Immigrants via Popular Culture: A Study of the Portrayal of Various Immigrant Cultures in Vaudeville
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The comedic ethnic stereotypes, most commonly that of Italian, Jewish and Irish immigrants, presented in both mainstream and ethnic vaudeville houses from 1870 to 1920 functioned in two important ways. The new immigrant cultures used their vaudeville to explore the ways in which their culture may be adapted to ease their own assimilation, and provided a nexus around which a strong ethnic community could develop. On mainstream stages, ethnic portrayals provided a means of control for popular sentiment by re-characterizing the immigrants in harmless ways. When each immigrant culture achieved an internally recognized assimilation and the mainstream stereotype had drifted too far from reality, each group moved to regain control of their representation.