From Wiseguys to Wise Men: Masculinities and the Italian American Gangster Figure

Thursday, November 2, 2006
From Wiseguys to Wise Men: Masculinities and the Italian American Gangster Figure
Stern Center, Great Room, 7:00 p.m.

Wiseguys to Wisemen
Issue in Context
What does one associate with an Italian-American: pasta, large families, nice clothes, masculine men, and the mafia? These are some of the common stereotypes Americans have had about Italians living in the United States since they began arriving in the late 19 th century. Violence, sexism, machismo, overt sexuality and an obsession with abundance have characterized the persona of the Italian-American gangsters of yesterday in films such as The Godfather or Goodfellas. Represented as highly physical, the images of Italian men have helped construct what it meant to be an American man. The “wiseguy” character expresses both the experience of Italian immigrants and native fantasies that reveal the culture of American race, gender, and ethnicity. The wiseguy figure can be interpreted as a “trickster” character long employed as a metaphor in American literature to serve as a model of improper behavior.

About the Speaker
Fred Gardaphe is the director of the American and Italian American Studies Program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He teaches courses in Italian American history and culture, film, and literature. Dr. Gardaphe is also the associate editor of Fra Noi, an Italian American monthly newspaper. His critically acclaimed study, “Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative,” was based on his dissertation which won the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli/Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Award in 1993. This work was also named an Outstanding Academic Book by Choice in 1996. Professor Gardaphe is also the author of Moustache Pete is Dead!: Italian American Oral Tradition Preserved in Print, and From Wiseguys to Wise Men: the Gangster and Italian American Masculinities, his most recent book. Dr. Gardaphe is currently the president of MELUS (Society for the Study of Multi Ethnic Literature of the United States), and was the president of the American Historical Association for four years. He is currently working on a memoir entitled Living with the Dead.

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