Maltese says ‘Sopranos’ feeds Italian stereotype

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“It’s romanticizing mobsters,” Maltese said. “We saw the same thing with ‘The...

By Jennifer Warren

State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) is no shrinking violet, but when it comes to HBO’s popular television drama “The Sopranos,” his sensibilities are clearly rattled.

“It’s romanticizing mobsters,” Maltese said. “We saw the same thing with ‘The Godfather,’ but the characters in ‘The Godfather’ had a certain amount of class. The anti-hero was a war vet and a hero. In this show there are no redeeming qualities.”

Maltese and several Italian-American organizations have joined forces and are now urging viewers to cancel their subscription to the HBO cable channel. Their boycott protests what they consider criminal, vulgar and depraved depictions of Italian-Americans.

Maltese and an army of groups, including the Columbus Citizens Foundation, The Sons of Italy-Mario Lanza Lodge, Italian Charities of America and more than 15 other organizations, have demanded that HBO drop “The Sopranos.”

They have circulated a petition asking HBO to take the show off the air and failing that to end the show’s graphic violence and sex, display a disclaimer before and after the program to emphasize its fictional nature, and to sponsor programming that portrays Italian-Americans in a positive manner.

HBO, however, continues to stand by its product. HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson said “we are very proud of ‘The Sopranos’ and we’re hardly alone in our assessment that the show is an extraordinary artistic achievement.”

The one-hour program, which has become something of a cult hit since its inception two years ago, depicts the daily family life of Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano and his delicate emotional vicissitudes. It also features a bevy of bloody beatings and murders.

The show has been the target of much Italian-American wrath during its three seasons, including the banning of “Soprano” actors from last fall’s Columbus Day parade in Manhattan, but this time protesters are taking a different tack.

The American-Italian Defense Association, an Illinois-based lawyers group, is bringing HBO to court. The suit is based on a provision in the Illinois constitution that prohibits the ridiculing of groups due to their religion or nationality, Maltese said.

The latest wave of protests resulted from one particularly graphic episode that aired last month. In the script, a minor character beat his 20-year-old pregnant, stripper girlfriend to death and then continued beating her.

“People immediately called me,” Maltese said. “Even people that are aficionados of the show had to look away because it was so brutal,” he said.

The senator said he has a high tolerance level for graphic violence.

“I was the ADA (assistant district attorney) for homicide for 3 1/2 years. One of the reasons I tried cases against organized crime in Queens is because I know there are Italian hoodlums and hoods,” he said.

But Maltese said ‘The Sopranos’ is glorifying the Mafia.

“There are immature, young people who are going to look up to this as an example to follow,” he said.

“The fact is it isn’t just a program portraying a gang. This presumes to portray an American-Italian family in a family setting,” Maltese said. “Everybody [on the show] is evil in degree, crass and vulgar, which I object to,” Maltese said.

“And apparently I have a lot of company.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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