Tony Soprano – a Man We Love to Hate
La Tanja Bolden Instructor Shapoff ENG 1101 online 22 July 2011 An Offer You Can’t Refuse Murder, Inc. , La Cosa Nostra, The Family. These words invoke visions of Tommy-guns, pinstriped suits, black and white spatted shoes and Edward G. Robinson. Old fashioned mobsters and gun-toting molls are some of my favorite silver screen characters. Fast forward to modern day and enter stage left, Anthony John Soprano, Sr. Tony Soprano is the modern fictional face of the Mafia; he is viewed as the quintessential gentleman mobster; a man we love to hate.
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This thesis revolves around what makes the character so compelling and why we loved to hate him. On January 10, 1999, the veil was lifted and America was invited into the lives of Tony Soprano, his family and cohorts. For 86 weeks Americans took weekly forays into the mysterious and often violent underworld of gangsters, mob bosses and made men. Viewers had a front row seat into the life of one of the most compelling and complex characters ever to hit the small screen. Rich, powerful, admired, hated and feared simultaneously; Tony Soprano was a television phenomenon.
He is unapologetic about his excesses and vices and the fact that he is only looking out for only himself. Whether his actions benefit another individual is purely coincidental and never a concern or motivation for his behavior; nor is it a reason to behave in a civilized manner. That raw materialism and selfishness is what makes this character one that we all know lives inside of us if we allowed ourselves the guilty pleasure of total self indulgence. Because we love to hate what we can not have, it is a fair assessment that the dislike of Tony Soprano stems more from jealous envy rather than true hatred.
Tony possesses material wealth and regularly enjoys the attention of beautiful women in addition to his devoted wife. He commands respect from his peers, although it is often garnered through intimidation and fear. He possesses all that we as a society value; power, wealth, virility. Still he is the object of disapproval. The moral outrage stems from the love/hate relationship civilized individuals have with Tony’s feral excesses. The manner in which he obtains his possessions using deceitful methods, sheer force and terrorization make the moral soul turn pale.
His devaluation of the things we struggle to possess and hold dear creates resentment within us because we cannot make the conscious choice to abandon our morality and live as if there were only our own selfish needs in the here and now. Although the series has been showered with critical and commercial acclaim; many feel that it depicts Italian Americans in a negative light. Goodfellas, Casino and the grand-daddy of the genre, The Godfather, portrayed life in the Mafia as one big private party. These films never spared the gory details that being on the guest list sometimes came with a deadly price.
However, the main characters in these films maintained a delicate balance between living as if there was no tomorrow and passing as a legit business enterprise. Tony Soprano failed to heed the teachings of the Corleone’s; he lived larger than life and was unapologetic for it. He reveled in his Italian heritage and grabbed life by the horns. If Tony Soprano had lived in Texas his name would have been J. R. Ewing. Like his Texas counterpart, Tony Soprano took what he wanted and allowed no one to stand in his way in his quest for power. No matter what his heritage, Tony Soprano was not a nice guy.
In an interesting parallel, Tony is shot just as J. R. Ewing was in the Who Shot J. R.? episode of Dallas. Tony’s uncle, Junior Soprano, shoots Tony while suffering from dementia, but had secretly wanted to have him killed when Tony’s rise to power overshadowed his own. In addition to suffering this shooting and several other near death brushes as a consequence of grievances real or imagined, Tony suffers debilitating panic attacks. Although it is addictively entertaining to live vicariously through the antics of Tony Soprano and his compatriots; it is not the lifestyle to foster loyalty, longevity or mental stability.
Throughout the series Tony has vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams. It can only be surmised that his subconscious has to have an outlet for his repressed morality. In one of the most disturbing dream sequences, Tony’s subconscious forces him to deal with the countless and sometimes faceless individuals he has killed, had killed, cheated, maimed and hurt. In stark contrast to the plush life he consciously leads, Tony is forced to ruminate on the demons that attack him from within and the fears that are projecting through the anxiety attacks. To help alleviate some of the mental stress and physical discomfort of the anic attacks, Tony is in regular therapy with Dr. Melfi. Dr. Melfi, a fellow Italian, exhibits mixed feelings for her patient. On the one hand, she abjectly disapproves of Tony’s lifestyle and what he stands for; yet on a deeper level she develops an affinity for him. Still, in another example of how Tony’s lack of morals affect those around him; after being violently raped, Dr. Melfi purposely keeps her attackers identity from Tony for fear he would harm the man. Her compassion for a man that savagely attacked her compels her to safeguard his wellbeing from Tony because she knows Tony would show no mercy to the attacker.
Unlike her patient, Dr. Melfi refuses to let go of the control she has over her baser nature. Undoubtedly she would find the demise of her attacker immensely satisfying, but she elects to not act on her desires for revenge. Dr. Melfi realizes that their therapy sessions are just another way for Tony to indulge himself. She discovers through research and her own therapist that Tony is possibly using their therapy sessions to improve his skills as a master manipulator thus becoming an even more efficient sociopathic criminal. Dr.
Melfi severs her interactions with Tony and points him to another therapist. Once again the antics of Tony’s unbridled gluttony impact a relationship he shares with a fellow human. His capacity to use people for his own selfish needs know no bounds. He takes no heed to the pain he causes or the havoc he wrecks on other people’s lives. His main focus is only his own instant self-gratification. He is at home and most calm around animals. An avid animal lover, Tony once owned a race horse and feeds the ducks in his back yard pool daily.
Tony’s life of excess affords him the capital to invest in a racehorse. He is more accommodating to creatures of nature than his fellow humans. He bludgeons his friend and business partner Ralph to death because he thinks Ralph killed their racehorse for insurance money. A cursory glance reveals the Sopranos as the perfect family: beautiful wife, dutiful son and doting daughter. Tony Soprano holds himself up to public review as a successful businessman. He is unapologetic for the charade. Tony lives like we all wish we could, if even only for a moment.
Late at night, when no one is watching it is fun to imagine the sheer joy of unbridled power. What would we do if that thin frail cord of morality snapped and left us unfettered by ethics? Our ingrained sensibilities prevent us from behaving like Tony, but we enjoy watching him. Tony Soprano, although a purely fictional character, lives a little in all of us. As tempting and inviting as it would be to join Tony and live without regards to anything other than our own desires; that’s an offer we have to refuse.