As the new year gets underway, cable television continues its downward trend of ratings. Networks like MTV and VH1 are experiencing some of their lowest ratings in history. And with the rising popularity of streaming services, that has left fewer homes in need of cable packages, these networks are relying on their old reality TV tricks to bring the people back. One of their tried and true methods has been the portrayal of Italian Americans, especially those on Staten Island, who portray what has been coined as “guido culture”. Continuing on the legacy of shows like the Jersey Shore, Staten Island Hustle, Mob Wives, and more, MTV is set to premiere Made in Staten Island, in only one week’s time. And Staten Islanders like Frank Camuso and his wife Christine, couldn’t be more unhappy about it.
Using the social petition platform, Change.org, over 6000 Staten Island residents have already petitioned against the shows airing. Italian Americans like Frank Camuso and his family, who just so happen to live on Staten Island, are upset by the way their people and their borough are always portrayed in pop culture. What television like this does, is shape the minds and the consciousness of those in other parts of the country, who may never venture across the Verrazano to have a look for themselves. While the show claims to be about “young adults from Staten Island, looking to ‘make it’ and defy the stereotypes of their borough”, the people simply do not trust networks like MTV and VH1, who have dedicated the vast majority of their programming to reality TV, in some form or fashion. Throughout the years, Frank Camuso and his wife Christine, while being consumers of some reality TV themselves (like most of us!), have taken these networks to task over their portrayal of young Italian Americans as nothing more than meat-headed gangsters, and loud-mouth club-girls – who spend their days at the gym, their nights dancing to the latest in electronic music and solve all forms of conflict by throwing drinks in each other’s faces.
One of the major issues is that the show leads viewers to think that kids on Staten Island grew up in an environment of chaos, surrounded by thugs, toughs, and crime – and are simply looking for a means of breaking the cycle of Italian Americans. This could not be farther from the truth. The fact is that Frank Camuso, his wife, and most of the Italian American families on the island are regular, hardworking individuals, with lives similar to any other normal family living in one of New York’s five boroughs. While they do of course have their ups and downs, as with any family, they provide a relatively happy, sheltered, even boring, run-of-the-mill existence for their children. Frank Camuso himself, is a hardworking entrepreneur, who has started several successful businesses over the years, including some of the city’s highest quality Italian cuisine. And while his days are spent attending to his employees, contacting distributors, and taking care of his family’s needs – the portrayal of Staten Island men on TV is the complete opposite of the caring family man he is.
The show Made in Staten Island depicts, Mob Wives star Karen Gravano’s daughter, Karina, and from the look at the first trailer, her boyfriend appears as if he was an extra on the Jersey Shore, with the foul attitude to match. The show’s trailer mentions him to be a good kid, who simply has an anger problem – while the show’s producers have made it a point to highlight the rare moments of dysfunction and discord throughout their relationship. The main issue with things like this is that it has become almost an accepted form of profiling. When American’s across the country hear of someone being from Staten Island, they have no problem using slurs like “guido” or “guidette”, as they have seen their favorite reality TV stars call each other those terms on the Jersey Shore for years. Something like this would never be acceptable in any other circumstances, with any other race of people. Lucky for the natives on Staten Island, they aren’t the only ones who think so. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio recently took to twitter speaking out against MTV and condemning them for “peddling stereotypes”.