Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wahoo Part Deux

So, a friend of mine who has a very acute sense of justice didn't like my post approving of Chief Wahoo AT ALL. I said Super Mario doesn't bother me as an Italian-American, so why should I care about Chief Wahoo, but I guess she thinks Super Mario should bother me.

It all hinges on whether people think of real Indians when they see Chief Wahoo, or real Italians when they see Mario. I don't think they do, or at least they didn't until other people started raising a fuss about it. It's conceivable someone might think of a real Indian on seeing Wahoo, but about as likely as people thinking of a real mouse when they see Mickey Mouse.

To be clear, I accept that there is such a thing as a harmful caricature. I just don't think Wahoo is one. It's not like he's carrying a scalp or a whiskey bottle. It's important to distinguish between harmless caricatures and harmful ones, otherwise you have to be against all caricatures, and that is getting dangerously close to the kind of thinking that led to the Mohammed cartoon riots.

Super Mario doesn't bug me, but I admit I've never liked the kind of Mafia movie that implies crime is an integral part of Sicilian culture. It of course is not, except in certain small towns near Palermo, heh heh. Once I complained to Danny Boy's Restaurant in Sandusky about them having a poster of John Gotti in their Mafia-themed restaurant. The guy was a straight-up murderer, for God's sake. But one cannot deny there is a certain style of crime that is peculiarly Sicilian. When I watch The Godfather sometimes I catch myself thinking, yeah, we're badasses, so don't mess with us. This usually happens during the scene where Vito Corleone puts the horse head in the movie director's bed. But that is just wrong and I should be ashamed of myself.

Aside: My great-grandpa, who came to the US from Sicily as a young man, was a baker. He used to deliver bread to a bin at a restaurant. He got into a dispute over bin space with another baker, X, and eventually there was a confrontation where Great-Grandpa threw some of X's bread out of the bin. His friends said, you shouldn't have done that because X is in the Murray Hill Mob. (Murray Hill is Cleveland's Little Italy.) I don't know whether he really was, but later X and Great-Grandpa became friends. X is dead but I don't give his family name because it's fairly well known in Cleveland. I used to see X hanging around his bakery but never met him. That's as close to a brush with the Mafia as I can give you. This story is even less interesting than it sounds.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so cavalier about the Chief Wahoo thing if I was of some recognizable minority ethnicity myself. A quarter Sicilian doesn't qualify as a minority (except at the City University of New York, chuckle), especially considering there is nobody under the age of 75 in my family who speaks more than a few words of Italian. Plus I'm not even Catholic and I don't have a Sicilian name because it's on my mom's side.

On the other hand, every couple of years someone asks me if I'm Middle Eastern. Once when I was in Japan, a couple of Iranian guys came up to me because they thought I was Iranian. So did some annoying kids on my bus in the 5th grade. I don't have a foreign-sounding name or an accent, but maybe they thought I had a Steve Jobs thing going where I was adopted and my real dad was Iranian. Sorry, but no. Dad's ancestors were all European and already holed up in the Blue Ridge Mountains when George III was still running the place. These incidents, while puzzling, have not made me as sensitive to the plight of the stereotyped minority as some would like.

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