Monday, February 23, 2015

Reviewing The Italian Americans

With frigid temperatures blanketing Columbus I spent the long weekend drafting my review of the new documentary The Italian Americans. Broadcast this month on PBS, this is a four hour documentary chronicling Italian American transformations.

I felt a sense of heightened awareness while writing about a piece of popular culture at the same time when the nation was watching. A sense of temporal alignment between the act of writing and the imaginary audience. Book or film reviews are an undervalued academic genre. From my part, I cannot stress enough their importance as a forum for critical reflection and in this manner a venue to advance reflective new scholarship and cultural production.

I am sharing below the opening paragraph (a draft); this will be the only sample of writing I will be sharing before the review's publication:

"How does one get to know Italian Americans? Piercing at the heart of the documentary, the question is brought into focus in the opening scenes, in the contrast between cinematic representations and personal accounts of Italian ethnicity. Film and self-narration produce two ways of knowing, dramatically at odds with each other. On the one hand, cinematic images – most notably Mafia-related – entrench this ethnicity as a pernicious stereotype in the national imagination. Popular fictions are consumed as ethnic facts. Ethnicity refers to a singular truth. On the other hand, first-person narratives question the stereotype head on. Films create a reality for ethnicity that real Italian Americans do not recognize as their own. Thus self-representation corrects public misrecognition. Ethnographic testimonies contest the poisonous myth of Italian American association with criminality. Taken together, they establish Italian America as a diverse social field, projecting ethnicity as plurality of truths. If the underworld is not alien to Italian Americans, to cite a pertinent example, it is certainly alien to a great many in the collective."

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