Natalie, if you don't want to hear anything about season four of The Soprano’s, stop reading here.
Columbus Day 'Sopranos' invite protested
NEW YORK (AP) -- In a recent episode of "The Sopranos," members of Tony Soprano's crew got into a fight with another group over a Columbus Day celebration.
Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has asked two of the show's cast members to march in New York's Columbus Day parade. But no one told the parade planners, who dislike the HBO mob drama because they say it perpetuates negative images of Italian-Americans.
I remember seeing the episode they’re talking about ... three weeks before it aired! HA!
Anyways, in this episode of the Sopranos (S4E3), Tony's crew decides to defend Newark, NJ's annual Columbus Day parade against a group of Native American protesters. The usual Soprano's characters feel Columbus was a Italian-American hero, while the protesters see him as a colonizer who brought nothing but suffering to the indigenous people of North America. Listen to this clip from the episode of the Soprano family discussion about Christopher Columbus
Now, according to the story above, the real-life protestors are Italian-American groups in New York who are against the inclusion of two members of the cast of "The Sopranos" in that city's Columbus Day parade, because "The show stereotypes the Italo-American family in the worst way ... as uneducated, low-life brutes"
So one one hand, in the show, we have mobsters opposed to Native Americans protesting at the Columbus day parade, meanwhile on the other, in real life we have Italian-American groups opposed to actors from the Sopranos participating in the parade. The humour of this situation is not lost on the author of the CNN article. Here he or she points out the similarities between reality and HBO:
"It [Columbus day] is a sort of sacred day for Italo-Americans. Our parade is about heritage and pride. Certainly, the 'Sopranos' haven't done much for heritage and pride in our community." William Fugazy [president of the Coalition of Italo-American Associations]'s words sound a lot like the ones Silvio Dante uses in the September 29 episode of "The Sopranos."
But life imitates TV in an even more profound way than the Associated Press reporter seems to realize. In fact, in the show, the Native American protest is just a plot device used to explore the primary subject of this episode which is how the Soprano "family" feels they are unfairly stereotypes.
For example, one of the subplots of "Christopher" has Carmela and the rest of the mobster’s wives and girlfriends attending a church luncheon "on the subject of Italian-American women and pride." The speaker at that luncheon blames "the media" for perpetuating, negative stereotypes of Italian-Americans. She quotes "A Princeton study [which] shows that 74% of Americans associated Italian Americans with organized crime." "Why would they do this?" she asks rhetorically. "Because of the way the media depict us."
The speaker’s character, a creation of The Soprano’s writers, blames "the media," or more directly, the HBO series itself, for perpetuating the stereotype that Italians are associated with organized crime. Notice that the show's creators are aware of the controversy they've created, specifically the views of people like Fugazy, and choose to address the issue through the show itself. At the end of the speech, Father Phil, the moderator of the luncheon, speaks with a voice which sounds like it comes directly from the show’s producers. With his character’s typical calm, intellectual and rational voice, he asks the speaker:
"Small point: Didn’t I hear of a more recent study ... that found that opposite is true -- that the great majority of Americans recognize these are fictional portrayals?"
So the episode that mirrors the current real life Columbus day / Soprano’s controversy is actually, in itself, a response to that controversy. And the show’s reply to accusations of stereotyping is: Grow up! It’s just a TV show! People know that The Soprano's is a work of fiction.
Fugazy himself (recall he’s the "President of the Coalition of Italo-American Associations" quoted in the article) is actually caricatured in this episode. "Phillip L. Denadi," President of the fictional (?) "Coalition of Italian-American Anti-Defamation Organizations" appears on the Soprano’s living room TV to argue the merits of a Columbus Day holiday on some kind of talk show hosted by Montel Williams (!). Listen to this clip of Carmela and Fiorio eating, chatting and watching the debate.
I think, however, the best part of the whole episode is the last scene, where Tony weighs in on the issue. Tony, Silvio, Chris and Ralphie are driving back from a Native American casino where the owner, a 1/16th Indian who did Tony a favour by trying to stop the anti-Columbus day protests, entertained the Soprano crew, but with ulterior motives for doing so. Tony’s rant from the passenger seat sums up the skepticism that the whole show has for the "everyone is a victim / everyone feels discriminated against" syndrome, exemplified by the groups in the article. "Where the fuck is our self-esteem?" Tony want's to know. Click here to listen.
Tomorrow: "The Soprano’s" and the psychiatric / psycho-pharmaceutical institution.