Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Made In America or Fade To Black

The ending of the Sopranos has been something that has infuriated many people, left many others in a quandary, and seemingly satisfied only a few.

My argument is that the ending is simply that and there shouldn’t be an attempt to predict or argue for an ending that might be more absolute.

Prior to the now infamous fade to black there is the establishment of several threats to Tony’s life and happiness.
One is indictment on the gun charge though he has beaten legal battles previously his luck may be running out.

One card up his sleeve is that we know the FBI has already entered a document into his record to be used when a judge considers sentencing if convicted.

The second and third threats are the two black men by the jukebox and the man in the ‘members only jacket’ who goes into the restroom all of whom could be hit-men sent by Butch DeConcini or some other rival.  We know that Tony had arranged a compromise that included the death of Phil Leotardo but Butch had never liked Tony and could betray their agreement.

We have a sense of impending finality in part because at the beginning of the scene as Tony walks into the diner, a deceptive shot is used that suggests Tony sees himself sitting in the diner possibly as a mortal object in space without his own psyche making his experience.

Similar shots were used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to suggest Dr. Dave Bowman witnesses the rest of his life and death in a nearly objective state of being.

For once the narrative, and our frame of reference is not Tony’s as had been used during his spiritual experience after having been shot by Uncle June but possibly objective and existential in nature.

Additionally to the feeling of finality we know that Tony’s therapy with Dr. Melfi has ended because of her own fears that she is helping him become a better criminal and manipulator.

In many ways his therapeutic need had been satisfied years prior and it was Dr. Melfi who continued the relationship at least at first to be associated with his power and capability because of her own victimization and rape while leaving work.

This is the least of Tony’s threats as he sits with his family.  In prior episodes black men have been used as the footmen for the mafia in an attempt to dissuade and obfuscate any possible organized crime ties.  This was the case in the first attempt on Tony’s life in the series when Uncle June and his mother attempted to have him killed.  Also men like the one in the ‘members only jacket’ have been used as they are usually the most expendable of the organized crime association.

It has been argued that the fade to black and the pause of sound is to signify the death of Tony however I don’t believe this is true.  There could have been something more significant to signal this end, perhaps a gunshot or maybe not, maybe a heartbeat that slowly fades which could be reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For those who want an absolute ending the possibilities include:

Everyone gets shot- though having some relevance to actual mafia hits would be the saddest of endings.

Tony gets shot- the family would bare witness to their father, the patriarch, murdered in front of them could be the most realistic of endings possibly reminiscent of actual hits including Albert Anastasia, Willie Moretti, and Paul Castellano among many others.

All threats are removed- would perhaps be the happiest of endings, maybe, for those cheering for the Sopranos.  This would also be the least realistic of endings.

Tony could be arrested- the least likely scenario would be that police bust into the diner and arrest Tony before he can be killed if this even is a possibility.  Though unlikely we have seen writers use this method previously in the show when Uncle June himself was arrested at the end of the first season saving him from Tony’s wrath.

I don’t believe any of these were attempted.  I think the attempt was to have an ending like that of the first Godfather movie where Kay asks Michael about his succession which he denies but she bares witness to the truth of him as the new Godfather.

This was a great ending for that movie because the Godfather was about succession of generations, the inheritance of not just wealth but power.

The Sopranos live a very different life.  In the Sopranos all succession is clumsy and poorly managed from Soprano’s father Johnny Boy to Tony, Jackie Aprile to his son, and possibly Tony to his son Anthony Jr. (AJ) who knows of his father’s association and who already has participated, though rather passively, in criminal and violent behavior, however for Anthony Jr. his reaction to violence and general sociopathic behaviors of people is grief and depression.

William Butler Yeats, 1919
Sitting amongst members of his biological and his father’s criminal family at Bobby Baccalieri's wake Anthony Jr. attempts to reference ‘The Second Coming’ in an attempt to challenge those at the table about the seemingly lack of grief for the dead as well as the lack of human sympathy he perceives.

It is Paulie’s response that unintentionally and crudely echoes AJ’s intention yet dismisses it.

Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri: "In the midst of death, we are in life", huh? Or is it the other way around?

Meadow Soprano: I think it's the other way around.

Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri: Either version, you're halfway up the ass.

We know this funeral is different because the focus is not on the burial, shown only briefly through surveillance footage, but instead at the wake.

After all these tragic events we observe a mundane event as Tony is seen raking the leaves.  Carmela confirms plans with him and he says that he has something to take care of then goes to see his uncle, Junior Soprano, in state run care facility.  His presence is ominous to say the least and Tony is looking for a confrontation, some resolution to how and why his uncle shot him.

As he finds the old man indigent and senile he realizes that there is no answer to be given, no rationale to the man's act yet there is also a sense of finality to the visit.  This is similar to when he visits his sister's home in a possible attempt to reconcile his feelings.

We learn Janice's possible fate but more importantly her psychological state of being which is similar to that of their mother.  There is a sense of finality to her being.  This is also true with Silvio Dante who he sees briefly in the hospital in a long-term vegetative state.

We know where they came from and we know where they are going.

This won't be the same for Tony.

Much like the end of the first season the family is gathered together at a restaurant to eat, though this time it is not Nuovo Vesuvio but a diner which suggests that the Sopranos themselves have changed or possibly some other danger as they are not on familiar turf.

It is AJ who reminds us of the similarity as he attempts to quote his father and continue the sentiment.

Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Focus on the good times.

Tony Soprano: Don't be sarcastic.

Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Isn't that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good?

Tony Soprano: I did?

Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Yeah.

Tony Soprano: Well, it's true, I guess.

[the waitress arrives with a bowl of onion rings]

Tony Soprano: I ordered something for the table.

But this time it is Tony who initially misunderstands then seemingly dismisses the relevance before the screen cuts to black and silence.

For me the ending is exactly that.  There is no more expectation, no more fantasy, suspicion, and wishes.  There is no absolute.

It is a dangerous moment unto itself.

We don't hear a heartbeat or a gunshot.  Instead it is a moment of silence as if we are all to appreciate a moment of life itself then there is music, perhaps an optimistic tune.

For that moment that Tony can enjoy with his family he is a man in a chair balanced on its rear legs at a rooftop ledge of a skyscraper and he is trying to enjoy the view.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Note: This is my first attempt at addressing the topic and I can recognize areas where I need more examples and to think out my argument, especially in terms of my final argument for empowerment of people versus disempowering people, but this is to open a conversation and provide talking points.

There are also more specific power arguments to be made which in my essay I treat in fairly generalized terms and form or possibly not at all.

I am open to constructive criticism.

Bullying Defined-

  • Wikipedia: Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. The behavior can be habitual and involve an imbalance of social or physical power.

  • Merriam Webster: a : a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker

Bullying doesn’t just happen at schools.  It doesn’t just happen to youth.  I worked briefly for a man who had come to mistake cruel words for social intimacy.  I was his assistant and as his assistant I had an office next to his.  There were several times in meetings and in the hallways that he made comments to other people who worked for him that were cruel and mean spirited.

Most of the others had come to ignore him.  They didn’t listen to his lectures or much of what he had to say.

And because I was his assistant I think I felt it worst.  Other people had positions, titles, that functioned semi-independently from his daily scrutiny.  I on the other hand was constantly intimidated by his ability to ridicule and criticize without constructive feedback which made me feel like I was in a negative feedback loop.

I noticed that I always felt good in the morning until he arrived and then I felt horrible.  One day I finally imagined what it was like.  I thought of him as the schoolyard bully and I was his favorite target.  I thought about how in cases like that when it happened I hated recess, worked to avoid the bully, just as everyone else did too.

I didn’t last long.  I had the shortest tenure and I made sure to tell Human Resources about his behavior.

Bullying through unkind words, unkind actions, are offensive and can plague a social environment.  They drain moral and positive feeling and most often mistaken for criticism, lead to higher rates of absence, lower output, and cause poor health.    There is also the potential for rebellion either through sabotage or direct action.

This isn’t to say it can instantly be stopped or that eventually it ends.  Bullying persists through unequal power systems and is perpetuated by people who feel they need to threaten or intimidate others because of justice, revenge, scarcity of resources, and/or for proper moral and ethical behavior.

But here I would like to make the distinction between persistent behavior and an incidental unkind word, action, or behavior.  There are times when each person either based on some prejudice or frustration may attempt to strike out and level the playing field, to act in some offensive or cruel way that disempowers and potentially defeats an opponent or subjects them to some form of criticism.

This is especially true for those who feel powerless and is expressed as sarcasm or comedic wit when there is little positive feeling or intention to the comment or action.

An unkind word may ruin a day or may seem part of a larger epidemic, especially as people deal with their own personal crisis such as illness or death in the family but I feel they should be recognized differently than a persistent campaign.

As cruel as the words may be I personally would not work to censor them.  I want to know how people feel about me so that I can judge and determine a legitimate threat.  I don’t want to waste my time talking to them and I certainly would minimize my time in their proximity, especially if the person or persons is dangerous.

Each human being must understand their own capacity for violence both passive and aggressive then come to terms with their capability and its ramifications.  This is especially true to recognize that capability within a person’s frame of reference to the power they have whether professionally, physically, and/or artistically.

Some may identify their power over others then attempt to use it as a bully would, or else fall into a bully’s actions through some unconscious attempt to maintain power.  The latter is especially true when the person’s superior, boss or supervisor, actively or passively works to disempower the person.

There are those who would turn to strategy such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War or Prince Machiavelli as in the Sopranos but that is largely for a person who wants to defeat an enemy, subject them to tyranny, conquer their land and resources.  This is largely how human history has worked and persists especially under concept of limited resources.

Bullying is a traumatic experience that can often leave the victims with PTSD.  While I feel that all people, especially those in various statuses of power should work to stop bullying I feel that people, especially youth should also be taught about resiliency and how to build social networks for support.

But it isn’t the subject of the bullying that needs to build a group but the people around the subject because it is too easy for the bystander to feel apathy or otherwise passively work to further ostracize the person subjected to the cruel and persistent treatment.  The bystander may react this way especially as they feel their individual safety is at risk and that they may in turn may be bullied.

So what do we do?  I don’t have all the answers but I think we, each person, needs to understand their own social privilege: sexual, gender, race, class, ethnicity, and education then instead of working to take we must give.

We should work to empower each other because then we make friends and create allies.  Two people are usually more capable than one whether in a physical situation such as labor and war or in a social situation such as business and education.

Crowd Sourced Tuition (My Wish)

I wish I could make a non-profit website to crowd source tuition, housing, and living expenses for students who could make a profile, upload videos, and create portfolios of their work so that they could go to college, both undergrad and graduate.
It would be searchable based on many criteria and initially there would be limits set for students that could be waived and increased based on certain criteria including declaring the use of the funds.
Also, students would have an advisor who would help them create the profiles, videos, and  then with the management of their money.  The advisor would have a case load of several students but be able to work with each one as needed.

Watch the Outs

I just watched the Outs Chanukah special and it was fantastic, completely satisfying.  Adam Goldman has a real sense of character and the portrayal of physical intimacy is so great throughout.  In an age when it is easy for two characters to aggressively grab each other to fuck the characters portray all the casual PDA of real life.

It is satisfying for being a gay interest story, for portraying gay life, and holding a narrative form.  But everyone should watch it especially this episode.

I probably have a crush on all the characters for their distinctive features.

Find it on Facebook and give it a watch if you haven't already.