Mob Hit

By Bowman, James | The American Spectator, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Mob Hit


Bowman, James, The American Spectator


The return of The Sopranos to HBO last month for its third season reminds us once again of what a great work of American art this collaborative venture, headed by David Chase, still is. Although it suffers from the twin disadvantages, either of which might seem certain on its own to be artistically lethal, of being both a TV soap opera and a work of post-modern whimsy, it somehow manages to combine them so as to become the greatest of television soap operas, a work of post-modern whimsy which is also a work of art. Who'd have thought it possible? The series transcends the limitations of its medium and style and becomes not so much a kind of modern Homeric epic as what modern Americans would have if they had a Homeric epic.

Perhaps it was a somewhat similar point that Caryn James intended to make when she wrote in the New York Times that the reason for the series's "wide appeal" was its fusion of the inevitable mundanity of television with playful references, intended for the cognoscenti, to high culture, as when a taste of prosciutto becomes for Tony Soprano games Gandolfini) what the madeleine was for Marcel Proust. The show, she wrote: lives at the juncture when pop culture and high art meet. Functioning on the levy of capicola and Proust, of movie lovers and film scholars, "The Sopranos" speaks to middle-class people like Tony as well as those above and below him on the real-life social scale. Remarkably, it does not talk down to a mass audience or assume an elitist tone.

Well, you can see how the masses would flock to it! It must be very gratifying to them to know that they aren't being talked down to while at the same time their betters are "getting" the highbrow allusions to Proust! Indeed, Proust's experience with the madeleine is laboriously recounted by Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) to Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) just so the dummies in the audience can be kept on board.

This is actually the least successful moment of the new series, it seems to me, a straining after significance of which the two earlier series were hardly ever guilty. But Ms. James's is far from being an idiosyncratic opinion. Indeed, to read much of what has been written on the series is to be persuaded that a great deal of the critical praise which has been heaped on it is owing to the fact that the critics were flattered by getting the jokes. Here, for instance, is what David Lavery, a professor of "English" (i.e. "popular culture, film studies, and science fiction") at Middle Tennessee State University, wrote:

"Any text that has slept with another text.. has necessarily slept with all the texts the other text has slept with:' notes Robert Stam, author of Film Theory: An Introduction (Blackwell, 2000), extending a central premise of STD prevention into the study of literature and film. Our times, by this logic, are clearly promiscuous. It is quite apparent that many of television's most ingenious series-rife as they are with intertextual references, often humorous, to movies, to culture in general, to literature, to (self-referentially) themselvescome heavy [with allusion] as well [as The Sopranos]. The predominance of the "already said," as Umberto Eco once observed, is, after all, one of postmodernism's signatures. Often, the intertextuality of such shows contributes mightily to keeping a certain segment of the audience-flattered by "inclusion-by-allusion," able to feel pride in the ability to get the references-still hooked, still watching.

It's an Internet kind of point to make isn't it? Here is the critic as search-engine, sniffing out intertextuality wherever he finds it and spitting out a report on the number of hits. That, at any rate, seems to be how Lavery understands the critic's role. Quite what it has to do with criticism as it has traditionally been understood, I don't know, but it does have the advantage of making a lot of work to keep the professoriate happy. My own search engines each offered me over 100,000 hits when I typed in "The Sopranos," and this number can only increase, to the advantage of Ph. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Mob Hit
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.