The Sopranos and the Perpetuated Mafiosi Image
A life of organized crime, fancy cars, machine guns, beautiful women, money, power and family; these are the images that have perpetuated the associations of Italian-Americans with the Mafia in film and television for decades. It is in this traditional Godfather fashion that the HBO hit series The Sopranos continues to perpetuate this stereotypical image into the 21st century. From classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, to miniseries events like Bella Mafia and The Last Don, to the dramatic series The Sopranos, Italian-Americans have traditionally been portrayed as gangsters and mobsters and have been seen living the lives of organized criminals. Italian-Americans and the Mafia have traditionally been linked in popular culture and The Sopranos is no exception.
"It's undeniable that the dominant pop-culture images of Italian-Americans have been the mobster and the related, anti-working class stereotype of the boorish gavone" (De Stefano 32). Textually, Tony Soprano is just this. He is an Italian-American, living in a suburban New Jersey town, the head of the local Mafia family. He is anything but working class, as he is continually portrayed as the mobster dealing with "business." He is involved in murders, blackmail, illegal gambling and racketeering. Inter-textually, there are frequent references to Mafia popular culture. Tony and his gang regularly recite lines from The Godfather and refer to each other as "Donnie Brasco." Tony's relationship with his therapist parallels that of the satiric Mafia film, Analyze This and comments are made to that effect. These inter-textual references draw attention to the traditional Mafia portrayals in film and television and acknowledge the existence of this stereotypical depiction of Italian-Americans in visual media. The producers of The Sopranos go as far as to include comedic extra-textual references, drawing upon the social commentary of ethnic stereotyping. When Tony's therapist and her family make a toast over dinner to the "20 million Italian-Americans" who have nothing to do with organized crime, we see here a representation of the opposition by Italian-Americans to the Mafia-stereotype. Sub-textually, the covert commentary within the series runs deep. Running between the lines are sub-plots dealing with family values, good vs. evil, morality in society, crime and punishment and ethnicity.
This HBO hit series has taken audiences by storm. In its first season, The Sopranos was nominated for 16 Emmys. But what are audiences taking from this popular dramatic series? What allure does this show have the keeps families drawn to their televisions for one commercial-free hour every Sunday night? It is a part of the same allure that made Mario Puzo's The Godfather a 1969 best seller and Francis Ford Copppla's Godfather trilogy a classic. It is the appeal of the exciting life of crime and the aura of the...