"How many more people have to die for your personal growth?" - Dr Melfi
The polysemic nature of The Sopranos presents the audience with a wide variety of complex and important themes that are relevant in today's America. The Sopranos was created by David Chase, who used his own Italian-American family as the inspiration behind the show, and it spanned several seasons over the period of 9 years. Italian-American identity is a constant motif, particularly in relation to organised crime and food, throughout the duration of the series. But this relates to the wider experience of Americans, given that many are descendent of people who immigrated to the US to escape from poverty, and that the culture of the US is partly derived from the influx of European immigrants in history. Christian practices and beliefs are a typical example of this. For many reasons, the show has been hailed as "the best thing on television today" by critics. It is often said that what made The Sopranos so successful is the fact that it's a show about a deeply flawed man that many Americans can relate to:
Meet Tony Soprano: your average, middle-aged businessman. Tony's got a dutiful wife. A not-so dutiful daughter. A son named Anthony Jr. A mother he's trying to coax into a retirement home. A hot-headed uncle. A not too-secret mistress. And a shrink to tell all his secrets, except the one she already knows: Tony's a mob boss.
This is the blurb of the first season of The Sopranos and is often cited as the source of the show's appeal. Many have said that they have many friends who are like Tony Soprano, except they are legitimate middle-class men. But perhaps The Sopranos was so popular because it served as an allegorical critique of American society, one such has been eclipsed by corporate America. The DiMeo crime family is an allegory for something far less exotic, something far more ordinary and everyday, unrestrained and unregulated capitalism. Certainly in the market, it could be said that growth is for the sake of growth, even if it such growth is at the expense of society and civilisation itself, is the endless task of powerful multinational corporations regardless of the popular will.
The destructive externalities of organised crime are for all to view in The Sopranos. Most notably, are the references to the race riots of Newark in the late 1960s, which were in reality a reaction by the African-American and Latino-American community against racist oppression and exploitation. The Mafia used their influence on politics and business, through unions, to keep blacks and hispanics out of legitimate occupations. Whilst at the same time crushing any competing criminal elements in the African-American and Latino-American community. With nowhere to go and no way of surviving, blacks and hispanics rioted in the summer of 1967 out of a rage with the system. It is appropriate that this history goes ignored by the characters and the true horror of their actions is never fully confronted. Much like in real life, the horrors of America's racist past often go unchallenged and remain just bellow the surface of society.
Tony Soprano, from a particular perspective, could be viewed as a success story. The epitome of the American dream, a man of a humble working-class immigrant background, who has risen to the peak of his industry, he has moved from the North Ward to the North Caldwell suburbs. It could be that his popularity is down to the fact that he shows the audience the emptiness of the American dream, a side not often shown on television. For Tony the life of materialistic success, predicated on violence and a parasitic relationship with the world, leads to nothing but that awful emptiness. Soprano is intelligent enough to understand that there should be more to life than the endless pursuit of wealth and the repetitive satisfaction of desires. The inalienable rights of the American dream are not enough for Tony, it is not enough for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be the only things guaranteed in life. For the Sopranos, the American dream is hollow, a carrot on a stick at best.