A provocative and entertaining look at the mafia, the media, and the (un)making of Italian Americans.
As evidenced in countless films, novels, and television portrayals, the Mafia has maintained an enduring hold on the American cultural imagination--even as it continues to wrongly color our real-life perception of Italian Americans. In An Offer We Can't Refuse, George De Stefano takes a close look at the origins and prevalence of the Mafia mythos in America. Beginning with a consideration of Italian emigration in the early twentieth century and the fear and prejudice--among both Americans and Italians--that informed our earliest conception of what was at the time the largest immigrant group to enter the United States, De Stefano explores how these impressions laid the groundwork for the images so familiar to us today and uses them to illuminate and explore the variety and allure of Mafia stories--from Coppola's romanticized paeans to Scorsese's bloody realism to the bourgeois world of David Chase's Sopranos--while discussing the cultural richness often contained in these works. At the same time, he addresses the lingering power of the goodfella cliché and the lamentable extent to which it is embedded in our consciousness, making it all but impossible to green-light a project about the Italian American experience not set in gangland.
Journalist De Stefano takes a careful look at the appeal of the Mafia in popular culture: how the image of the Italian gangster developed and how it affects Italian-Americans. He traces the evolution of the gangster in film, from the "roguishly charming" Irish gangster (James Cagney in Public Enemy) to the sinister Italian who replaced him (Paul Muni in Scarface). Southern Italian immigrants, who came to the U.S. in unprecedented waves, were seen as "unassimilable... irreducibly foreign" (according to an 1883 New York Times editorial), and De Stefano presents their history and the history of the Mafia, debunking some commonly held ideas, especially the myth that the Mafia is rooted in a centuries-old Sicilian tradition. De Stefano meticulously documents books, TV and films, especially the Godfather series, the work of Martin Scorsese and The Sopranos. He cites Italian-American writers and academics on how the perception of Italians as mobsters affects the community and contributes his own responses. And despite his conclusion that the Mafia "is now the paradigmatic pop culture expression of Italian-American ethnicity," De Stefano allows that Italians have succeeded in mainstream America. The book lacks a narrative arc, but the author has done a fine job with a complex and provocative subject.
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The Mafia in popular culture
A rich, detailed, and provocative examination of several decades of Mafia-themed pop culture that makes connections to Italian and Italian American history. Really strong on how sex and race figure in what the author calls "the Mafia Myth."