Scaramucci & Stereotypes


I don't want to laugh too much at the jokes about DT's new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. I know if I do, I'll wind up laughing at something that is making fun of more than just this (kind of gross) guy: a lot of these jokes aren't about Scaramucci so much as they're the same old stereotypes about Italian-Americans no one in America minds using. Some of the reflex Italian-American identity industry have already tried to distance themselves from him, but their concerns aren't the real issue. I don't condone attacking anyone based on their ethnicity, ever, but in a way any backlash that Italian-Americans get because of Scarramucci is a direct result of their whole-hearted embrace of Trumpism.

The Italian-American faction of the Trump coalition is strong and will probably be his most loyal base until the end and that is something that depresses me. They are not just ardent supporters of his, they were the key to his victory. Without them, there is no President Trump. It's something I identified as a problem all the way back during the Republican convention:

Pennsylvania did go to Trump and by such a thin margin that I can identify my cousins there who made it happen. New Jersey stayed blue, but no thanks to any of my family members. It's a depressing political ethnic reality: the most prominent Italian-Americans in government today are mostly Republicans.

How did this happen? Though there is a conservatism deep in the thinking of the culture, Trumpism isn't conservative that way; it's more destructive and unconnected to the past than that. The real problem is a growing unease about what it even means to be Italian-American. Without a secure sense of identity they aren't sure what they stand for anymore. Part of this is the search for legitimacy. By embracing the conservative politics of America, Italian-Americans found a niche as a partner to heartland America and not as an Other, which is the historical relationship in America as immigrants. Just look at angry-faced George Beban as Beppo in the 1915 silent film The Italian.*

Somewhere along the line the Americans decided they would play along and let the Itals consider themselves a fully-fledged part of the white hierarchy, with a certain special place reserved in the law & order-sphere. Reinforce that with hatred of other immigrant groups and African Americans and the role of Italian-Americans as the boot (ironic for Sicilians) stepping on anyone down below was solidified. What Trumpism offers that no one else offered before is a lie that enshrines that violence.

Yet that role never dispersed all the internalized hatred for Italians in the American consciousness. In some ways, it made it more acceptable to continue expressing that prejudice since Italian-Americans got to experience full benefits of acceptance. In fact that was part of the deal. Is there any kids show where someone who makes pizza doesn't sound like Mario? "It's a-me, a-stereotype-a!" Sonic isn't down with that kind of bigoted bullshit, one more reason I will always be devoted to Sega over Nintendo. These jokes are the kind of thing that makes Scaramucci getting to where he is so frustrating for Italian-Americans, but the jokes aren't the problem. His support for Trump is the problem.

I can't support him, I can't endorse his style in that role, and yet I have to defend him on some level from abuse that people may not even be aware that they are perpetrating. Still, give Scaramucci one thing: there is a media fascination with him is partly because he is unapologetically Italian-American. That's something that most of America doesn't have to put up with. We are mostly enclaved in the Tri-State area, and even then disseminating and dissolving into a general white quasi-working class blur. On some level I want the establishment to have to deal with someone like him on a diversity level, but not if it means having to accept his ideas and his behavior, which are NOT a part of his ethnic identity no matter what some Italian-Americans are going to try to tell you.

Look at Mario Cantone, who is equally Italian-American and everything a Scaramucci-defined Italian-American is not, here doing his best Scaramucci on The President Show:

While this isn't putting on olive-face, or performing Italian-American minstrelsy—it would have been if a non-Italian comedian did it—it is dangerously close. To some degree it's a self-betrayal for Cantone, but in another way this is a necessary satire of a person who has allied himself with the most vile president in modern history who needs to be told that by his own people. Scaramucci will get what's coming to him; to some degree, he already has.

*Anyone who loved the coincidences in my last post will like the ubiquity of the name Anthony in connection to things in this post: There's Scaramucci himself, Mario Cantone's famous Sex in the City character Anthony Marentino, poor baby Tony in The Italian, and of course the author. This is not an stereotype, but rather just one of the realities of being an Italian-American.

UPDATE 8/1: That was fast

[Image credits: Top and center screenshot from The Italian, which is in the public domain]

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