Sopranos and the Perpetuated Mafiosi Image

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The Sopranos and the Perpetuated Mafiosi Image

A life of organized crime, fancy cars, machine guns, beautiful women, money, power and family; these are the images that have perpetuated the associations of Italian-Americans with the Mafia in film and television for decades. It is in this traditional Godfather fashion that the HBO hit series The Sopranos continues to perpetuate this stereotypical image into the 21st century. From classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, to miniseries events like Bella Mafia and The Last Don, to the dramatic series The Sopranos, Italian-Americans have traditionally been portrayed as gangsters and mobsters and have been seen living the lives of organized criminals. Italian-Americans and the Mafia have traditionally been linked in popular culture and The Sopranos is no exception.
"It's undeniable that the dominant pop-culture images of Italian-Americans have been the mobster and the related, anti-working class stereotype of the boorish gavone" (De Stefano 32). Textually, Tony Soprano is just this. He is an Italian-American, living in a suburban New Jersey town, the head of the local Mafia family. He is anything but working class, as he is continually portrayed as the mobster dealing with "business." He is involved in murders, blackmail, illegal gambling and racketeering. Inter-textually, there are frequent references to Mafia popular culture. Tony and his gang regularly recite lines from The Godfather and refer to each other as "Donnie Brasco." Tony's relationship with his therapist parallels that of the satiric Mafia film, Analyze This and comments are made to that effect. These inter-textual references draw attention to the traditional Mafia portrayals in film and television and acknowledge the existence of this stereotypical depiction of Italian-Americans in visual media. The producers of The Sopranos go as far as to include comedic extra-textual references, drawing upon the social commentary of ethnic stereotyping. When Tony's therapist and her family make a toast over dinner to the "20 million Italian-Americans" who have nothing to do with organized crime, we see here a representation of the opposition by Italian-Americans to the Mafia-stereotype. Sub-textually, the covert commentary within the series runs deep. Running between the lines are sub-plots dealing with family val...

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...hus associates people of such ethnic descent with crime and corruption. Those in opposition of the show see it as " a buffoonish caricature of (these) people" and "an ethnic minstrel show" (Showalter 42).
In line with traditional representations of Italian-Americans in visual media, the Sopranos continues a portrayal of Mafiosi and glamorized lives of crime and power. Yet, this fresh take on and old image successfully creates a window to the realistic lifestyle of a modern-day Mafia family. While this series presents a look at only a microcosm of contemporary society, it perpetuates the stereotypical association of Italian-Americans as sensationalized Mafiosi and glorifies the lifestyle of organized criminals in the 21st century.

Auster, Albert. "The Sopranos: the gangster redux." Television Quarterly 31 : 4 (Winter, 2001): 34-8.
De Stefeno, George. "Ungood Fellas." The Nation 270 : 5 (Feb. 7, 2000) : 31-3.
Golway, Terry. "Life in the 90's." America 180 : 10 (March 27, 1999) : 6.
Showalter, Elaine. "Mob Scene." American Prospect 11 : 8 (Feb. 28, 2000) : 42-3 .
The Sopranos. Chase, David. HBO. 1999-2002.
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