Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Media Studies

Reader 1

Jennifer Friedlander

Reader 2

T. Kim-Trang Tran

Rights Information

© 2014 Vivienne R. Western

Abstract

The Sopranos is often hailed as one of the greatest television series of all time. The groundbreaking HBO series had an immense impact as a cultural phenomenon, showcasing the entrenched problems of post-industrial America. The protagonist, Mafia boss, patriarch, son, and husband Tony Soprano, embodies the anxieties and struggles of our age. Through Tony Soprano’s internal turmoil and therapy visits we are able to see the character’s existential and nihilistic conflicts while he tries to search for self and meaning in his life. The success of the program demonstrated that amorality could succeed on television and led to programs such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and other shows that had a commitment to realism and challenged the viewers by avoiding the formulaic programs of earlier years. Rather than being repulsed by Tony’s amoral criminal actions, viewers become seduced by his battles, charms, moral questions and difficulties, which results in them actually rooting for the violent gangster. In my paper I discussed the cultural implications of how viewers identify and excuse the violence and criminality of a brutal Mob boss, in terms of the knowledge of violence that is excused, accepted, rooted for, and tried to be forgotten in American society. Why would a program about anti-heroes become a huge hit with viewers rooting for an ethically confounding character? I will also argue that Tony’s dissolution, anxieties and unhappiness mirror the sentiments and realities of Americans in the twenty-first century.

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