Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Thing of Ours.

This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos, 2002, edited by David Lavery.

1. This book pretty much marked the point I realized that there were people out there, respectable  and educated people, who geeked out about film and television WAAAAAAAAY more than I ever knew was possible. One of my favorite professors dug this out when I met with her to discuss the senior paper I was planning to do; I went home and immediately ordered my own copy.

2. David Lavery is my favorite television author/editor. In addition to this volume, he's also put out similar studies and essays on Twin Peaks (Full of Secrets) and Lost (Lost's Buried Treasures) among other programs----it's safe to say that if I was an academic I'd want his job.

What we have here is a collection of critical essays on The Sopranos, intellectual as hell. Some, with their Marxism, post-modern obsession and Orwellian comparisons, really made my head hurt, even now. And yes, some of the essays irritated me with their refusal to just see the show for what it was---A NARRATIVE, someone's story, someone's vision---and not an ideological set of regulations to be paraded as absolute philosophy (I want to scream, HEY! At no point is David Chase or anyone else involved with the show suggesting that all women must writhe around the pole at the Bing or be kept under lock and key in the kitchen baking endless pans of lasagna . . . )

Topics covered: Italian-American defamation, feminism, television as a unique media, the show's roots to cinema, the gangster genre itself, geography, music, food, and the downward trend of Mafia culture (1970s to 2000) together with its relevance to society. And that this show can be dissected a million different ways. Lavery, in his prologue, compares the show to an elephant in the dark, "whose nature reveals itself in entirely different ways depending on which part of its complex being is currently being examined."

Kind of crafty. My favorite article, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Tony Soprano," by Steven Hayward and Andrew Biro, did a great job of examining the show's complexities in several different contexts, (capitalism, Napoleon, Marxism, I'M NOT KIDDING, The Godfather, and the Mafia code of silence)

"Don Corleone might have inhabited a world in which certain things (honor, community, and so on) had a value in and of themselves, but Tony Soprano is forced to inhabit a world in which dollar values are the only values that matter. While Tony's nephew Christopher wants nothing more than to become a "made" man -- to become a fully-fledged member of the Mafia community, bound by the omerta (code of silence) -- this desire does not prevent him from writing a screenplay based on his own experiences and the tales he has heard. It is a similar kind of contradiction that structures the series as a whole: Tony is a gangster undergoing psychotherapy (or, as Freud called it, "the talking cure"): a mob boss who has to talk to maintain his position."

It's fun. There was only one article I honestly couldn't get behind even a little, not really because of the subject matter but because of the choppy, unprofessional prose (mostly epitaphs) and the fact that the two authors accused Livia of being OVERWRITTEN. Please. The coming of feminism (first, second, third wave or beyond) does not change the fact that there are some seriously unpleasant women out there. Get over it.