Competing Understandings of Media in the History of Anti-defamation

Laura Cook Kenna, George Washington University

Since at least the 1950s, some Italian Americans have organized anti-defamation campaigns to respond to unflattering, often mafia-inflected, representations of their ethnic identity. Even as these protesters have sought to shape the perception of Italian ethnicity, their strategies and outcomes have been deeply shaped by popular understandings of media. Using the debates surrounding the television show The Untouchables and the film The Godfather as examples, cultural historian Laura Cook Kenna will outline how ideas about media—artistry, influence, and audiences—have intersected with and underpinned the anti-defamation arguments and the ways ethnic images are interpreted and contested.