The Problem with Tony Soprano

I have a problem with Tony Soprano. A big problem…with the way that I have seen the tributes pouring in about the character James Gandolfini portrayed in “The Sopranos.” A few weeks ago, I wrote a post asserting that the Great American Novel, “The Great Gatsby”, could never become the The Great American Film. That accolade belonged to “The Godfather”. For many reasons, the Godfather series of films touched a chord in the psyche of the American consciousness.

Why do I believe the Godfather holds sway as the Great American Film? It is because we are a nation of immigrants. We believe in the power of tomorrow, in the ability of a man to work his way up from nothing and become somebody. The Godfather also touched another nerve in the American psyche. We are a violent people. The Godfather acknowledges this facet in our character and consciousness. We celebrate violence in some ways that is disturbing to the rest of the world.

Another post from “6 Degrees of Film” is called Americana. There are three films named that define our American Spirit. “The Wizard of Oz”, which celebrates hope and courage; ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” which celebrates small-town values such as hard work, love of family and country, and a kindness of Spirit and Faith in God that is found in the American heartland. And the third is “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which explores the themes of integrity and love for family, honor and courage in the face of overwhelming odds, but also the dark side found in our recent American past. We see bigotry and racism in this film at war with faith and goodness, sometimes in the very same character struggling to learn how to do the right thing.

We are not a perfect people. America is not a chosen nation of overlords. But we struggle to do the right thing and acknowledge our weaknesses in most cases. For example, the Abu Ghraib prison is a shining example of an American institution that went awry. We incarcerate more people in the United States than any other nation on earth. Therefore, we need to acknowledge that our policies have roots in our own system found right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Guantanamo is another shining example of our need to simply clamp down and cover up where we should be shining examples for the rest of the world. But we don’t see ourselves as others do. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the film ends with Scout standing on Boo Radley’s porch, proclaiming that you don’t really know a man till you stand in their shoes. “Standing on Boo’s porch was enough”, she said.

We need to stand on the porch and look at ourselves, as Americans with fresh eyes. All of this brings me back to the character of Tony Soprano. No doubt the man, James Gandolfini was a consummate actor. He played a well-written part with nuance and finesse and deserved all the afore-mentioned accolades that have come his way. However, the character that he portrayed was a violent man. He was a killer and a mob boss. He was not Atticus Finch or Jimmy Stewart or Ronald Reagan. There is no shining city on a hill found in the character of Tony Soprano. There are sobering lessons to be sure, but if we take a step back, then eventually there will be a reckoning. I’m thinking that time is coming….

After all, we did elect the first African-American President in our history. And we still believe in that shining city on the hill that Reagan spoke of. We need to look for heroes that reflect the times, but not those that shape some of our darkest tendencies. Tony Soprano is a character to reflect upon, and to contemplate, but not to emulate. That is the end and, as they said about Gatsby and about the man who created him, F. Scott Fitzgerald, he was a “poor son of a bitch”. ‘Nough said.

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