Moonstruck Movie Ethnography

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The 1987 movie moonstruck is based on a rather hybrid ethnography, as majority of the families featured are Italian-American.1 The movie’s ethnicity theme is so pronounce that even the opening soundtrack to the film is “That’s Amore;” a rendition by Dean Martin that describes the way of life in Napoli, a town in Southern Italy. In a humorous way, the singer alludes to popular Italian delicacies such as ‘Pasta fagiole’ and ‘Pizza’ and other Italian cultural stereotypes. Although the actual setting for the movie is New York, the ethnographic setting is pretty much Italian; from to the cast’s ethic background, to the presence of Italian forms of art like Opera (La Boheme by Puccini). Additionally, the massive use of Italian diction, from names to vocabularies in the movie and the constant reference to Italian locations such as Sicily bears strong ethnic elements alluding to the Italian way of life. The movie’s time setting is also based on the period it was shot, judging by the fashion, slang and lifestyle of the cast, which corresponds to the 80’s culture.

Underlying Cultural Issues
The major cultural issues highlighted in the movie are sexual immorality and conflict.2 In the movie, Loretta, the lead cast is engaged to Johnny who happens to travel to Sicily, Italy to see his ailing mum. While away, Loretta goes to invite Johnny’s brother (Ronny) to their wedding. In the process of discussion, Ronny kisses Loretta, a move that leads to their having sexual relations. This forms the first instance of sexual immorality in the story as Loretta, despite being engaged, allows herself to engage in sexual relations with her fiancé’s brother, an act that would pass as taboo in most societies. Ronny, also aware of his brother’s commitment, seduces his brother’s fiancé, a contradiction of basic family values such a loyalty and respect.3 Later on Loretta and Ronny meet at Lincoln Centre, from where they watch an opera, following which they engage in sexual relations for a second time, surpassing the normal threshold of a mistake.
The issue of sexual immorality in the movie, is not restricted to common demographics such as age.

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Loretta’s father, Cosmo, is also having an affair with a different woman (Mona), despite being married. In the movie, Cosmo is seen dining with Mona and pampering her with jewelry, a common gesture for intimacy. When Loretta stumbles upon her father with Mona, after her opera date with Ronny, he, in a blackmailing manner, asks her to keep his infidelity between them, implying that he’ll, in turn, keep her secret. His words, coupled with Loretta’s decision to stay quiet shows the extent of moral decay in the society presented. The issue of sexual immorality is also brought to question on multiple occasions. For example, when Rose sees Perry, a college professor who just got dumped, she invites him for a drink and asks why men chase women. This rhetorical question, in a way, seems to criticize men’s tendencies for infidelity and other sexually immoral practices in society. Rose also shuts Perry’s sexual advances that night when she tells him that it is “because I am married,” a statement that echoes the societal value of faithfulness when one is married.4
In equal measure, conflict, as a cultural issue is well documented in the movie. Family conflict, the most predominant in the movie occurs between Ronny and his brother Johnny. When Loretta visits Ronny at his workplace, he, in some way, implies that Johnny is to blame for his maimed hand. He then adds “when my fiancé saw that I was maimed, she left me for another man,” a factor that may warranted the family feud. Family conflict also plays out when Cosmo’s wife confronts him for being unfaithful, despite her being a faithful wife. Infidelity, a cultural taboo, especially among religious families, may prompt serious consequences in society such as divorce or family breakages. Romantic conflict, also occurs both at an emotional and physical level. Loretta is, for instance conflicted for being unfaithful to her fiancé and also for keeping the secrets of her father’s infidelity, which goes against the cultural institution of marriage. Additionally, conflict occurs between her and Johnny when he cancels his proposal, rendering her subject to communal ridicule and shame; which causes her to angrily throw the ring at him.

Cultural Categories present in the Movie
The movie bears two prime cultural categories, which are gender and sexuality.5 Several gender features are depicted all through the movies such as stereotypes, predispositions and roles. The feminine gender is for instance seen to play a more pragmatic role in the movie. For example, Rose, who receives sexual advances from Perry, turns him down claiming that not only is she married but also “because I know myself” Her statement portrays a feminine character who makes rational decisions that align with societal values such as faithfulness. Loretta, despite engaging in immoral behavior, is not happy about it as she ponders upon both hers and her father’s faithfulness, unlike the male characters who do not seem morally conflicted. This situation alludes a common societal stereotype that unfaithful women lower their dignity, while unfaithful men receive mild or no backlash at all, from society.6 The feminine pragmatic role plays out again when Rose persuades Cosmo to renew his vows to his wife being that, his unfaithfulness had already broken their matrimony.

As a cultural category, sexuality is also well exemplified in the movie. The film, for instance epitomizes strong elements of heterosexual intimacy among the characters. Loretta and Ronny, despite the moral restrictions between them, cannot resist their sexual attraction towards each other, leading to their relations. Cosmo, in his infidelity escapades, also shows his strong preferences for people of the opposite gender, through his strong attraction to Mona, thus furthering the heterosexual tendencies of the cast. Heterosexuality is also seen in the role of Perry who is not only having an affair with a female student but is also sexually attracted to Rose. Rose’s rhetorical question on why men chase women, which she asks on several occasions, emphasize the strong heterosexual context of the movie. In a way, the movie’s sexuality theme is biased as it does not conform to the realities of society. All the actors in the move seem to be sexually attracted to members of a different gender, ignoring the aspect of LGBTI. But then again, the setting of the movie is based on a time when being of different sexual orientation could have led to heavy stigma and discrimination from the society, hence people tended to mask their sexual orientation7.

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