In an essay in the New York Times Magazine this week, titled “Why Does Every Young Person in America Watch?” The Sopranos? “Willy Staley attributed the series ‘rise in popularity in an era of pandemic to its pessimism, the resonance between our own “era of crisis in just about every major institution in American life” and the series’ concern for decline and the fall of American civilization. During Tony Soprano’s first therapy session with Dr. Melfi, observes Staley, Tony identifies his feeling of living at the end of something, amid the ruins of a better past: “The morning of the day I fell. sick, ”Tony said,“ I had thought: it’s good to be in something downstairs. I got there too late for that, I know. But lately, I feel like I’ve come to the end. The best is over.
Staley’s essay attributes a similar sense of backwardness to young leftists online today, citing a Sopranos-magnet Chapo Trap House host, who says “You don’t flee a scorching Rome with your beautiful beloved in your arms, narrowly escaping a murderous horde of barbarians; you sit 18 hours a day, enjoy less than before, and adopt your parents’ worst qualities as you watch your children take your worst qualities from you.
Personally, I don’t think it’s the pessimism of The Sopranos that makes it so relevant, but the show’s celebration of misinterpretation as a key part of paternalism. Showing a ‘real’ 1960s Dickie Moltisanti who bears no resemblance to the man idealized by Tony Soprano, the film argues that Tony’s entire motivation as a character is due to a misunderstanding. We even learn that just as Tony later wonders if AJ knows what he does for a living, Dickie wanted to keep Tony out of the business. Misunderstanding is, after all, the key tragedy of organized crime, as it’s consistently portrayed on TV and in movies: often making men like Tony, tragically mistaking each other, and killing the wrong person or executing. justice unreliable.
Tony Soprano’s tragically shattered and lie-riddled masculinity functions as a metaphor for the illusions we live by and the gendered imaginations that bring us late-modern saints, clad in zippered velvet. The Many Saints of Newark is a portrayal of masculinity as a nested process of deception, a process that ultimately finds in the glamor of masculinity an ideology that drives people crazy. Structured by Tony’s panic attacks and therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, The Sopranos has always been a show about the intergenerational trauma of patriarchy and its damaging effects beyond the family, across society. Tony has to lie if he wants his family life and the Mafia machine to work well. This obligatory double conscience gives Tony’s day-to-day relationships a sense of falsehood, which the prequel says is one of the legacies he inherited from the men he admired most.