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It's not often that this list explores television drama, but it seems worth
pursuing here:

> Darryl Wiggers has described Tony Soprano's appeal, similar to that of
> most sympathetic mobster films, in the most clear and succinct fashion I
> have yet seen in any publication.

Thank you but I urge you to read more publications.

> However, I also think The Sopranos is meant as a capitalist
> metaphor, like the best mobster movies such as the second Godfather
> movie. The show emphasizes the economic interconnectivity of the entire
> New Jersey locale community...

Many go further to suggest that the series is a microcosm for America. I
think it's just another gangster story with extra ingredients to please
female viewers (for years screen gangsters were a "guy thing"). For the
guys, Sopranos has sex and violence. In between the psycho-analysis scenes
("good" girl infatuated with "bad" guy), and the "gangster in suburbia"
family scenes (which seem to appeal to the women fans I've talked to),
there always seems to be at least one scene per episode in the "Bada Bing!"
strip club (naked breasts thrust into the camera), or scenes with a
mistress (more fucking than love-making -- a recent episode showing doggie-
style sex, with a gun to the woman's head, seems an apt example). Plus, at
least one scene of graphic violence per episode. In short, a soap-opera
version of your basic gangster film.

But there seems to be an irresitible drive to find deepness in these kinky
pleasures. I would argue that the series could just as easily be a story
about a used car salesman anywhere in the world. You could see him conning
people into paying inflated prices for a junker, his rivalries with fellow
salesmen, and his life at home (the movie "Used Cars" follows this basic
premise). But criminals are more interesting because they break the law.
They cross a line in our society that most of us are too scared to cross
because of the consequences (or our moral code, or guilt reflex). So we get
off on watching them on TV, doing the things we might like to do (much as
Mark later admits when he says "We are drawn to living the taboo life
vicariously, like Tony's shrink, Dr. Melfi)... personally I find OZ more
exciting television on a number of levels, but I don't think the all the
gay rape, death by drugs and finger-nails stuff goes over well with a lot
of people. The characters in OZ are just too damn intense for many. Yet, in
this series, you get a greater "deepness," if you will, of how American
society manipulates and abuses the lower classes and, as a result, they are
seen as committing "evil" acts, but are not necessarily "evil" because of
the injustices they continually face. Vengence and survival are prominent
elements.

> While Tony Soprano lives by a certain code that is appealing in its
> consistency, the images he brings into being are obviously horrific. His
> brutal, anti-social behavior preys on the weakness of others, and his
> actions often cause a chain reaction of pain, while he ignores the
> consequences. He allows a compulsive gambler into a high stakes poker
> game and ultimately dismantles his life

He clearly says, I think, to this gambler (a childhood friend, no less)
that "this is my bread-and-butter." He's a gangster. He extorts money and
runs gambling rackets. That's what he does. If he was to do otherwise, he
wouldn't be in business anymore. It's the basic gangster code that you see
in all such stories. Al Capone in The Untouchables says, for
example, "People are gonna drink. You know that, and I know that. All I do
is act on that." And of course Tony ignores the consequences (as do most
gangsters real or imagined). He has to. If he didn't -- again -- he
couldn't stay in business. There's nothing deep about that. We all face
that dilemna, particularly if stuck in jobs we don't like. We sometimes
have to be callous to the pain of others just to get through the day. War
films deal with this a lot too.

> he cheats on his wife until there is nothing left of his
> marriage, and he runs a team of extremely violent men who will kill
> business rivals

... and the difference between him and, say, Clinton is...?? Seriously, if
infidelity is indicative of "evil" than every day must be a busy day at the
gates of Hell. Even hard-core Christians would downgrade such examples
of "evil" as just plain-old "sins." Sins can be forgiven. Evil is forever.

> Tony stays a hero precisely because the show's creators keep him just
this
> side of the line where we write him off.

I questioned his being "evil" but I wouldn't call him a hero. He is merely
the protagonist. Some use the term "anti-hero." I accept the view of most
religions that good and evil exists in us all. That pureness of one trait
or the other is impossible. This is why I often relish the films of William
Friedkin because he is not afraid to blur the line between
supposably "good" and "bad" characters, nor of killing the protagonist
(or "good" guy) in the end.

> In the real world, I would argue, the
> extorting, drug distributing, loan sharking numbers running, money
> laundering, and yes, tax-dodging Tony Sopranos are just villains, plain
> and simple.

And I would argue that this "real world" view is more related to legal
ethics than moral ones. Governments, banks and corporations do much the
same thing, but they often have the advantage of legal loopholes, expensive
lawyers and media manipulation to keep their image clean of the "villian"
label.

> (I also want to note that Tony Soprano's physicality is made monstrous by
> the shot choices, making James Gandolfini appear more menacing through
> low angle shots emphasizing his bulk...

He is merely made to look powerful by low angles (monstrosity seems to be
in the eye of the beholder). It's a classic technique that's been around
since the invention of cinema. The physique of the character makes no
difference. Gance did it with Napoleon. Riefenstahl did it with Hitler.
Lucas did it with Darth Vader. etc...

> Yes, I think a guy like Slobodan Milosevic
> is about as evil as they come, but two wrongs don't make a right, and I
> wouldn't want to condone a real life Tony Soprano either. I'd rather
> keep the evil hero contradiction on the screen, where it's most
> attractive, because it's the most safe.

A good, succinct closing but I feel compelled to venture into the minefield
of politics (and propaganda) here. I never mentioned Milosevic by name in
my last post but your assumption says more to me than anything I have to
add. Sadly, I don't think we'll ever find a middle ground on this
particular issue.

dw

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