The gangster and The Sopranos


All this results in a radical transformation of the gangster genre’s typical conventions, to the point where the viewer is subjectively tied to Tony and his actions. This counters the view of the gangster-hero, which occurred in the 1930s, where the gangster’s brutality made him un-relatable and ultimately unlikable to audiences. Part of this arises from the detailed view we have of Tony Soprano’s life, unfolding in weekly episodes. Even the Corleones across the three Godfathers do not begin to compare to the more than eighty hours we spend with the Sopranos. Thus despite his immoral actions we can see him as a hero, because the genre conventions changed/adapted by the sopranos (e.g. his weaknesses) make him relatable.  The characters become familiar parts of our own lives, rather than a distant film spectacle.

The gangster genre has evolved in relation to a community’s perception of a crime narrative in a way that theorist Jameson characterizes as “a permutation of a generic convention through which one could write a history of its changing social and ideological functions.” We see this development in the representation of women. The way that women are treated and thereby represented in western society has dramatically changed during the 20th century, and is thus reflected in the progression of the gangster genre, seen in The Sopranos. In reference to Thomas Schatz, he was right to say that it would be technical innovation that would transform the genre. Yet it is not only the transformation of these immediate, objective conventions, but those which are tied to the culture of today. Mental illness like depression was not being considered in the 40s and 50’s – now it is a key part of the Sopranos story. The Sopranos is thus a reflection of the social and ideological status of America, involving the audience in a dark image of the postmodern underbelly of American life.


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