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shrinkykitten

"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.

6.13.2007

Blogging out the grouchies

Over on another blog, the television show "The Sopranos" is being discussed. Well, it's being discussed in many places - but this discussion is more about not having ever watched it, and having no interest in doing so.

The ensuing discussion is annoying me - and that's as much about me as it is about the actual discussion. In particular, some people are asserting that the sopranos "glorifies" violence and the mafia and I disagree with this fairly heartily. It seems as though those who argue this have never actually watched it.

One person said that it must glorify the mafia if the viewers consider the Sopranos to be lovable. Well, I like the show a lot - but I hardly consider the Sopranos to be lovable. In fact, I don't think I actually find any character on the show to be lovable at all and detest many even though I might have empathy for them.

I think that what the Sopranos does that is so brilliant is that it shows the Sopranos, and their "family" as complex, troubled, difficult, annoying, sometimes appealing, disgusting, caring, gaudy, impatient, self-centered, lonely, violent, and at times, tender. They are full of contradictions - just like almost every other person in the world. And, they happen to be in, or associated with, the mafia.

I certainly envy absolutely nothing about their lives or lifestyles. But, I feel some connection to them because it is one of the first portrayals of people - much less mafia members - as having as complex of motivations as they do. They often behave in direct opposition with their values and morals - which bewilders others, and sometimes themselves. That's interesting to me - and mirrors some of my own bewildering contradictions.

For example, why does Meadow - despite being an ostensibly smart and thoughtful young woman who is educated and who loathes violence, end up looking as though she is about to marry into the mob, and basically lead her mother's life - a life she had previously denigrated? We all like to think that we are not beholden to destiny or genetics - that we are not like our parents and won't have their lives - and yet as Meadow shows, it's so hard taking a different path. AJ too fought an uphill battle in trying to have a different kind of life - and I think inevitably, he is his father's son, despite his purported desire to have a better life.

We also get to see the more tender underbelly of hypermasculinity. Getting to see Tony in therapy and in some of his interactions with those he loves, allows us to see a different model of masculinity. We get to see him cry, have nightmares, feel remorse, protect a cat, worry about his children and take their failings as reflections of his own, feel abandoned and lost, and feel deep love. This is hugely atypical of such masculine men in the media. We see him become dependent on his shrink and his wife - and feel all the horrible and wonderful things associated with that dependence. We see him open up and trust and become vulnerable - taking emotional risks and gaining insight. And in many ways, these risks frighten him much more than the risks of being assassinated. We see him admit to depression - which is painful and terrifying and a huge risk, and we concomitantly see him use his depression and miserable childhood as excuses and attention getters. We also see him quite keenly experiencing the pain of depression, and yet being wholly incapable of having empathy for others with similar struggles (like AJ or Chris' substance abuse issues).

Although the violence is violent - it is not glamorized or normalized. Sure, violence is the landscape in this mafia family. But, at the same time - we see the results of the violence, which is unusual in depictions of violence. We see the person actually die (and it is often not pretty), we see the effects of the death on those close to the dead, and we see the effects of the killing on the murderer. Violence in the media that does not include these things is what experts see as glamorizing violence - like in professional wrestling. You see them do hugely violent things, and everyone walks away unscathed. That is dangerous violence.

For those who think the show glorifies the mafia, or normalizes violence - I strongly recommend you watch it before making such assertions. The sopranos, I believe, is one of the first television shows to show really complex characters and characters who are not easy to like or care about, but despite (or because of) their contradictions and their illegal (and sometimes evil) behaviors, they are just like us - whether or not we want to admit it. And I think there is real value in getting to see ourselves reflected in such flawed people.

6 Comments:

At 1:38 PM, Blogger KC said...

I completely agree that those who say The Soprano's glamorizes violence have probably never seen it. I find myself actually looking away from the screen when someone's about to get killed because it is so realistic...decidedly not glamorous.

However, I think the show did, to a certain degree glamorize the mafia. I found this article - http://www.thenewsroom.com/details/387119?c_id=kc - about how the mafia as portrayed on the show isn't accurate in today's world, and the boom of cybercrime. Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting and wanted to share!

 
At 2:03 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

excellent, excellent post. I'm glad you wrote it. I know what discussion you are talking about and it was thoroughly annoying me, too. In fact, I was thinking of writing my own post. But I may not because I think you've said it.

 
At 4:14 PM, Anonymous sheepish said...

I was more annoyed with the people who rather smugly asserted that they don't watch tv. It's an art form, just like movies, paintings, music, and books. Get over yourselves, people.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger dr four eyes said...

I was reading the thread you're talking and was also annoyed by the smugness. I'm fairly annoyed by the commenter who insists that the show MUST glorify violence (how can you ever think otherwise?!), in a very condescending tone, after having admited to having never watched it.

I haven't actually seen The Sopranos--no cable and I haven't yet been motivated to start with season 1 on DVDs--but I can certainly appreciate the fact that it has been both critically lauded and broadly popular. I also wouldn't pass judgment on it without having seen it.

And the whole not watching TV thing is annoying, too. I have friends who don't watch TV, and that's perfectly OK. Good for them (or whatever). But that doesn't mean I'm unenlightened because I heart So You Think You Can Dance.

 
At 8:22 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

ooh, yeah...I'm also with sheepish on it being an art form and I hate when people are so smug about snubbing it. television is as much art as films and books are and the sopranos is one of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen.

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

kc: I dunno - there's nothing glamourous about asbestos removal! The big mafioso I knew as a kid ran a laundry business (a cover for his money laundering...ha ha). Maybe it seems glamourous to some - but I doubt it does to most.

anastasia: you should! And I liked your comment over there.

sheepers: indeed, that chapped my hide too. Just because it is an art form for the masses doesn't mean it is bad. It's just accessible. And cheaper than broadway or movies or tickets to an art museum.

dr 4 eyes: exactly. There have been times when the people on tv have been my companions - does this make me a neanderthal? Does it make me less intellectual or more base in some way? Interestingly on Good Morning America this a.m., some women came together to talk about Nancy Drew. One woman, who is a reporter - ON TV, said it was good that she didn't have tv growing up as it forced her to read a lot. Well, I had a tv and I read a ton! And funny how even those on tv denigrate tv (Holly Hunter was on Ellen a couple weeks ago and was totally going off on how she *never* watches tv and how horrible tv is - and she is on a new tv show - and you could see Ellen getting really hurt as Hunter didn't even pretend liek she watched Ellen's show).

 

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