March 13, 2005

The Saprano Syndrome

America suffers from the “Tony Saprano” syndrome. Tony Saprano being the mob boss patriarch of an Italian family of 4 in Northern New Jersey, in the HBO series titled “The Sapranos“, for those who do not know. Tony makes his living through racketeering, murder and other crimes, but his wife and children really do not “know” how Tony provides the family their “American dream”, at least not in the earlier episodes that I watched.

The American dream that Tony provides his family is accepted without question. The wife is not ignorant of the fact that there is a “mob” or that the mob is known as a criminal murderous organization, however, she has a vested interest. She is in love with an man and a lifestyle that triggers cognitive dissonance in regards to evidence that her husband is a member of the mob and that the nice home, nice schools, money and wealth she and her family enjoy is the product of crime and the blood of others. That having been said, Tony does work hard.

When one has a beneficial emotional and material vested interest in a condition, one will have an aversion to accepting a reality that threatens it. The matriarch of the Saprano family enjoys the “good life”, the product of Tony being a good provider. She is also a religious person who would or should have a hard time accepting her material lifestyle and her marriage if she were to connect the dots on how it was all made possible. Such a connection of dots would place her righteousness into conflict with her emotional and material selfishness. As long as she chooses not to connect the dots, she can maintain her sense of righteousness as well as her emotional and material assets.

Americans are like the wife of Tony Saprano in that most do not want to connect the dots in regards to how America managed to provide all the status and wealth that we enjoy. Americans want to believe that their status is the product of simply working harder and smarter than others. They do not want to believe or accept that much of the wealth is the product of mob type activity conducted by the government or made legal by the government for some citizens to conduct. Such an acceptance would force a moral dilemma upon a religious proclaiming populous in regards to how they lifted themselves up as the by product of putting others down.

One of the dots that Americans refuse to accept is that the present is the creation of the past. They know full well the history of this nation, the near genocide against the indigenous inhabitants and the centuries of enslavement of Africans. However, they fail to then take the next step and connect that history to the present, ignoring the law of nature that creates a reaction for every action. By not connect the dots of the past to the present, none of the problems of the present can be related to the past and hence no action should be taken in the present that is related to events of the past. Americans can then continue their fantasy love affair with America and its materialism and status, as the wife of Tony Saprano does the same.

Americans also do not want to connect the dots in regards to its past and present foreign activities either. It promotes all of its actions as the leading donor nation providing food, aid and medicine to suffering people in the world. On the other hand, it purposely keeps quiet and classified all the clandestine destabilizing and murderous activates that it has promoted directly or via proxy upon other nations. For example, in Central America during the cold war, 10’s of thousands of innocent civilians were killed as a result of rebels and gorillas that we trained and backed to overthrow communist leaning governments. The same is also true in Africa as the CIA and the State Department had propped up murderous and exploitive dictators as reward for resisting communism. Billions of dollars was lent to these dictators, who put it in Swiss Bank accounts and now the US wants the leaders elected by the people to pay these debts back, placing Africa in peonage.

The citizens of America do not want these dots to be connected. If the government does not connect the dots via confession and declassification of piles on information, the people will not entertain the notion of connecting the dots on their own. The government will never connect the dots because in American democracy the people really do not want the dots connected and forcing the nation into accountability and resposibility. Also, the door for litigation in the international court that could lead to reparations for these damages keeps truths locked and classified. Information will only be declassified when statutes of limitations on responsibility and accountability have been reached. However, even then releasing such information would tarnish the image and reputation of the Nation to the rest of the world.

In light of all this, Americans live in a fantasy state of denial in which they see and define themselves as they want to be seen and defined as opposed to how they actually are. When others come with a mirror or marker to connect the dots, they are immediately attacked with the goal of discrediting the messenger and message. They will say that such people are motivated by hate and jealously. They will attempt to drag these people through the mud for having the audacity to challenge their fantasy and potentially putting their faith and morality to a true test of character. When the chickens do come home to roust and the reaction to the nations negative actions boomerangs back at them, cognitive dissonance will prevent people from seeing that they are their own worst enemy as what goes around comes back around and nations and people will reap what they have sown.

Why do they Hate us? The real question is why more people don’t, who have plenty reasons to.


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Faheem said...

Tony Soprano is indeed an American Icon and represents the American dream; this is why that show has been so popular. The same is true for the God Father series. I had never seen these movies and thought I would try watching them because they were allegedly so good. I watched the first one and what stood out the most to me was the talk about Black folk being Niggers and how dumping drugs in our community was no big deal. I have not seen part two or three and probably never will after haven set through part one. America loves its past and present white criminals and has celebrations in their honor and will continue to do so in the face of those who have been affected adversely by the actions of these criminals. They need only plead ignorance or say that was in the past, things have improved now.

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would urge you to take a greater look at the Godfather series, especially Part II – which is the most “culturally” important of the trio. Part III is a joke – so don’t bother with that one. I actually applaud Coppola (and Mario Puzo, the author) for his directorial frankness in the scene you referenced because it’s one of the few instances of cinematic honesty. Part II consists of a series of flashbacks charting Vito Corleone’s arrival (a beautiful scene at Ellis Island) in America as an Italian immigrant child. The young Vito had to be smuggled out of Italy after rival gangsters murdered his family. Anyway, the film is powerful because it looks at how Italian immigrants were a despised and ghettoized minority that were largely cut out of the American dream (Of course, not to the degree that blacks were). In Coppola’s “highly romanticized” vision of the mob, Vito turns to gangster-ism for several reasons: the first being his inability to feed his family in the wake of the Depression. He also bore witness to the rampant violence and exploitation of his immigrant community by Italian mobsters and outside entities. The third reason had to do with a desire to protect his community because it was obviously neglected and discarded. This part of the film is poignant because this character realized that his people were being used as a cheap labor force, and that his ghetto community was rife with corruption and racketeering – basically they had no one to look after them. Gangster-ism, and the money it provided was a means to counteract these problems.

The entire series is really about how Italians achieved “Whiteness.” This Particular film (Part II) is actually quite indicting of American hypocrisy, and the strong undercurrent of racism and violence upon which this nation was founded. It also asks important questions about how nations, and fortunes are built – and at what cost. It’s powerful stuff, brilliant really! So definitely check out Part II.

There is a huge difference between The Sopranos and The Godfather series… of course one more accurately portrays the mob, and the other is a complete fantasy. Arguably, The Sopranos isn’t really about the mob – it’s more psychological and existential. Tony and his colleagues are basically trapped in a history from which they cannot escape. They’re obviously intelligent enough to legitimately provide for their families – and institutionalized bigotries are no longer an issue for them. The show is frustrating for me because it cycles between profundity and fetishism. What I mean is that the show is often quite intellectually sophisticated, but it relies to heavily upon gangster clichés (the commoditization of racial/ethnic difference) as a ratings concession. It’s actually “extremely” racist in its depiction of Italian Americans as thugs (many Italian American groups have complained about the preponderance of these representations). Several prominent Italian actors have turned down lucrative offers to star on the Sopranos for this very reason.

Obviously there is a market for crime narratives in this country – that’s why it dominates our popular culture (and cultural unconscious) as much as it does. America was built on gangster-ism and thuggery, and everyone basically knows this. It is for that reason I believe that such filmic narratives (and their ideological subtexts) like Scarface, Goodfellas, New Jack City, The Wire, Training Day, The Godfather, and The Sopranos have become so important to the Hip-Hop generation in recent years. Political transgression and grass-roots forms of resistance, have thus given way to a ruthlessly capitalist hustler mentality. Minority youth are beginning to realize that the only way to remove the racist stronghold on their communities (and lives) is through economic achievement by any means necessary. America is an a-historical society, and it will never acknowledge its mistakes in a manner that will satisfy those that have suffered as a result of them. But on the other hand, economic rapacity and the money it engenders, holds the potential to erode both past and present inequities, as well as the psychic/historical scars (the dots that Noah so enthusiastically want to be connected/acknowledged by society at-large) that are the detritus of formerly legalized oppressions. In my opinion, that’s what these narratives (and the archetypes they produce) are really about. That’s why they resonate so powerfully in our culture of ruthless competition, violent aggression, greed and intolerance.

-Jean Michel

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Faheem said...

Jean, what you appear to have taken away from the GodFather series is so far removed from the reasons it won awards and is loved by film critics and regular ole folk. However, you can see through the mirage that is put up and given to us as cinematic genius. I believe were I to see the second part of this movie, I probably would go away thinking some of the very same things you did, however while these lessons are present in this film, this film is not the only place such lessons can be ascertained. America loves, allows and celebrates criminality from everyone other than us, our criminality is not seen as condition driven, environment driven and a means to attain wealth. Our criminality is seen as a genetic flaw that renders us inferior. Take the recent case of Brian Nichols who shot up the court room and killed a few folks, this incident is now being blown up to be an indictment on Black Atlanta, including but not limited to the police chief, the DA and various other Black officials, and the devil Bill O’reilly had a guest on his show that went so far as to say it is a cultural problem in Atlanta driven by Atlanta’s Black citizens. If you juxtapose this and the reaction to the white dude that killed seven at that Church service in Wisconsin two days after Brian did his dirt you will see exactly what I am saying.

On the night of the shooting at the church, news outlets did not release pictures of the Killer because his family asked them not to, WTF is that? This incident has not been used to indict the clergy or religion as a whole however; the competence of Black officials in Atlanta is being questioned because of one incident. The truth is prior to Brian Nichols actions, these same female guards transported criminals without incidence but one incident renders all Black officials in Atlanta incompetent. White folk protect their own and demonize us and then get a Negro like Michael King from project 21 to go on TV and apologize to white folk by acting as a pacifier and an appeaser to all that they say.

The message in the Godfather II may offer all that you say it does but I do not need to see this movie to know that this nation respects and celebrate criminality as a means of attaining wealth from everyone except us.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply!

I would be careful not to conflate organized gangster-ism with individual acts of criminality – nor would I make too serious a comparison between cinematic crime narratives and actual crime. Both of the violent incidents you cited were committed by disturbed individuals, however, as you mentioned – they were handled very differently in the media. I’m personally not surprised, or disturbed by racist pundits like O’Reilly and others who attempt to use such events to further polarize our nation – it’s just more of the same. Our culture is strange when it comes to violent crime and the media. I’ve been continually perplexed as to why one crime will captivate society and another will not – for example, the Lacie Peterson trial. White men murder their wives everyday, but such acts receive a paucity of the media attention granted this debacle. What’s so damn compelling about this one? The court shooting is simply being utilized as a political football. African-Americans have excelled in law enforcement in the Atlanta area, which pisses many whites off. This incident is being utilized as means to graft incompetence on these individuals for the purpose of counteracting the hiring and promotion of black law enforcement in that region. Ultimately, these efforts will fail. In my opinion, the Atlanta shooting touches a nerve because it has far reaching institutional, cultural and political implications. Furthermore, Atlanta has become one of the most multicultural and tolerant cities in the nation, which is quite an accomplishment considering that it’s a Southern city. In fact, Atlanta has become somewhat of a haven for upwardly mobile blacks. This backlash was bound to happen some time.

There is a world of difference, however, between cinematic crime narratives, and actual violent crimes occurring around us daily. In terms of popular visual culture, black criminality is by far the most popular. America loves its black villains. The black male body carries with it an array of ideological projections that elicit both fear and fantasy in the cultural consciousness. Yes, you are right that black villainy is viewed as compulsory and innate, but this culturally imbedded stereotype functions dualistically in that blackness is also fetishized, desired and enthusiastically consumed. Black male bodies captivate and dominate our visual culture like no other subjectivity. On the other hand, white crime (actual, not cinematic) is viewed culturally as an individual act, which has nothing to do with collective whiteness. In the cinema, white crime narratives provide a space of play, and/or a forum to explore the psychological underpinnings of the criminal psyche; i.e. serial killers, white-collar criminals etc. However, what separates white and black cinematic crime narratives is that the former is always redemptive: meaning it is always rationalized as the result of some form of systematic abuse or trauma enacted on an individual – whereas, the former is usually viewed as a social problem – an urban scourge. Hence, black villains are rarely dealt with as individuals with humanity and interiority. For better, or for worse, the black villain is a uniquely American archetype, just like the cowboy, the mobster and the rogue cop – and it will endure because America both loves and reviles its black villains.

Anyway, I certainly do think people see what I see in the Godfather. They may not be as overtly conscious of how the ideological subtext is affecting them (or know how to articulate it) – but it does still resonate on a more subconscious level. If not, the film would not have been such a hit – or have such an endearing cultural legacy.

But I think you should see the Godfather Part II, not because of the issues at hand, but because it’s a fine film, that I believe you (as a thoughtful individual) will enjoy – or not. Either way, there is something to be gained by absorbing, and acknowledging it as a potent commentary on American hypocrisy.

-Jean Michel


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