Italian American Literature and Film 
   SUMMER 2017

Prof. Fabio Girelli-Carasi



Quiz on Cartoons, Shorts, Salvetti, The Italian


I will send the questions at 8.00PM on Sunday June 25. Deadline 8.00PM Monday June 26

BLOG  comments and more POLLS


I want to add a few more words about Lombroso and his theories. You may have gotten the impression that he was some kind of racist hack, a propagandist who spewed venom, full of hatred. Someone mentioned that he was a traitor to his fellow Italians.

Cesare Lombroso was a world renown scientist, a psychiatrist who specialized in the care of the criminally insane. At a time when people with mental defects were locked up in "snake pits" for life, never to see the light of day again, Lombroso took it upon himself to try to understand and find a cure for mental illness.

The dominant culture of the times claimed that insanity was either a punishment from god, a result of moral degeneration (masturbation was often considered a cause), or the rejection of god in favor of evil spirits. In extreme cases, the worst criminals were seen as agents of the devil and instrument of evil in the world. There was no compassion for the mentally ill, to the contrary, they were despised and blamed for their own misfortune and for being carriers of evil.

Lombroso approached the phenomenon of madness from a scientific standpoint and laid the bases for modern scientific criminology.

His roots were in Darwin's theory of evolution. It would be impossible to overestimate the shock that those theories had in the world. The idea that "man" had not been created "in god's image" was considered itself demented and blasphemous. In addition, Darwin, with his discoveries gave credence to the hypothesis that history was the journey of "man" from beast to higher being.

Such a concept was not only absent from the general mentality of the people, but it was considered dangerous.

For Lombroso, instead, it was the platform he needed to develop his theory. He hypothesized that evolution does not happen in every human being at the same rate. Some advance more rapidly than others. Those who are left behind still show traces of the old stages of evolution. Thus, he started observing the inmates in his mental institution and began to see certain common characteristics that made them look more like a "primitive" form of human: thick lips and eyebrows, hairy body, sloping shoulders, long arms (the "nuckle-draggers") and other signs. Lombroso's process was deductive: from data and evidence he tried to develop a credible theory.

However, once his theory became public, it was popularized, simplified and turned upside down. It happens all the time: example the famous biblical law "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." In popular culture it is used as a justification for vengeance. In reality it was first formulated in the Hammurabi Code (Babylonia, 1750 BCE). The principle behind that was that an offense could not be punished with an act that was greater than the offense itself. In a time when retribution was left to individuals, families and clans, the authority could only establish general criteria. Thus, the purpose of this law was the exact opposite of what is claimed today.

With Lombroso, the theory became wildly popular and got out of the control of the scientific world. Once in the public domain, it was applied in reverse: If a person had those traits was considered immediately to be a criminal (or potential). Not only, but those characteristics were applied to entire groups that shared those characteristics. I left out skin tone because at this point it became the number one criterion to classify people as "less-human."

Immediately after those theories became common place, all sorts of hacks and quacks and some serious scientists, started classifying all human "races" according to those visible signs. This discipline was called, proudly, "scientific racism," where racism stands not for a political agenda but for a scholarly approach to the classification of races.

As we all know, these theories were pushed to the absolute extreme by the Nazi, for whom Jews and blacks were not human, but literally they were thought to have rotten, infected blood, worthy of extermination ike bugs or rats. Similar treatment was reserved to Rom people and homosexuals.

The Nazi also maintained that Eastern Europeans, Slavic people in particular, were sub-human, with inferior intelligence and spiritually as crude and unsophisticated as beasts of burden. In Hitler's plan they were to be rounded up and used as slave labor for the higher glory of the Third Reich.

So, when we look at the cartoon where the Italian shoeshine is represented with certain characteristics, we see the "poster boy" of what the culture of the time was like. People firmly believed in them and acted accordingly.

Even crazier than Lombroso's ideas was PHRENOLOGY. Click the link to find out more on Wikipedia. Read before you watch the film clip taken from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (to my money one of the most morally repulsive films I have ever seen.)

In this scene, you will be presented with the kind of false arguments and logic that unfortunately are still part of the arsenal of racists all over the world.


Leonardo Di Caprio explains what PHRENOLOGY is.


(Personal opinion: sorry, but Leo cannot pull off playing a mature adult. He tried in several movies but he just doesn't have it.)

Lecture: the earliest examples of film

The influence of film on the public



LECTURE: The most influential film with a political message in America

I am having problems uploading this video to youtube.

Check later.




Your notes should be succinct.




FILENAME:  last-name.june22

Email subject: assignment June 22


Task 1: 

Copy the following statements:
"Late assignments and / or assignments that do not meet format requirements (filename, email subject, layout) will not be graded."
"I understand the rules concerning plagiarism and I am aware of the consequences."

Task 2:   Notes on texts and lectures. Don't overdo it with the notes.

Write a comment for each text/lecture, on the aspects that are most relevant to you.
Talk back to the texts/lectures, tell them what you think about them and how they made you feel.

Task 3:  By now you have acquired a certain amount of information on Italian Americans. We will follow a chronological outline, touching on some major historical milestones.

TOPIC: How have your reactions changed? What kind of expectations do you have now? What is still missing in order to give depth to the picture that is beginning to emerge from the texts?

Think and interrogate yourself. Go deeper than the first thing that comes to mind. Try to reach for the place where you know you can find your sincere reactions

Plan a route from point A to Z and try to stick to it.

At the end, REVIEW. If something doesn't sound right to you, if it is not sufficiently precise, if it is rough, work on it until it is clear for yourself.

A true Half a page but please go longer if you want to. Indeed.