The excerpt below explains the complicated position of Tony Soprano:
The cultural myths Americans hold concerning success and what it means to live comfortably in an American suburb are continuing themes in the television series The Sopranos (1999–2007). These concerns are not uniquely middle-class, but do carry middle-class markers that permeate American culture. The media uses a caricature of “the suburb” time and time again. The suburbs are where families are raised, from where white-collar workers commute, and where the Everyman/woman aspires to live. Although family life may be variously portrayed on television, Tony Soprano’s border crossing into his show’s suburban landscape plays out many of the concerns associated with the middle class. These concerns are necessarily exaggerated for the mafia genre: The “normal” suburban patriarch does not engage in murder, theft, or bribery on a daily basis. Tony Soprano’s vices in conflict with his continual efforts to support his family’s lifestyle make him a contradiction that complicates audience identification. He is both the Everyman and the scoundrel. Because he is the main character, audiences will most likely look to him for their reflection, but they will also define themselves against him. Tony is not squeaky clean, and his gangster persona can never be legitimated under proper middle-class values. Even his legitimate operations are tainted by his criminal background and considered unworthy of proper middle-class professions. If Tony had stayed in the old working-class neighborhood where he grew up, he would not be considered an outsider; his roots are in that neighborhood. The nouveau riche element of his move up to the middle-class neighborhood serves as a marker that he somehow does not belong there and will have to kill to stay there, to afford his family’s lifestyle. Additionally, Tony is a man brought down by gender anxieties; specifically, he is burdened by women in the series. There is an antifeminist undercurrent pervading the show that follows contemporary anxieties men have about the apparent downfall of male authority. The women in the show range from assertive to disposable, but from the perspective of Tony, the show’s patriarch, viewers can watch how The Sopranos portrays cultural anxieties about class and gender.
Toscano, Aaron A. “Tony Soprano as the American Everyman and Scoundrel: How The Sopranos (re)Presents Contemporary Middle-Class Anxieties.” The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2014: 451-452.
Italian American Identity
One thing that The Sopranos does is get the audience to (re)think identity, specifically, Italian-American identity. The characters rarely claim to be “Italian-American”; instead, they usually just claim to be Italian. However, there’s a problem because the characters know very little about Italy but have absorbed the Italian-American culture of New Jersey and New York. In a very funny episode called “Commendatori” (Season 2, episode 4), Tony and a couple street capos go to Italy for business–exporting stolen cars. Christopher and Paulie pretty much do or want to do what they would in the United States. In fact, Christopher gets high the whole time and barely leaves his room. He ends up getting his girlfriend a Fendi bag from the Newark International Airport’s duty free shop. Below is a clip of Paulie’s expectations:
At the end of the episode, Tony arrives home to Carmella, who’s not completely thrilled he’s home. Andrea Bocelli’s “Con te partiro'” plays in the background. If we have time, I’ll put the episode on at 48:50.
In another episode called “Christopher” (Season 4, episode 3), the crew deals with the controversy surrounding Columbus Day and how it’s viewed by indigenous peoples.
- “Busy” at work and hearing about the coming protest against Columbus Day
- In this house, Christopher Columbus is a hero. End of story!
- Women’s League Columbus Day Lunch
- Paulie laments the decline of Italian culture at the coffee shop
- Columbus’s Statue gets protested
- Tony is fed up with the Columbus worship
Christopher Columbus might be a major figure for Italian Americans, but it’s complicated. Setting aside Columbus’s ushering in genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Columbus, from Genoa, might have more of a presence for Spain. Columbus, technically from the Republic of Genoa, is said to have spoken Ligurian, which is probably closer to French than Florentine. More complications for Columbus being claimed by Italian Americans:
- Columbus’s two children came from his Portuguese wife and Castilian (Spain) mistress
- The Spanish monarchs funded his trip, which set off from Castile, Spain
- Spanish is way more prevalent a language in Latin America today than Italian
- Columbus’s remains rest in Seville, Spain; they were in the Dominican Republic and then Cuba before being brought back to Seville…never made it to Italy.