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Sour Note of Stereotyping on 'The Sopranos'

April 07, 2001

Howard Rosenberg went to great pains to remind us how Italian Americanshave been maligned, stereotyped, portrayed negatively in too many movies and TV shows (including "The Sopranos"), then asked us to forgive David Chase because his drama is the best in a half-century of television ("Of Stigmas, Stereotypes, 'Sopranos,' " March 30).

No, this Italian American will not accept "The Sopranos" for that reason. The show disgusts me. If another other ethnic (or religious) group were slurred and subjected to such a barrage of negativity, surely there would be outrage. That "The Sopranos" is fine scripting, yes, but so is Shakespeare, O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and those writers have not succumbed to such obvious prejudice and loathing for their own people as Chase has.

As for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he is an embarrassment to Italian Americans for many policy reasons. His placing of the cast into the parade for the Yankees was not only stupid, it was insulting to the team. What would he have done if the Mets had won? Put the cast of "Seinfeld" on parade? After all, George is a Costanza, and his parents live in Queens.

JOHN A. MEDICI

Los Angeles

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It has not been that long since Italian immigrants were being lynched in America for their social beliefs, or were being depicted in newspaper cartoons as rats swimming ashore with knives in their mouths.

Sure, we've assimilated, sort of. You notice David Chase doesn't use his Italian name. Why do you think that is? How about Anne Bancroft or Alan Alda? When did Mediterranean people become white? It wasn't that long ago that these swarthy folks from Italy were black and living in the tenements with black African Americans.

It's true, "The Sopranos" is a powerful artistic achievement, but then so was "Birth of a Nation." It did more damage to the reputations of black African Americans than anything that had come before it, and possibly since, yet it made D.W. Griffith wealthy and respected as a great filmmaker.

DOUGLAS (BONACCI) NEMANIC

Gunnison, Colo.

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Rosenberg has got to be kidding! What other ethnic minority would take the abuse Italians have taken from Hollywood? I can only imagine the furor if Asians, blacks or Jews were offended by even a single transgression, let alone the relentless onslaught of garbage Italians have gotten from Hollywood. So Rosenberg thinks Italians should just get over it and move on? On the contrary, I think we should be picketing and boycotting, because without hitting Hollywood in the bottom line, nothing will change.

I would argue that the characteristic of Italians that is at issue here is not criminality, but instead the desire to assimilate and accommodate. It served us well over centuries of foreign domination, but does not serve us well in modern America.

JAMES J. VIECELI JR.

West Hills

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I've changed my mind about "The Sopranos" and will no longer watch the series. The gratuitous violence of the last few episodes has made what was once a guilty pleasure a trial to watch. Not only has the wince-ability, look-away quotient multiplied exponentially, but the characters are becoming so evil that they are irredeemable.

CAROL FINAMORE STANLEY

Thousand Oaks

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With the rise of the civil rights movement and political correctness, writers ran out of stereotypical villains. African Americans could no longer be portrayed as stupid, filthy, oversexed and aggressive. Jews no longer could be depicted as neurotic, sly, grasping, greedy and obsessed with hatred for the Gentile. Gradually, from Coppola's "Godfather" on, it was found that despicable traits could be added to swarthy Italian types with impunity.

This trend has reached its apotheosis in Tony Soprano, his family and associates. The "complexity" of this soap opera is nothing more than "Goodbye Columbus," "Portnoy's Complaint," "What Makes Sammy Run" and "The Merchant of Venice" interlaced with puttanesca sauce.

Justifying racism in the name of "art" doesn't wash.

ROBERT T. BERTHOLDO

Westlake Village

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Rosenberg can believe that the stereotyping and discrimination that go on against Italian Americans in the media at large do not hurt, but we Italian Americans know better. He should walk a mile in my shoes before he decides to speak for our community again.

SALVATORE J. MANGANO

Saddle Brook, N.J.

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