Friday, June 08, 2007

Peggy Noonan on "The Sopranos"

Peggy Noonan has a great piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning about "The Sopranos." That Peggy Noonan watches Tony, Carm and all the other paisans surprises me, a bit. She is one of the best writers out there today, and writes with such tremendous grace, intelligence and elegance that I find it somewhat jarring that she sits there on Sunday nights and watches the Brutes of Jersey, just like I do. That she writes about the show with such spot-on insight is not at all surprising. I read her observations and wish I could even make half of them. She's terrific. My favorite line in the piece is this classic:

. . . everyone's a gangster as long as he can find a gang. Those who don't are freelancers.

I was a freelancer for a long time, perhaps that's why this line resonates with me so much. But, more so, it resonates because we all want to be a part of a gang. I have long thought that the Sopranos masterfully tapped into that sense of loss and disconnection that is so prevalent in our world today and that is a central reality of the modern American Experience. In essence, this blog, and maybe all blogs, is about this grappling.

Chronicling the mundane events of life, the seasonal changes, the work that goes into maintaining a home, a piece of property and ultimately a family and sharing it with the world is a way to contextualize and understand our world as it it exists, in the here and now. This is another strength of the Sopranos. Tony lives in a world which is a sub-world of the one most suburbanites occupy. Despite the anarchy of infidelity, murder and greed that fill it, Tony's world -- at least the one in which he was raised as the son of a boss, and which he struggles to maintain -- is governed by rules.

These rules, relics of a collective past are being eroded at every turn and he has lost his moorings. At many points throughout the run of the show the characters talk of the rules, of being made, of doing time to legitimize their stature. Just this year Michael, before his murder, spoke of Ommerta -- which he violates with "Cleaver;" and, Phil Leotardo said they "make guys without the blood and the sword and the cross." As a viewer I often got the feeling that the characters were pretending to be gangsters, and modeled themselves on TV gangsters. Somewhere, the transfer of the knowledge of what made a gangster was ruptured. Most likely this was caused by depictions of the Mafia on TV and in movies -- both of which serve as peripheral, silent characters throughout the run of the show. Just as media transforms and distorts the relationships within a more "traditional" family so it did within Tony's crew.

He, like us, is struggling with this world in which not much seems to make sense, in which our foundations are assaulted at every step by the various forces that wish to topple the traditional edifice in which most of us were raised. Tony is us, without morals, without scruples and with blood on our hands. His struggles with the modern world reflect our own.

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