Hollywood, you really need to send some screenwriters to visit New Jersey before you put out yet another television program or movie about my home state that’s loaded with the worst low-class or criminal stereotypes imaginable.
As if The Sopranos isn’t misrepresentation of us enough, I just got back from seeing another one, Jersey Boys. While it was a good movie about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with some absolutely great songs, I was shocked to see it was chock full of yet more New Jersey-Italian-Mafia-Hoodlum shtick. The group become recording stars, but only after a botched robbery. Two of its members go in and out of Rahway Prison. One of them has his hand in a fencing operation even after they become famous and have hit records. A friendly Mafioso, kindly disposed to Frankie Valli, steps in and “fixes” another situation that needs fixing, which – surprise! – involves the group member who’s the fence. I wonder how true the tale is – or if it’s yet another fictionalized version of real people.
Is this the way the rest of the country thinks most people in New Jersey actually live? I wish I had a dollar for every time I rolled my eyes during this latest depiction of the denizens of the Garden State. I’d have left the theater rich.
I lived in New Jersey for twenty-five years. I’m not from an Italian family, and most of the people living in New Jersey aren’t, either. There were a lot of people of Italian descent, sure, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the people I ever met over there were gun-toting members of “the Mafia.” If they’re so prevalent, these bumbling mobsters with bad diction that everyone believes is on every corner of every block in New Jersey, then tell me something: Where were they?
With a few unfortunate exceptions who never got their acts together, which can be found in any group, most of the Italian people I knew were hard-working churchgoers who did the very best they possibly could to provide for their families – legally. Two Italian-American fathers on my block in Roselle, New Jersey, where I first lived, had served in the military during World War II. They had taken part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, liberating Europe from the Nazis. The Italian-American mother of a friend, who was one of the classiest people I have ever known, had a Ph.D. The mother of another friend was a guidance counselor. Yet another family that emigrated from Italy wasn’t too well-off, but the mother took in sewing jobs while she learned English, supporting her children with work done inside the home. The nicest and most professional doctor I ever had was an Italian who always proudly told me he was “a Roman from Rome.”
Of course, there are indeed mobsters, in fact, whole crime families, in New Jersey. Frank Sinatra, another famous New Jersey singer, was somehow mob-connected. Sometimes there were rumors about certain families being “with the show.” However, the way I’ve heard it, there are gangsters in every other state of the union, too. New Jersey certainly didn’t corner the market on them. Al Capone and Chicago are practically synonymous, but all Chicago movies or shows don’t seem to center on the idea that most of the Italians from that city are living outside of the law and belong in the hoosegow. No, it’s just New Jersey that gets so dubious, and unfair, an “honor.”
I’m sorry to disappoint you, Hollywood, but to the best of my knowledge, I never met a Mafioso, or a jerk who was stealing contraband and running a “fencing operation,” or any of the rest of the usual New Jersey-Italian-Mob crap, in the quarter of a century that I lived there. It irks me no end that the ones I was lucky enough to know get lumped in with the others. All things being equal, lumping a whole group in one narrow direction is, was, and never will be a good idea.
Hollywood’s classification of Italians in New Jersey as “aspiring mobsters” is so far from the norm that it’s ridiculous, it’s defamatory to all of those good people – and it sucks! I suggest that some of these La La Land screenwriters stay in Jersey for a while. They would be able to see the truth for themselves.