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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Trouble With Tony: a latecomer's thoughts on a classic show

I am the last person in the world to see "The Sopranos", HBO's six year mega multi award winning mob series. I have an app on my phone that shows HBO movies and series and it helps me stay out of the internet rabbit hole at work if I have a distraction, so I decided to find out what all the fuss is about.

There's a lot to like. The basic premise is compelling. A mob boss seeks therapy to deal with anxiety. His family is just like any affluent American family, but with extortion, drug dealing, and murder mixed in. His kids are smart asses. He cheats on his wife. He has barbecues and presides over the grill with a smile and a chain of hot sausage ready to go. Much of the writing is amazing and some of the scenes are unforgettable in humor and heartbreak, sometimes at the same time.

Christopher's intervention, one of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV.

Uncle Junior breaks Tony's heart. I literally had tears rolling down my face after this.

You kind of have to know the characters to appreciate these to the fullest but the thought is there even if you've never seen the show. There were some very talented people working on this, but despite that there are some huge problems with the show.

I grew up in a relatively close-knit Italian family, so I was prepared for the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia. From the characters. And it's there, no mistake. The kind of thing I grew up with. Things you can blame on ignorance or upbringing. Things you can kinda understand. But that's not all. The underlying racism is appalling. Racism written into the script. Not the characters. All the black characters being hood types, drug dealers, thieves, stupid, vain, crack whores. There are maybe one or two non-hoodlum stereotype black characters on the first five and a half seasons. And those are thin attractive women. There is a black preacher who is running a scam ripping off his own neighborhood. A community organizer ripping off HUD and the people he is supposed to be serving. And countless junkies, thieves, and the like, talking in cliches, dressing in stereotypes, and behaving like the worst nightmares of white america. I understand the gangsters see black america this way but the writers make a conscious choice to portray this as reality within the show, and it's really not OK.

It got to the point for me that I got seriously pissed off and it's only my own stubborn streak that has me willing to finish the show. I'm almost to the end and I want to see how it ends now.

Most of the female characters are not especially nuanced either. There is a general lack of diversity and quite a bit of tokenism. (Ginny Sack? Check.) The homophobia is frightening and sad but the gay characters on the show are likewise heavily stereotyped.

So I'm going to finish it because I've come too far, but it's really sad that something so insulting to African Americans, women, and GLBT folks goes down in history as one of the all time great shows.

Just to finish on a good note, Dominic Chianese singing, in another beautiful scene.

Translation- Core 'Ngrato
Ungrateful Heart

Caterina, Caterina, why do you say those bitter words?
Why do you speak and torment my heart, Caterina?
Don't forget, I gave you my heart, Caterina,
don't forget.

Caterina, Caterina, why do you come and say those words that hurt me so much?
You don't think of my pain,
you don't think, you don't care.

Ungrateful heart,
you have stolen my life.
Everything is finished
and you don't care any more!

CatarĂ­', CatarĂ­'
you do not know that even in church
I bring my prayers to God, Catari.
And I recount my confession to the priest: "I am suffering
from such a great love."

I'm suffering,
I'm suffering from not knowing your love,
I'm suffering a sorrow that tortures my soul.
And I confess, that the Holy Mother
spoke to me: "My son, let it be, let it be."

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