Deconstructing ‘The Sopranos’

Five books about The Sopranos considered:

“Maybe higher education isn’t such a good idea after all. The fourth season of The Sopranos is finally here, and professors of various stripes are having a go at explicating the first three seasons. Literary critics and historians, neo-Marxists and theoretical feminists, postmodernists and pre-post-post-structuralists are scrambling to stake their claims to David Chase’s series. The name-dropping in these books borders on the felonious — why stop at Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese when Mikhail Bakhtin and Walter Benjamin are available? — but unfortunately the RICO statute doesn’t yet apply to the academic racket.” NY Times

Recall last week’s discussion here of whether readers should take my multiple postings about Wilco as an indication of my own tastes? Well, I’ll short-circuit any similar speculation about my fondness for Sopranos blinks by making it explicit that, yes, they signify my fondness for the show. One of the reasons, of course, is my endless fascination with the pivotal role a psychotherapeutic relationship plays in a popular TV show. While I do think it is about the most responsible portrayal of psychiatric treatment I’ve seen in the popular media, that doesn’t make it problem-free… There’s also that giddy, somewhat delectable dissonant experience of feeling empathetic toward and invested in a mobster as an audience member, which of course parallels the supportive and empathetic stance one struggles to maintain toward whomever one is treating as a psychotherapist.

Of course, self-described ‘conservative’ columnists such as Suzanne Fields would have a different take on my appreciation of the show:

It has been widely remarked that the Sopranos are a 1950s family with a ’50s family sensibilities, reflecting a traditional reference point for right and wrong. But if the microcosm resides in hearth and home, the macrocosm is hell on earth. The Mob follows a vicious immoral code and the lead characters resemble Satan, Moloch and Belial, the fallen angels in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” who seek ways to attempt to wreak vengeance against God.

William F. Buckley argues that the popularity of “The Sopranos” depends on the degeneration of its audience, but this, I think, ignores the way the series raises legitimate questions about the nature of evil and its seductive qualities. If we sometimes find ourselves in sympathy with vile criminals, we’re confronted with our own gullibility and susceptibility to behavior we know is wrong. These gangsters aren’t “role models.” Nobody in his right mind would want to be in Tony Soprano’s shoes.

[Does anyone, by the way, have a reference for the Buckley observation? FmH]

Addendum: Here

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