Soprano is somehow the architect or archetype of current has a real meaning. Presumably by the time we get to the concluding chapter we’ll know what Simon means by “Tony Soprano’s America,” what the relationship is between America and Tony, and between the television show and its viewers. Proving the Rolling Stones’ Mr. Klein’s instinct correct, here’s Simon’s attempt to explain the sociological significance of The Sopranos: “The Sopranos represents our Jungian dark side, the accumulating clog in our collective septic tanks that will ultimately stink up our lives both personally and as a civilization unless we confront it head on.” Oh, that explains it. Mr. Klein’s caveat notwithstanding, there’s a lot that can be said about both The Sopranos and the phenomenon of its popularity, but with very few exceptions, Simon doesn’t offer much. Instead he uses the show and its characters as a taxonomic device for cataloging our societal ills.Thus in the chapter called “Tony and the World: The Global Economy, Organized Crime Syndicates, and Narco-Terrorism” we get the assertion that “Tony’s world stretches far beyond not only New Jersey but also the shores of the United States,” followed by an orderly subordination of subheadings devoting a paragraph or two to major geopolitical hotspots. The European Union gets a half page, The Asian Bloc a single paragraph. Under the heading: The Second World, Guatemala gets a full page of its own, while Chile and El Salvador make do with a short paragraph each. If you find this reductive, wait until the chapter in which the hierarchies of crime are explained in terms of “the Crimeogenic Department Store.” Street gangs occupy the first floor, organized crime the second, whitecollar crime on the third, and so on. Do we really need the visual aid of the escalator-riding criminal making his way to the tea room at the top floor of Crime World in order to grasp the concept? And where’s Tony and the rest of the cast of The Sopranos in all this discussion? He only reappears in the chapter’s concluding section when Simon intones “Tony Soprano and his organized-crime family represent the tip of a transnational crime iceberg. The convergence of organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism demands a new paradigm in strategic thinking.” I don’t doubt that new ways of thinking are necessary, but what does that have to do with my favorite television show? If I seem a little defensive about this ham-fisted appropriation of The Sopranos as text, it’s because I am; I’m a big fan. I grew up mostly in north Jersey and belonged to an Italian American Catholic church where men in pale suits and dark shirts slipped out of the back pews right after communion and stood on the steps smoking and talking with their Cadillacs gleaming and idling in the lot. I knew kids in school who lived in huge houses with fountains in the front yard and whose fathers and uncles were in the waste management business. Carmela Soprano is a dead-ringer for many of the mothers who came in their own pastel Cadillacs to pick us up at the skating rink or the movies. I don’t watch The Sopranos because I want to learn more about the connections between organized crime and narco-terrorism. Nor do I tune in for a moral fable from which I should learn that crime doesn’t pay and it’s bad to take drugs and to have sex with psychotic sales people. I watch it because it’s great story-telling. Simon claims that “Tony Soprano presents a piece of our Jungian dark side broken through into the light” and urges us to take “a look at what he presents metaphorically about us, American culture, and the world in which we find ourselves as we begin the third millennium.” I don’t necessarily disagree with this, though Simon’s own metaphorical imagination seems to be limited to icebergs, septic tanks, and department stores. But it’s pointless to engage in sociological analysis of The Sopranos without an appreciation of its playful, ironic, dramatic, and darkly comic portrayal of American life and its full exploration of the possibilities of the serial genre. I’d like to see a book that engages these themes, but Simon,’s Tony Soprano’s America isn’t it. Nor, unfortunately, does it succeed in illuminating our cultural , difficulties beyond the level of Sociology 101. Forget the book; turn on your television., Elisabeth H. Piedmont-Marton is a writer who lives in Austin and an assistant professor of English at Southwestern University. 1/17/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER .9
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