19 March 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Good riddance to mafia garbage
The television series 'Our Family Honor' was obscene, in the true sense of that term. Rather than offering a few glimpses of nudity (which never hurt anybody), this TV series was obscene because of its calculated efforts to glorify mafia hoodlums, and to imply that the police are no better than the criminals. As its title suggests, 'Our Family Honor' went far out of its way to mythologise the non-violent aspects of mafiosi: their alleged strong ties of 'family' (both literal family and crime family) and their supposed code of 'honor'. I suspect that this immoral TV show would also have glorified another aspect of organised crime - the violence - if it had been able to do so on American television in the pre-'Sopranos' 1980s.
Most morally bankrupt of all was this series' total dishonesty about the ethnic makeup of the mafia. The gangster family in this TV series are named Danzig, and are played by non-Italian actors, but they have Italian forenames and are in every other way Italian-American stereotypes. A typical line of dialogue: 'Hey, Augie! Have some calamari!' Plus, we get all the usual Italian-American clichés - a big family, they love to eat, they love to celebrate, they throw elaborate dinners - disguised only by the non-Italian casting and that name 'Danzig'. The only explicitly Italian-American character in the cast is (of course) an honest cop, played by an Italian-American actor who had more success playing mafia goombahs: the overrated Ray Liotta.
Meanwhile, the actions of the 'honorable' gangster family the Danzigs are contrasted with the McKays, a family of cops who are depicted as being just as corrupt as the Danzigs. The McKays can't nail the Danzigs by following legal procedure and due process, so they 'bend' the rules and violate police procedure. I find this very offensive. Certainly there are bent cops and corrupt officials, and there are also instances of 'cop families': a family producing several generations of police officers. But it's difficult to see how a cop family could produce an ongoing history of corruption and rule violations, as the McKays are depicted here: in real life, such a family would attract too much attention within the police department.
Vincent Danzig, the patriarch of the crime family, was played by Eli Wallach: an actor better known for his work in live theatre. Shortly after 'Our Family Honor' was cancelled, Wallach did a series of TV commercials and print ads for Emigrant Savings Bank. When an interviewer asked why a serious actor would take such work, Wallach reasonably replied that the money he earned from a single TV commercial would finance an entire season of stage plays at Wallach's theatre in Long Island. Wallach is right to justify his commercials, but his work in 'Our Family Honor' is indefensible.
'Our Family Honor' didn't last very long (good riddance!), but it has been replaced by filth like 'The Sopranos', which is very successful indeed. As I write this, a cable network is airing a promo for the new series of 'Soprano' episodes which assures us that the new episodes will have more violence than before. How reassuring. 'The Sopranos' is produced by an Italian-American who anglicised his name, and who loudly complains about alleged prejudice against Italian-Americans. Meanwhile, he's getting rich off a TV series that exploits those same stereotypes.