By Dom Serafini
I’m Italian-American and the risk of being derogatorily called a “guido,” like those portrayed on American television, doesn’t bother me because I’m not one. At the outset let me be perfectly clear: Italian-American ethnic slurs don’t bother me in the least. First of all, I’m proud of what many believe is a slur — “WOP,” at times written as “W.O.P.” or Work Out of Passage.
I’m sure that, at the turn of the 20th Century, some of my relatives who were unable to pay for the trans-Atlantic voyage, were resourceful enough to exchange the ship fare for working onboard, and were not ashamed to wear that tag.
Secondly, I’m proud that Italian culture — light and classical music, opera, visual arts, food, wine, fashion, architecture, furniture, literature, cars, cinema and natural attractions — is popular everywhere.
Thirdly, I’m proud that Hollywood makes money with all that is Italian. Let’s face it, Italians are amusing, entertaining, fun to be with, unique and very charismatic. It’s only normal that Hollywood would be exploiting all these features. I cannot picture Hollywood making money regularly exploiting Canadians, Germans, Russians or even the French.
Naturally, Hollywood also loves drama, and there is nothing more dramatic than the Mafia world. And, naturally, being Italian, Mafia comes in different “flavors.” There’s the Neapolitan variety, the Sicilian type, the Calabrese version, and so on. Movies about the malfeasances of the CIA or Wall Street could come in only second and third.
Now, should I be offended by Mafia subjects in movies, TV shows or the recently released Mafia II videogame? Of course not! After all, it’s a part of Italian life, albeit the dark side of Italian life.
I feel that I’m mature enough to withstand this kind of portrayal, much like Germans are unconcerned with how Hollywood depicts them, especially in WWII movies (their dark side), or the British and Russians, who are always the bad guys, or the French, who are often portrayed as unfriendly.
And this concern is not new. A couple of years ago, several Italian-American social organizations staged marches and protests against The Sopranos, one of the most popular TV series in Italy and among the Italian community in Canada. Naturally, I took a position against this kind of insecurity by writing a few (hotly contested) opinion pieces for several Italian publications in the U.S. My position was that those organizations should be more concerned with preserving the teaching of the Italian-language in American schools, something that is now gone.
Recently, in the United States (but not in Italy), another controversy erupted over the depiction of “guido” as a type of Italian-American male (“guidette” is the female version). While some people are offended by this portrayal, I’m not. Why? Because, once again, I’m not a “guido.” Would I be offended if I were to be called “Mafioso?” Of course not. Once again because I’m not. Would I be offended if I were to be called stupid? I’m not, so why should I be offended?
“Guido” is an expression popularized in 1978 by Saturday Night Live character Father Guido Sarducci, a priest who liked to smoke and wear chains around his neck. Recently, “guidos” and “guidettes” became the subject of Jersey Shore, a reality series on MTV. Did I watch the show? Not really. I prefer to watch Antiques Road Show or CSPAN. Does it upset me knowing that MTV makes fun of a bunch of tattooed, chain-smoking, unsophisticated Italian-Americans with heavy gold necklaces visible from their open shirts? Of course not! They’re light-years away from real Italian-Americans and have nothing to do with me. However, the fact that some Italian-Americans have the need to defend the image of a “guido” is a bit troublesome.
What are these Italian-Americans defending? The guidos love being guidos and Hollywood is, once again, monetizing the fact that they’re part of the Italian-American spectrum. After all, Italians are amusing at any socio-economic level and Hollywood is smart enough to recognize it.
However, I understand why some Italian-Americans take offense to the ethnic slurs. Their position is that, being a recent immigrant, I didn’t have to suffer the ridicule and the humiliation that they had to endure at school or in the workplace just for being Italian. Their message is loud and clear, but it happened 45 years ago! Today it is fashionable to be Italian, so let’s move on and let the movies in.