August 10, 2011
Vinny is the character that has explicitly referred to his Italian background the most in previous seasons, and also the one whose identity has been established as being ‘the most Italian’. This notion is reinforced by the fact that Vinny is the only one that speaks (some) Italian, and the emphasis that is put on his family as being ‘typically’ or ‘traditionally’ Italian throughout the series. This is also made explicit on different accounts. In episode 6 of season 1, for instance, Vinny’s family comes to the Jersey Shore house, and his mother cooks dinner for everyone. When mom does all of the work while the others (men and women) wait to be served, Snooki comments in an inserted clip that Vinny’s mom is a ‘real’ Italian woman (because she will not sit down to have dinner until everyone else has finished their meal).
In this first episode of the fourth season, Vinny himself explains his view on the Italianness of his family. Still in Staten Island before departure to Florence, Vinny invites Ronnie, Pauly and The Situation over for dinner at his family’s house. “My family, they are Italians, the right way,” he comments (accompanied by shots of his entire family sitting around a large table full of (Italian) food). He adds: “There’s nothing more authentic than my family.”
(”My family, they are Italians, the right way.” (Which begs the question: what is Italian the wrong way?))
Interestingly enough, he sees no need to explain what he means by ‘the right way’ and ‘authentic’. But the accompanying images help explain it for him. It is a large family; they come together to eat; they eat a lot; all of this is presented as evidence of a traditional family. But Vinny isn’t just saying he has a traditional family, he in fact is suggesting there is something inherently and authentically Italian about this scene. So to Vinny, it seems, the Italianness of his family doesn’t reside simply in the fact that his family members are Italians; family or family value itself represents (true) Italianness. The visual material then brings it home for the viewer: the atmosphere is loud and chaotic; (lewd) jokes are made; and, importantly, we see mostly men at the dinner table. We know from (gangster) movies and TV what these things signify, and so no one needs to explain to the viewer what all this means: these must be Italians.
(Handy tip for real life: the ears of the female sex have the propensity to bleed when dirty jokes enter them, so try covering them with something.)
Later on, the boys are on their way to Italy. We see a closeup shot of Vinny on the airplane, who, while looking out of the window, says: “This is the first time I have ever seen the motherland.” Upon exiting the plane, we even see him touching the (Italian) ground, while we hear his voice-over talking about breathing in Italian air for the first time.
(”This is the first time I have ever seen the motherland.”)
Vinny seems to experience the journey to Italy differently than his cast members do. Although we see some of the others trying to learn some Italian phrases (partly via Vinny, partly via the equally reliable source of online translating services), we aren’t shown any of them expressing their feelings about what going to Italy means to them, beyond the obvious enthusiasm about ‘doing sex’ and partying. Vinny, however, isn’t just happy to do sex and see where his family came from; he actually calls Italy the ‘motherland’ and sees experiencing the Italian air and soil (or asphalt) for the first time as something signifcant. We could say, then, that Vinny is shown to align his identity much more closely with that of his family than the others do. The trip is portrayed as a journey to his heritage, rather than just a vacation. The expectation is created that he will somehow find or come closer to himself in Italy.
One of the first things the guys do after arriving in Florence is (naturally) finding a gym appropriate for their GTL routine (gym-tan-laundry). They meet a gym employee/owner named Luigi. “Luigi is a cool old Italian guy, just like one of my uncles or something back home,” Vinny says, and then comments: “Luigi is like the Guido mister Miyagi.”
Here, Vinny seems to equate “Guido” with “Italian”. While it is obviously for comic purposes, it is still interesting that he would choose ‘Guido’, a term that is so specifically and exclusively used to describe certain Americans (or Italian-Americans), not Italians. Vinny also subtly mentions that Luigi seems to not spend much time in the gym himself (meaning: he has a regular rather than square physique), nor does Luigi have any other characteristics of a typical Guido (for instance: slicked-back hair, gold jewelry), so the sequence would suggest Vinny indeed sees ‘Guido’ and ‘Italian’ as interchangeable and thus alike terms.* The comparison he draws between Luigi and his uncles ‘or something’ back home supports this theory, meaning: he sees Americans with an Italian heritage and Italians living in Italy as basically the same group of people.
(Vinny discovers the bidet.)
–Next episode: E2 - ‘Like More Than a Friend’–
*Alternatively, since mister Miyagi was in fact mentor to an Italian-American kid, you could also argue that Vinny simply meant that Luigi is ‘a Guido’s mister Miyagi’ with this comment.