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The Mob Effect: How a Politically Motivated Trope Became the New “American Genre”

February 19, 2019
Liana DiCarlo

Abstract: The convergence of history and popular media is apparent in many forms. Music can protest ideologies and television can reflect social feelings of a generation. In the same way, movies have the power to propagate stereotypes and continue them on for generations to come. When the topic of Italian-Americans comes up, what often comes to mind is food, family and the darker, but just a prominent side of organized crime affiliation. Every notable Italian-American themed film seems to include this key formula. The formula itself can be examined in how it has evolved on screen, and to what extent that this representation matters in the public perception of a group of people. By exploring the history of Italian-Americans and the history of Italian-American representation together, insights can be drawn from the various levels of dynamic representation and the political ramifications of media. Part I of the paper will discuss some of the history of the film industry and the Italian-American representation.

Introduction: Film has the opportunity to reach various audiences and affect their perception of groups of people. In “Italian-Americans in Film: From Immigrants to Icons,” Carlos Cortés discusses the unintentional educational aspect that popular film has on the public’s opinion on ethnic groups. The text draws mostly on examples in film from the period that he is discussing at the time. He touches on the revisiting of The Godfather saga, with the new version including a note about how these films are “not representative of any ethnic group.” [1] This is discussed with a certain irony, as Cortés argues that it is clearly supposed to represent Italian-Americans. The comparison and connection of media and ethnic history is an interesting comparison because it shows the reciprocal relationship between media and historical events. Cortez explores media representation more closely raising questions on understudied or mis-studied parts of history because of their representation.

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