I wrote this essay back in November of 2007 very shortly before my 27th birthday for a class I was in. It was about The Sopranos and the pop culture that it has affected and why it is so popular beyond being just a “mob show”. I thought with the passing of the great James Gandolfini it was an appropriate time to share it. The Sopranos is perhaps my favorite series of all time and will forever be. James Gandolfini is by far one of the best actors of my lifetime. I hope you all enjoy the essay.
Most critics that I have read agree that The Sopranos is one of the most significant contributions to television in recent history. In the ad for the final episodes of the series it pictures Tony Soprano in the foreground lower right side, with the statue of liberty off behind him in the very upper left corner. Tony is staring to his right out of the corner of his eye as if closely examining something or someone. He is wearing his traditional attire dress shirt and tie with trench coat on top. The coat would seem to be to shelter him from the cold but it could also be seen as protecting his heart from the coldness of the life he leads as a mafia don. The entire ad is in grayscale except for the print on it, mostly in red with the date and time in white. Between Tony and the statue is the New York Bay. This ad redefines the pursuit of the American dream.
According to the ad one always needs to be on the lookout for anything coming their way. The pursuit of the dream as displayed by The Sopranos is power and money. This in the show is done via membership and rank in the Italian Mafia. The higher up you go in the ranks the more wealthy you are and for Tony Soprano there is no higher, he is the don of North New Jersey. As Americans’ we tend to identify highly with these fictional model of gangster characters. It’s seen in movies as far back as Little Ceasar and the original Scarface from the 1930’s. In the essay titled “Our Mobsters, Ourselves: Why The Sopranos Is Theraputic TV,” the author discusses how people identify with Tony and other characters in The Sopranos not because of their gangster lifestyle but all of their everyday problems and struggles, which are the same struggles as most regular people go through, (Willis 520-527). The traditional American dream is freedom and the pursuit of happieness, to Tony Soprano the American dream is money and power, though he does value and love his family unconditionally.
As an avid watcher of The Sopranos I can see the development and success of Tony achieving his American dream, only to find out in the final episode that enditements were being handed out to start a R.I.C.O. Case against him. This could very easily lead to the crumbling of the American dream for Tony Soprano. In an absolutely brilliant ending we have no definitive answer as to what happens to any of the characters in the show, we are let mid-point as they are all still persuing their dreams, each person different.
The advertisement shows a very focused person. Tony is determined to get what he wants. The look on his face shows that no one will stop him from getting what is his. He appears very strong and powerful and focused. He is the go-getter he is the “American dream”. The ocean between Tony and the Statue of Liberty could also represent the long passage to America that his ancestors’ took when they came over from Italy. Also many of his “friends” disappeared to never be seen again in the series, a few of whom are in the ocean today, and yet the ocean is also thought of as water which brings life. There are many double meanings which can be interpreted in any number of ways.
The Sopranos is not only about the American dream but really the American way of life. It isn’t simply about gangsters and thugs. I don’t recall the episode but early on in the series Tony and his daughter Meadow are talking at breakfast and she brings up sex, during breakfast. He proceeds to inform her that while it may be the 1990s outside it is 1954 in his house and sex is not a topic of conversation appropriate at the breakfast table. It is this kind of lesson that is still a throwback to an old American standard that not many people are still up with in this world we have now. Even though it is a show about the mafia it is much more. It is a story of life and raising children. It is about protecting family and keeping close what is most important in life. It is a refreshing change of moral (aside from all the crimes committed). It is truly a lesson in being old fashioned. Regardless of their professions there is a strong respect for women and for their families. I have not seen as much importance placed on loving one’s children or how to treat women in a television show in a long time. This being said they are not perfect, there are fights with spouses and abuse to women, but this is not a norm.
The Sopranos is a timeless show that will last forever as groundbreaking television. It is a lesson in life but it a lesson in achieving what you want on your own credit. It isn’t about getting everything handed to you. Its about the American dream. Its about becoming wealthy and powerful while providing for your family and helping your friends when they need you. It is about loyalty and honor and how to never be disloyal and to always keep what is most important close to you.
“Various Episodes”. Chase, David, et al. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine
Bracco, et al. The Sopranos. Home Box Office. HBO. 1999-2007.
Willis, Ellen. “Our Mobsters, Ourselves: Why The Sopranos Is Theraputic TV.”
The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues Across The Disciplines: Ninth Edition.
Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Boston, McGraw-Hill, 2006. 520-527.