Italian American Stereotypes in the Media

By Jenna Lotardo

Italian Americans vs. Media

Are Italian Americans are almost always automatically defined by others as being mob associated or guidos?  In todays American society stereotyping of different cultures is seen greatly in the media.  Research has shown that Italian's are misjudged because of the Italian American stereotypes .  Media such as,  MTV's reality televison show  “Jersey Shore”, reality show "Growing up Gotti", HBO series the “Sopranos”, reality show “Mob Wives”, the movie “Goodfellas” and, “The Godfather” are few of examples of why Americans begin to stereotype or misjudge Italians. Most of these movies and television shows are an embarassment to the Italian culutre. The negitive traits actions of the chracters in these types of media causes most Americans to believe that all Italians are like what they see. Going back to when Italians first arrived to America these stereotypical thoughts were nowhere to be found. It was not until the movies and television shows mentioned that people starting viewing Italians as "mobsters" or "guidos". Most gang and mobster movies begin to portray Italians in the wrong way that most would like to be seen. The mafia and mob association is a big part of how the media stereotype Italian American. Stereotyping in the media of Italian American is most of the time negitive, but there are some positive stereotypes that the media presents. Being an Italian American myself I am often being judged because on the fact that I am Italian.


What, Why, & How?

    Media stereotypes are almost sometimes inevitable in the advertising, entertainment and news industries, because it helps the viewers to understand easier. Stereotypes are false accusations for a common understanding of a person or group of people usually relating, ethnicity or race, or gender. More often, the groups being stereotyped have little to say about how they are represented. Stereotypes can cause conflict and may make you judge people before you know them.  Most stereotypes relating to Italians are negitive. Examples of what Americans may say is Italians are “ overly interested in food”, “hot tempered and violent”, “talk with their hands”, they are ”associated with the mob”,"overly tan", "steroid users", and "loud and obnoxious". Just because the Italian American characters are seen as the way they are in the media, it does not define the whole Italian American culture.

Italian American Mobsters & the Media

       Italians arrived to America beginning with Christopher Columbus is 1492. Italians migrated to the United States because there was plenty of work for them and land was cheap. By 1923 there had been over 3 million Italian immigrants in the United States.  Most agree that Italian Americans started of with a  bad reputation because of small Italian mafia associated groups and gangs that have migrated from Palermo, Italy to the United States. Americans interest, of the Italians small association with the mob and mafia led to the making of  films and television shows about the lifes of those associated. Famous Italian mobsters such as Al Capone and John Gotti lifes are commonly mirrored in movies and t.v. series due to the high interest and ratings.  Because of media Italian Americans began to the be seen as being “ overly interested in food”, “hot tempered and violent”, “talk with their hands”,  and ”associated with the mob”.  The Godfather was one of the first movies to come out about Italian American's being associated with he mob. The Characters in the film gave definition to Italians being highly associated with food,violience and family.  The artical The Godfather:Stereotype or Reality?  says "Those who do not have any associations with Italian Americans might stereotype this group as only eating pasta and not other types of food. Family plays a major role in The Godfather. The men are part of the family business, whereas the women are preoccupied with their roles as housewives. Lastly, violence also is stereotyped to Italian Americans through being associated with organized crime." After researching what the crime rate of Italian Americans were I have found that “An earlier poll by the Princeton-based Response Analysis Corporation revealed that 74% of adult Americans believe most Italian Americans have some connection to organized crime.” The problem with the portrayal of Italian Americans in the media is that Italian men are being seen as uneducated dishonest or violent after seeing movies associated with the mob. In the HBO series “The Sopranos” men are portrayed as leaders of the house and have the upper hand because they have so much power because of the involvment wth gangs and mobs. People watching this show see what an everyday household of these mobsters is like and is assumed that every Italian American is like that. The women in these shows are often over weight and take on that basic Italian mother like housewife catering to her husbands every need as if he was a god.  Even mafia themed advertisements always portray mobsters as an Italian American. The article What do you know about Reality? says“The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that less than .0025 percent of the 26 million Americans of Italian descent are involved in organized crime.”; indicating that most violence occurring in the U.S. is not even close to being highly involved with Italian Americans.”The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola's epic trilogy will forever be the cinematic experience that cemented the image of the Italian mobster in the American psyche.” “New Jersey's 1.5 million Italian-Americans – the highest number in the US outside New York – are already bruised by what they see as their negative portrayal on TV in The Sopranos. "We do not say 'fuhgeddabouddit' nor are we in waste management," fumed Linda Stasi.” Because this show is a common entertaining television show people tend to believe these stereotypes ten times more because it tends to be more believable. Many other movies and t.v. shows were produced setting false accusations of Italian Americans, such as Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, and many more.
This video is exactly how films like The Godfather define Italian Americans behavior.

"Reality" Italian American Stereotypes

      Reality television shows are the best at destroying cultures, because they seem to be more believable to the audience. Daughter of  head mobster John Gotti, Victoria Gotti's Reality t.v. show Growing Up Gotti involving her three sons, has reinforced more negative stereotypes to Italian Americans. Victoria Gotti's three sons John, Carmine, and Frankie have brought Italian Americans to be judged as disrespectful , obnoxious, and unmoral. These three boys have also started the trend of Italian Americans stereotypical appearance to be overly tan and males to overly gel there hair. The MTV's new high rated reality television Show Jersey Shore contains characters with such names of “Snooki”, “JWow”, “Mike the Situation”, “Pauly D”, ”Sammy Sweetheart”, Ronnie, Deana, and Vinny. This show is an embarrassment to the Italian culture. Often people watch this disgusting show because it is hilarious how these characters act. These people were randomly put together during the summer in a Jersey Shore (Seaside Heights, New Jersey) beach house. They are known for their fake tans, loud foul mouths, and constantly looking for sex, which encouraged more negitive stereotypes on Italian Americans. In their words they would call themselves “Guidos” and “Guidettes”.  A “guido” is a slang word for “urban class –working Italians”.  MTV said they had gathered the "hottest, tannest, craziest guidos"  to Seaside Heights. Residents from “Jersey Shore” also known as Seaside Heights were calling the town complaining about this show because it is bringing a bad image to there town.

Positve Stereotypes

    Even though there are many negitive stereotypes of Italians Americans in the media, there is also a few positive stereotypes.  Even though stereotypes are misinterpretations, Italians have some good stereotypical traits. It is often seen the Italian men are the most romantic and family orientated.    The movie “A Bronx Tale” does a good job of showing that not every Italian American is a mobster and that is often dangerous to get involved with such a thing.  This movie shows the bond of an Italian American father that is non-stereotypical an how caring he is about his family and his only son. Italian Americans are also positively known on there good food. The media advertises the stereotypical Italian old women as a good cook, it is shown in T.V. commercial such as the “Ragu” commercial featuring an elderly Italian women stirring the sauce. Italian Americans are also known for their great legendary songs by such people like Italian American singer Frank Sinatra.
 Stereotyping Will Never End

      Stereotypes of many cultures often are seen in every day media. Italian Americans are mostly judged negatively in the media. It is hard for other Americans not to believe false attributes that is being described in the common movies, t.v. shows, and commercials that are shown. As most have seen the media is encouraging Americans to misjudge Italians more and more by the increase of T.V. shows like MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and movies like “The Godfather”. Because the ratings are so high on these types of media they sadly will not begin to discontinue these types of movies and reality T.V. shows. It shows that mostly after watching these T.V. shows and movies viewers begin to start stereotyping Italian Americans through this media giving viewers false assumptions of reality. Even though Italian Americans are most commonly known for there negitive stereotypes they also have a few positive stereotypes, that some people wouldn't mind being misjudged on.

Work Cited
Primary Source: Cavallero, Jonathan J. "Gangsters, Fessos, Tricksters, And Sopranos." Journal Of Popular Film & Television 32.2 (2004): 50-63. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.

"The Godfather: Stereotype or Reality?." . N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <>.

Marche, Stephen. "How Jersey Shore Transformed America." Esquire. 14 April 2010: n. page. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <>.

Wallace, David J. "Interacting At The Jersey Shore." Advertising Age 65.20 (1994): 19. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.

Tomsula, Dean. "Italian Americans Against Media Stereotypes." . N.p., April 19, 2006. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <>.

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