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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More on "The Sopranos" and the Metaphysics of Television

There is a VC blog thread on "The Sopranos" to which I have posted some thoughts -- here is a link to my latest comment.

Below is an adaptation of my latest VC blog comment.

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It is my contention that the absurdity found in "The Sopranos" is in the grand tradition of Beckett and Stoppard, as well as in line with the specific observations about television made by Don DeLillo in White Noise.

DeLillo's White Noise points out how absurd and comical television can be. In White Noise the Gladney family television interjects absurdly off-topic (or surprisingly and comically apt) comments into the family conversations. As Murray Jay Siskind (a character in White Noise) points out, television "practically overflows with sacred formulas." Now Siskind is one of White Noise's least sympathetic characters; he is someone who finds too much meaning in the most meaningless pieces of pop culture detritus.

But just because some are hyperbolic about the significance of pop culture does not mean that there is no metaphysical significance at all to "watching too much television" (the title of a season 4 episode of "The Sopranos").

It is my contention that a theme found in both White Noise and "The Sopranos" is that television is one of many sources of the "white noise" that pervades contemporary American culture.

When this theme is present in narrative art (novels, short stories, film, television, or what-have-you), one may find it unpleasant because of an aesthetic judgment that the theme distracts from characterization (or what-have-you). Or one may find (as I do) that this theme is very effective in elucidating (and sometimes even reshaping) the motivations and psychologies of key characters.

When people watch television, they get ideas.

The theme of the metaphysics of television in modern life is there within "The Sopranos." It is also there when we watch "The Sopranos" ourselves. "The Sopranos" often makes sure to have a television show within a television show, just as Shakespeare often included a play within a play, and just as movies often have a film within a film (cf. various Woody Allen movies and other films).

The theme found in "The Sopranos" regarding the metaphysics of television in contemporary American life also helps to elucidate the general absurdism inherent in the series a la Beckett and Stoppard.

In addition to the epic and tragic elements of "The Sopranos," there is also a distinct thread of absurdism found throughout the series. I personally find this thread of absurdism very appealing.

Television itself often has a direct effect on the psychologies and motivations of the characters in "The Sopranos" (just as television often does in real life for real people). And from an aesthetic standpoint regarding the quality of the series, I find that to be, to quote Martha Stewart, "a good thing."

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