Culture critic Camille Paglia opened her mouth and an attack on The Sopranos and the New York media poured out, no pauses for breathing.
Paglia, a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts, came to bury Tony Soprano, the anti-hero of HBOs popular TV show about Italian-American mobsters, at the Gay Talese Lecture in Logan Hall Nov. 1. Smart, funny and outrageous, she drew regular applause from the mostly Italian-American audience of about 170 people.
As the first of two speakers at the lecture, entitled Tony Soprano, the Media and Popular Culture, Paglia declared herself on the warpath, fighting the disrespect shown Italian-Americans in Hollywood and in the news media.
The other speaker picked up the no-respect theme. Richard Benedetto, political columnist for USA Today, spoke only briefly of The Sopranos. Of the last four presidents, whos more like Tony Soprano than all the others? he asked. I think you know who Im talking about. Then he took off after former President Bill Clinton. He also launched into a defense of Christopher Columbus. But it was Paglia whose comments kept the audience enthralled.
Tony Soprano sitting and having analysisthis is an insult. There may be Italian analysts. I dont know any.
Paglia, a lesbian feminist, attacked the condescending, high-tech androgynesthe haute bourgeoisie media in New Yorkwho raved about The Sopranos.
Libelous images of Italian-Americans are being replayed, poured into the culture, she said. Italians shouldnt put up with it anymore.
Real Italian-Americans finally got noticed after the World Trade Center attack, she said. The people who have been the invisible backbone of our nations infrastructurethe police, firefighters and janitorswere being recognized as the sexy heroes they deserved to be.
The lecture, the second of five annual talks honoring journalist Gay Talese, a visiting Fellow at the Kelly Writers House in 1999, was sponsored by the Writers House and the National Italian American Foundation, in collaboration with Penns Center for Italian Studies.
Originally published on November 29, 2001