of the Italian family depend on a system of traditions and rules rooted in extreme patriarchy and enforced through acts of violence. The immutable strength of this image effects both public perceptions of Italian culture and the Italian self-image (Quinn, 2004).

The debut of The Sopranos in 1999 represents a significant event in media representation of Italian culture. The series portrays American born Mafiosi as ordinary suburban neighbors, complete with barbecues, golf games, kids in College, and stock options. How does the The Sopranos contribute to the media image of the Italian family? In this study, I take a constructivist approach to examine the first season of The Sopranos in an effort to determine how the series changes the traditional image built by gangster movies like The Godfather. The Sopranos updates the image of the Italian mob family by completely assimilating it within American cultural norms (Blackwood, 2006). In this way, The Sopranos supports the symbolic interactionist assertion that ethnic groups are not natural biological divisions of humanity, but rather temporary alignments of people created by communication channels (Freidman, 1991).

The influence of The Sopranos is appreciated by considering the thirteen million viewers it attracted by its third season (Cartier, 2006), and in the attention it garnered from both television critics and politicians. In 2001, the producers of the Sopranos were unsuccessfully sued under the “individual dignity” clause of the Illinois Constitution (Italian-American group sues, 2001). In the previous year, Essex County officials banned HBO from filming scenes on county-owned property (N.J. county shoots down ‘Sopranos’ filming request, 2000). In announcing the ban, officials expressed their displeasure at the show’s portrayal of Italian-Americans. Backed by sixteen colleagues, New Jersey congresswoman Marge Roukema proposed that the House of Representatives chastise producers of television shows like The Sopranos because of their depiction of Italian-Americans as criminals (Congresswoman asks House, 2001). These events underline the importance of understanding the link between popular drama and cultural representation. As the demands of modern life become more complicated through a mixing of cultures, our understanding of the larger world becomes more important to us. Therefore, we use the messages we decode from popular culture to frame our understanding of ethnic groups, and the nature of diverse subcultures (Beck, 2000). This means that media representation, and more specifically ethnic representation within popular culture, plays a key role in our understandings of immigrants and their subcultures (Cortes, 1987). Further, because entertainment and information are no longer distinct streams within the public consumption of cultural products, “the fate of diverse subgroups within our society depends on the roles assigned to them in […] popular dramas” (Beck, 2000, p. 25). Through careful evaluation of the set furnishings, music, food, and violence presented in the popular drama The Sopranos, an assimilation of Italian culture into American culture is revealed. This assimilation is so strong that only the most obvious ethnic symbols remain resulting in a link between the Italian family and crime that is much stronger than any previously portrayed.

Literature Review

The earliest film representation of Italians and crime is documented by Blackwood (2006). The Black Hand (1906), a seven minute one-reeler, was allegedly based on an actual kidnapping and ransom demand that occurred in the Italian quarter of New York City. A number of later films including The Black Hand (1912) and Binks, The Black Hand (1913) followed. In 1908, the New York Police Department established the Italian Bureau, headed by Detective Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino. An Italian immigrant himself, Petrosino was subsequently murdered by a Mafia Don while conducting research in Palerimo, Italy (Giuliani, 1999). This event spawned a number of Mafia movies including The Detectives of the Italian Bureau (1909), The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (1912), The Padrone Ward (1914), The Last Mafia (1915), and Don Caesar de Bazan (1915). Although this very early representation of Italians is often overlooked, Blackwood (2006) points out the importance of this period. The films demonstrate the incredible age of the Italian Mafia stereotype, and they represent the birth of the link between Italians and crime. Benshoff & Griffin (2004) point out that this period fashioned a second stereotype of Italian people. The movies often portrayed the “good” Italian falling victim to the “bad” Italian. The “good” Italian representation was that of an assimilated small businessman. He was a simple-minded, working class Italian often named Luigi or Guido who spoke broken English, wore a bushy moustache, and had a large family. He was gracious, always smiling, and worked as a street vendor, organ grinder, or ran a small restaurant. The stereotype exists to this day in the Super Mario Brothers games (1993) and on countless pizza boxes.

Cortes (1987) identifies three distinct periods in the history of Italian representation in film. In the first period, 1917-1928, the depiction of Italians was heavily influenced by a negotiation for “whiteness” (Benshoff & Griffin, 2004). America experienced a great surge in immigration during the final years of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Large numbers of Eastern and Southern European people flooded into the urban centers of America. From 1900 to 1910 over eight million immigrants entered the United States (U.S. Census Data, 2003). This sudden mixing of “white” ethnic culture with the established white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture increased levels of xenophobia and forced people of non-Anglo-Saxon, European descent to negotiate their relation to “whiteness”. This negotiation, and a general concern over the growing presence of foreign culture in America, lead to strict immigration laws and influenced the way Italians were represented in film. Italians were depicted in films with darker skin tones, thick curly hair, and little education. As immigration fears increased, the “white ethnic” Italian was portrayed as unsavory, radical, and over-sexed in such films as Dangerous Hours (1919) and Manhandled (1924).

In the 1930s, Hollywood became fascinated with crime. The Great Depression coupled with Prohibition focused that fascination on the problem of gangsters, leading to the rediscovery of the Italian American mobster. By 1932, “Italian gangsters [had] become the personification of America’s social failures, including the crisis of the increasingly elusive American Dream” (Cortes, 1987, p. 110). In this second period, 1930-1970, Italian mobsters were vicious, violent, self-serving, one-dimensional characters. The period is characterized by the advent of sound, and the ear-splitting shots of Italian-mobster machine guns became the symbol of Italian ethnic violence. So great was the impact on the Italian psyche that the release of films such as Little Ceasar (1930), The Public Enemy (1931), Scarface (1932), The Gay Divorcee (1934), and Top Hat (1935), prompted the Italian government to ban importation of all American films containing Italian characters (Vasey, 1992). In an effort to remove this barrier, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), a trade association formed to negotiate American film trade agreements with foreign governments, was successful in influencing a more positive film image of Italians. Obvious references to Italian ethnicity were removed from many gangster movies although the inferences remained (Vasey, 1992). Films such as Golden Boy (1939) and They Knew What They Wanted (1940) actually depicted Italian characters as law-abiding, hardworking ethnics (Cortes, 1987). During the war, Italian Americans increasingly promoted their loyalty to their adopted country. As a consequence, Italians were often depicted in wartime propaganda films as courageous and dedicated soldiers fighting alongside “American” soldiers (Benshoff & Griffin, 2004). This depiction is evident in the Giuseppe character from Sahara (1943), Lieutenant Angelo Canelli in The Purple Heart (1944), and Captain Andrés Bonifácio in Back to Bataan (1945).

Post-war film making in Italy had an effect on Hollywood images of Italian Americans. Italian film makers worked to increase cinematic realism leading to a movement called Italian Neorealism (Benshoff & Griffin, 2004). The films resulting from this movement were popular and often represented Italians as poor and working class. Consequently American depictions began to represent Italians as “down-to-earth”, working class people in such films as Marty (1955) and The Rose Tattoo (1955). The final years of the second period defined by Cortes contains another interesting phenomenon. Both Italian and American film makers resurrected the hot Italian lover stereotype that had been well crafted by the Rodolph Valentino movies of the 1920s. Italian actresses Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Anna Magnini became famous for their uninhibited sexuality. In the repressive, socially conservative 1950s, these ethnic “other” actresses provided sexual escapism not possible for respectable white women. As the 1970s approached, various ethnic movements popularized “the search for and the celebration of ethnic heritage, identity, and pride” (Cortes, 1987, p. 116). This new enthusiasm for ethnicity, coupled with an influx of talented Italian movie producers and actors, led to an explosion of Italian character representations in film. In addition, the disappearance of the Hayes Code in 1968, Hollywood’s self-censorship system, encouraged a war where filmmakers vied to top each other in graphic depictions of sex and violence (Cortes, 1987). All of these factors influenced the watershed moment in the depiction of Italians in film, the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

The third period, 1970 to present, is epitomized by The Godfather. This 1972 film, by Francis Ford Coppola, depicts the Italian gangster as a complex, multi-dimensional character. For the first time the activities of Italian gangsters are firmly entrenched within Italian family values. The Godfather set a trend for complex mob characters in many movies that followed including The Don is Dead (1973), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), and Analyze This (1999).

Blackwood (2006) categorizes the periods of Italian representation in film according to “artistic device.” In the silent era through to the 1960’s, Italians are portrayed minstrelsy. Italian characters are used to exploit and rebuke the Italian sub-culture. In the 1970s, portrayals of Italian characters are changed, and serve to historicize “the Italian life experience in the U.S.A.” (Blackwood, 2006, p. 8). According to Blackwood (2006), the third period of representation began in the late 1990s with the renunciation of the Italian gangster figure. The television show The Sopranos (1999-2007) and the movie Analyze This (1999) present the assimilation of the Italian gangster figure into North American society, depicting the acceptance of American values.


The Sopranos debuted on HBO in 1999 (Martin, 2007). The show follows the life of notorious gangster Tony Soprano and his family as they deal with modern life in New Jersey. Tony, his wife Carmela, and their two children, Meadow and AJ, live in North Caldwell, New Jersey where Tony presides over a Mafia team. With eighty-six episodes spanning six seasons, the show is iconic in the world of Italian gangster stories. Television critics praised the show as “the apotheosis of television drama”, and the “recalibrated scale for comparing TV shows […] everything else seems flawed” (Martin, 2007, p. 16). The show also enjoyed instant success with audiences, claiming four million viewers during its debut season and quickly increasing to thirteen million viewers by the third season (Carter, 2006). Winning a plethora of awards including five Golden Globes, two Peabodys, two Writers Guild Awards, and 18 Emmys, the incredible popularity of the show propelled it into many manifestations of pop cultural success including a MAD magazine parody (issue 389, 2000), appearances on The Simpsons, and the cover of Rolling Stone (vol. 865, March 29, 2001). Grand Theft Auto III, the best selling video game of 2002 with sales of three million units, mimicked The Sopranos by placing players inside a Mafia organization. The game allows players “to move up through ranks of the Mafia by delivering suspicious packages, ferrying hookers to and from their dates, tailing suspected snitches, planting car bombs […], and having sex with their own goomahs” (Croal, p. 50). The Sopranos became so well recognized that HBO developed an entire side industry of Sopranos accessories including a men’s clothing line, mainstream coffee table and humour books, and even architectural plans for building Tony and Carmella’s house (Quinn, 2004).

The Sopranos was created in 1995 by David Chase. Chase is a television veteran who served as executive producer of such shows as Northern Exposure (1990-95), I’ll Fly Away (1991-93), and as writer/producer on The Rockford Files (1974-80). Chase claims the character of Jim Rockford, created by Stephen Cannell, as the major influence on his creation of Tony Soprano, the patriarch of the Soprano clan (Chase quoted in Martin, 2007, p. 10). However, there are those in the Italian American community, including Lawrence Di Stasi, historian and past president of the Western Italian American Historical Society, who believe a darker influence lies behind the show and the character of Tony Soprano. Di Stasi believes that Chase, whose surname has been anglicized from the Italian name De Cesare, internalized his ethnic hatred by “externalizing his self-loathing” (Di Stasi quoted in Quinn, p. 167). Chase stands accused of betraying his own culture by strengthening the association, more than ever, between Italian-American families and criminality. Di Stasi claims the average television viewer sees the link between the two as genetic.

Using existing literature combined with my own semiotic analysis of the television series The Sopranos, I take a constructionist approach to determine how The Sopranos changes the image of the Italian mafia family since the release of The Godfather. In doing so, I expose the Italian ethnic signs within the text and discuss the role these signs play in supporting Blackwood’s (2006) assertion that The Sopranos represent the assimilation of the Italian gangster into American culture. My data sample consists of the first season’s episodes of The Sopranos series. Limiting the catalog of data to thirteen episodes produces a feasible and manageable data set, and it allows analysis of a text created purely from the author’s intentions, before its extreme popularity could influence new or exaggerated messages. Using a social semiotic approach advocated by Fairclough and Van Leeuwen (see Van Leeuwen, 2005, p. 139), I analyze the first thirteen episodes of The Sopranos in an effort to reveal the underlying messages of ethnic Italian identity. This approach is selected because it focuses on the function of texts in social interactions. It recognizes discourse as an element to structure content (i.e. what is expressed), genre to structure interaction (i.e. what happens), and style to structure the manner in which a text communicates (Van Leeuwen, 2005). Under Van Leeuwen’s approach, the text will be examined through the frames of violence, food, musical score, and set furnishings. Framing is a way of describing the power of communication within a text (Entman, 1993). It involves the selection of an aspect of perceived reality, and the elevation of the salience of that information within the text (i.e. making it more noticeable).

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The analysis provided rests on the theoretical framework of symbolic interactionism. The rejection of the notions that meaning emanates intrinsically from objects that provide meaning and that meaning is derived through a coalescence of psychological factors, allows us to see meaning as product of social interaction (Blumer, 1986). Thus, the meaning of things is formed from communication channels through a recipient’s interpretive process. This theoretical framework makes possible the assimilation of one culture into another. Hollywood movies are bastions of symbolic interactionism. They “impose Americaness as a self-ascripting category whose value orientation dominates any primordial ethnic condition” (Freidman, 1991, p. 22).

Data Analysis

In The Sopranos, Chase removes the impenetrable barrier between Italian family values and Italian family “business” that was so carefully constructed by Coppola in The Godfather. Coppola manages to create an intensely powerful and thought provoking audience experience of The Godfather through narrative and visuals that present the opposition of family values and violence. In the opening scene, the viewer is presented with a dark image of a heart-broken man confessing a heinous act of sexual violence perpetrated against his daughter. As the camera pans out, and the screen brightens only slightly, we see the man is in the study of Vito Corleone, a mafia “Don” and patriarch to one of New York’s most infamous crime families. The man is begging Vito to avenge his daughter’s honour. Suddenly, the camera reveals the outside of the house, where there is a great celebration. Vito’s daughter is marrying. Men, women, children, and even rival mobsters attend the elaborate festivities. There is much laughter, singing, and dancing. In contrast, the dark study, allows only a few privileged men to enter and make requests of Vito, who cannot refuse their requests on the day of his daughter’s wedding. The movement of the camera back and forth between the two locations creates a striking, visual divide between the celebration of family, and the dark world of the “family business”. The study is the location of power, a private sanctuary where reports are given and violent reprisals are arranged. The scene very effectively illustrates the ironic nature of the relationship between the “family values” and the “family business”. The room is physically separate from the family rituals thus maintaining a strong separation between the two worlds. The dichotomous nature of Corleone family values allows the characters to tread a delicate line between valorization and criticism (Simon, 1983). In The Sopranos, Chase completely removes this separation by immersing the Italian characters in American cultural ritual and symbols. The “family business” is deeply entangled in everyday family rituals and activities. The world of family values and dark “family business” become one.

The total assimilation of the Italian mafia family into American culture is achieved by the removal of all but the most obvious signs of ethnic stereotyping. The Long Island estate of Vito Coleone, with its stone and stucco exterior, Italian style courtyard, and extensive vegetable and fruit gardens, is replaced with a New Jersey, sprawling, modern American, brick ranch. Vito’s Italian gardens are replaced with Tony Soprano’s landscaping that appears to come straight from the pages of a Home Depot magazine. The interior of the Soprano house is a striking contrast to that of the Corleones. The Corleone mansion, with its dark leather furniture, dark oak paneling and trim, dim lighting, and minimalist furnishings is replaced by the bright modern American décor of the Soprano’s home. An authentic New Jersey look was crucial for Chase whose production designer spent countless hours “poking through houses up and down the Garden State parkway” (Martin, 2007, p. 29). What Chase achieved are luxurious interiors of light coloured oak flooring, tan leather furniture, modern glass top tables, and light oak shelves carefully decorated with “showy” books, pricey figurines, vases, and candle sticks. The walls are finished in tame colours of tan, ivory, soft greens, and gold. In the dining room and bedroom, the furniture is finished in light pastels that imitate stone which was common in upscale American homes of the 1990s. The kitchen, with its recessed pot lighting and bleached oak cabinets, is typical of popular modern American design. This is the home of a typical middle-class American family, from the bright, warm, inviting family room to the messy teenager bedrooms covered in dirty laundry and grunge band posters.

The lack of a musical score for The Sopranos also assists in the assimilation of the characters into American culture. The Godfather provides the viewer with a rich ethnic and folkloric musical score written by Nino Rota with additional music by Carmen Coppola, Francis Ford’s father. From luna mess’ ‘o mare sung by family members during the opening wedding scene to the main title, called The Godfather Waltz, the viewer is immersed in the melodic strands of Italian music and reminded of the rich ethnic background that gave rise to such music. In contrast, there is no musical score for The Sopranos; however, each Sopranos episode opens with Woke Up This Morning (1997) by British fusion band Alabama 3 and closes with a different previously recorded pop tune such as Elvis Costello’s Complicated Shadows (episode 3), Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit (episode 7), and Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper (episode 13). This music lends a contemporary feel to the show that is decidedly American. Chase believes firmly that the lack of a musical score increases the authenticity of his work. He notes that like Quentin Tarantino’s movies, the use of pre-recorded, popular music promotes an authentic American feel to the work (David Chase Interview, 2000).

Despite the assimilated nature of the characters, a link to Italian ethnicity is maintained. This link is achieved primarily through the constant reference to Italian cuisine within each episode. A major sub-plot in episode one involves young AJ’s birthday party where Ziti and the proper way to cook Italian sausages is a significant part of the narrative. In episode two, Paulie Walnuts becomes enraged at the profits earned by large American corporations through their cooption of Italian cuisine. Father Phil, the priest from the local Roman Catholic Church, is often seen visiting the Soprano home. The character of Father Phil is intended to create sexual tension with the character of Carmella Soprano (David Chase Interview, 2000). This tension is overshadowed by Father Phil’s desire for home-made Italian food and his constant dialog regarding the superiority of Italian cuisine. He visits the Soprano home, and the homes of other Italian parishioners, constantly looking to be fed (episodes 1, 5, 6, 13). Artie Bucco, a close friend of Tony’s, is an accomplished chef specializing in Italian cuisine. This character appears in numerous scenes where he serves sumptuous Italian cuisine and his skills as an Italian chef are praised (episode 1, 2, 3, 9, 13). Chase devotes a significant amount of dialog in each episode to the discussion of Italian food. In addition, Italian food is visually depicted through camera close-ups in restaurant scenes and in the many scenes involving Soprano family dinners. In these close-ups, the camera frames the food much like what one would see on a cooking program. The viewer is presented with large images of Italian pastas being dished from platters while the character dialog continues in the background.

A second important symbol that serves to link the assimilated Soprano family characters to their Italian heritage is observed in the characters of Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, Silvio Dante, and Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. These characters are part of Tony’s crew, and they epitomize the stereotypical vision of the urban, somewhat slow, “greasy”, Italian tough guys. They dress in dark clothing; wear patterned, silk shirts, unbuttoned to show thick gold chains and crosses around their neck; grease their hair back; and speak with the same Bronx-Italian accent heard in Goodfellas (1990).

Violence plays a central role in The Sopranos. This centrality contrasts sharply with the The Godfather where violence operates as a backdrop against which we can examine characters and observe family customs and behaviour. The Godfather represents a major shift in the narrative perspective of gangster films (Simon, 1983). Besides being the first film to portray the Italian Mafia, although it never uses the word “Mafia” in its narrative, the film uses carefully placed narrative gaps to control the affect of violence on the viewing audience. For example, the audience is not prepared for the now famous scene when studio head Jack Woltz lifts the sheets of his bed to find the severed head of his prize racehorse. The previous scene ends with Woltz’s refusal to hire Johnny Fontaine, Don Corleone’s godson, in a discussion with Tom Hagen. When Woltz finds the horse head in his bed, the audience is forced to assume that Hagen ordered the head be severed and placed there. Through this narrative gap, the audience is completely unprepared for the violence, and as a result, they feel the violence from the victim’s perspective rather than through the perpetrator’s. Coppola uses this narrative gap technique again and again for the assassination attempt on Don Corleone, Luca Brazzi’s strangulation, Sonny’s execution, the murders of Paulie Gatto and Michael’s Sicilian bride, and the climatic final sequence when Michael’s order to assassinate five rival mobsters is carried out. This technique allows Coppola to keep the violence in the background; the violence is the inevitable outcome of failed negotiations or necessary due to “ethical” codes. The viewer is able to remain focused on the characters with their complex behaviours and the relationships that are demanded by their Italian ethnicity.

In The Sopranos, Chase removes the violence from the background and puts it on display. Through narrative and visual signals, the viewer becomes well prepared for violent scenes and experiences those scenes from the aspect of the perpetrator. We see evidence of this in the first act of violence in episode one, The Sopranos (1999). As Tony begins his first session with therapist Dr. Malfi, he recounts a story of a chance meeting with a man who owes him an outstanding debt. Dr. Malfi interrupts Tony to mention that she knows he is a crime boss. She reminds him that if she were to hear of a murder or intentional injury, she would be required to report the incident to authorities. Tony relies, “nothin’ happened, we had coffee”. The sarcastic narrative combined with the smirk on Tony’s face perfectly sets up the sudden cut to the next scene where Tony hits the man with his nephew’s car and then proceeds to violently punch and kick the man. When Tony contracts with a Hasidic Jew to extort a divorce from the Jew’s son-in-law (episode 3), Tony discusses threatening the son-in-law with castration. Several scenes later, the viewer witnesses the assault on the son-in-law, and two scenes later, Tony gleefully describes the assault to Jackie Aprile, a high ranking mob boss. When Tony takes his daughter, Meadow, to her university interviews in New England (episode 5), he unexpectedly bumps into an ex-associate who testified in court against an old mob boss. In several subsequent scenes, Tony and his daughter discuss Tony’s involvement in the Mafia. Tony continually downplays his role in criminal activity. Interspersed with these scenes are scenes of Tony planning and carrying out the murder of the ex-associate. These examples demonstrate how The Sopranos follows the television practice of “tell them what will happen before it happens; tell them what is happening when it happens; tell them what happened after it happens” (David Chase Interview, 2000). This practice elevates the violence to a central position where it becomes hopelessly interlaced with family struggles such as dealing with elderly parents (episode 2), illness (episode 3), choosing a College (episode 5), children acting out in school (episode 7), the safety of children from sexual predators (episode 9), and depression (episode 12).


For most Italians who have emigrated from Italy, remnants of Italian culture are still present within their lives. American writers and scholars use the term italianitá to describe these remnants of culture that persist across geographical borders and time (Tamburri, Giordano, and Gardaphé, 1991). The use of italianitá in The Sopranos was crucial to the show’s success. After a century of media representation that links Italian culture to crime, italianitá authenticates the story for the viewer and makes it all seem “real”. Similar to the sexual escapism provided by the Italian actresses of the 1950s (Benshoff & Griffin, 2004), the use of Italian culture creates the ethnic “other” necessary to validate the extreme violence, sex, and criminal activity. The viewer remains safe with the notion that the illicit activities and uninhibited sexuality in The Sopranos are perpetrated by “transplanted” ethnic others, not by respectable, white Americans.

Chase admits that The Sopranos helped realize his desire to produce feature films (David Chase Interview, 2000). Although each episode is only one hour in length, airing the series on HBO allowed broadcast without commercial interruption. This permitted the writers to abandon the common television drama structure of four-act scripts permitting slower plot development. Indeed, Chase claims that each episode in the first season is a separate “complete movie”, that continuation of story lines from one episode to the next was low priory during the writing process. As crucial as the ethnic “other” is to the authentication of the story, The Sopranos became exemplary of the ethnic assimilation port


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