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The verb 'Tony Soprano' defined

June 20, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
A long, long time ago (you’re either thinking “in a galaxy far, far away” or “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile”) I wrote a screed against “The Sopranos.”

The gist of it, as I recall, and it’s not electronically saved here, nor have I ever kept any kind of paper clippings every blessed word I’ve ever written, was that “The Sopranos” was Italian stereotyping at its worst. That if they put a TV show on called “The Muhammads” about a group of fun-loving terrorists all of whom had Middle Eastern surnames, there would be an outcry. And that would be politically correct and just plain correct. But it was OK to continue, year after year after year, the stereotype that Italians own sausage shops for one really bad reason.


Doggone it, there was some really good acting going on in "The Sopranos."

As time has gone on, I, grudgingly at first, started appreciating the art of the thing. Here was this hulking mobster who should be ruthless, and he was as conflicted about life as anyone. Indeed, except for the murder and crime and hooligan thing, my brother often said Tony Soprano was a lot like me, both in the therapy thing and the annual smashing of the cell phone, though my cellphone smashes were not the result of intentional violence ... usually. And it got expensive, and I am way kinder to Mr. Motorola nowadays.

But around our house, we have the verb: to Tony Soprano, defined as ruthless destruction of an electronic device or violent interaction with a mechanical object.

As in: “That darned first-gen iPad of mine shut down on Facebook again and I practically Tony Soprano’d it.” Or: “To get the horn to work in Enrico the Cruiser, sometimes I have to Tony Soprano the middle of the steering wheel.” Or: "My brother is rebuilding his H-P laptop because he Tony Soprano'd the screen after he read my last column."

Don’t get me wrong. There still is a lot of stereotyping that went on with that show. So did a lot of good acting.

Maybe that was the whole hangup I had with the show back when I was riding high on the “don’t tread on Italian-Americans” horse.

The actors, led by Mr. Gandolfini, made the show so believeable that I had no problem relating to their less mobster characteristics. Which I know made the art of portraying the mobsters more believeable. That it finally dawned on me that the cast was a bunch of Italian-Americans also eased the blow. When they talked about food, it was pronounced properly.

And, despite my “hey, that’s stereotyping” viewpoint when the show first came on, I was hooked once I watched the first episode. Grudgingly, at first.

The whole thing was so layered and nuanced that it became impossible for me not to appreciate the show for what it did for the form of modern drama.

So, here’s to you, James Gandolfini. You did such a good job of being a human behind the mobster mask that you lanced my sensibilities.

At first.

And, I appreciate it.


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