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Jewish World Review July 16, 2002 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5762

Sean Carter

Sean Carter
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Consumer Reports

Don't mess with The Sopranos, Mario | Mr. Roth, my junior high school gym teacher, taught me two very valuable lessons in life:

Lesson #1: Never ever major in Physical Education in college.

Lesson #2: Quitters never win and winners never quit.

Lesson #1 was easy to grasp as I observed Mr. Roth trying to feed a family of six on $32.65/month. However, Lesson #2 took a little longer to grasp because it doesn't apply to all aspects of life.

After all, you can't apply the "never quit" philosophy to smoking (trust me, I've tried). The same is true of litigation. There comes a time in every lawsuit when you must run away and live to sue another day. In fact, in some cases, this point comes before even filing the lawsuit.

For instance, let's take the example of the American Italian Defense Association's (AIDA) lawsuit against the producers of The Sopranos. In this lawsuit, AIDA claims that the hit HBO show insults the dignity of Italian-Americans by depicting them as mobsters.

Last April, AIDA filed its lawsuit in Illinois. In September, a Cook County Circuit Court Judge dismissed the case. AIDA appealed immediately and on July 1st, the Illinois Appellate Court once again ruled in favor of the Sopranos.

However, AIDA is not deterred. In fact, according to its spokesman, Ted "Don't Call Me Godfather" Grippo, "This isn't over." At present, AIDA is considering whether to appeal this latest ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.

If AIDA does appeal, this case will represent the greatest waste of legal resources since my graduation from law school. After all, this case shouldn't have been filed in the first place.

For one, the case has no legitimate legal basis. Although slander is a valid claim against a broadcaster for defamatory remarks about a particular person, it does not apply to statements about large groups, such as religious groups, ethnic groups or female talk show hosts. Therefore, AIDA could not bring a lawsuit on behalf of all Italian-Americans for slander.

As a result, AIDA was forced to rely on the obscure Individual Dignity Clause of the Illinois Constitution. This clause states that "communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue in a group of persons by reason of racial, ethnic, national or regional affiliation are condemned."

Of course, the Individual Dignity Clause leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, are these types of communications crimes? If so, what's the maximum sentence or fine? Also, can private citizens sue for violations of this clause?

In fact, even AIDA seems confused about its rights under this clause. As a result, it isn't seeking monetary damages against the show. Nor is it seeking an injunction to prevent the show from being aired. Instead, it is simply seeking a declaration from a judge that the show violates the Individual Dignity Clause. In short, AIDA is consuming scarce court resources so that it can get a judge to say, "Bad Sopranos! You naughty boys!"

Besides, let's face it, the Sopranos does not depict all Italian-Americans in a bad light. It does not feature Italian-American characters out of animosity but rather because the show is based on the trials of a fictional Mafia family. Perhaps it's just me, but it seems that the show would lose a little of its realism if a family of Vietnamese immigrants were running the Mafia.

Of course, as an African American, I am sensitive to AIDA's concerns about negative stereotyping. However, the truth of the matter is that some Italian Americans are involved in organized crime. Obviously, these individuals represent a minute percentage of the Italian American population. Therefore, for AIDA to attempt to abolish all mob movies and TV shows on this basis is as absurd as Michael Jackson claiming that he has been victimized at the hands of white music executives.

Besides, without quality shows like the Sopranos, the networks may be forced to return to the blacksploitation programming of the1970s. To this day, I am still haunted by Jimmy "J.J." Walker's "Kid Dy-no-mite!" and Fred Sanford's "You big dummy!" However, I am more terrified of the prospect of modern-day remakes of these shows with titles like It's All Good Times and My Baby's Daddy & Son.

Therefore, in an effort to prevent this tragedy, I implore AIDA to end its battle against the Sopranos. For one, AIDA has about as much chance of winning this lawsuit as I have of being Master of Ceremonies at next year's Columbus Day parade.

Moreover, the show is merely a depiction of one fictional family. And although this family is almost as dysfunctional as my wife's, AIDA should be pleased with the Sopranos. After all, at least Tony Soprano doesn't have a two-foot son walking around yelling, "What you talking 'bout, Willis?"

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JWR contributor Sean Carter is a practicing attorney, stand-up comedian and humor writer. Comment by clicking here.


04/23/02: FDA "sucker punches" smokers
03/31/02: Seniors are "disparately" seeking equal justice
03/08/02: More than a day late, but definitely not a dollar short
02/12/02: Beam me up, your honor!
01/25/02: Until irreconcilable differences do us part
12/17/01: Teachers go to the pokey for playing hooky
11/16/01: When baseball fans attack ...
11/02/01: Pop-torts
09/04/01: Can't beat the competition? Sue, baby, sue!

© 2002, Sean Carter