Summons and repulsion : the curious appeal of Tony Soprano

Bentham, AA 2015, 'Summons and repulsion : the curious appeal of Tony Soprano' , in: Antihero , Crime Uncovered Series , Intellect, Bristol, pp. 72-84.

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Summons and Repulsion: The Curious Appeal of Tony Soprano In a Los Angeles Times article published in the wake of James Gandolfini’s death, Chris Lee described Tony Soprano, Gandolfini’s most famous incarnation, as ‘a cultural sensation’, ‘one of TV’s most indelible icons’ and ‘the unlikeliest of all sex symbols’. Lee was not alone in his summation of the character; Tony Soprano is widely recognised as one of popular culture’s most challenging, impactful and compelling figures. But what is it about this calculating, vicious and narcissistic sociopath that audiences find so appealing? HBO’s paradigm-changing crime drama series, The Sopranos (1999-2007), combines a self-reflexive take on the gangster genre with domestic melodrama and a sizeable serving of comedy. Tony is a charismatic mob boss with an unnerving knack for sudden and devastating violence. He is also a middle-aged, obese family man, prone to panic attacks and undergoing therapy. His masculinity is in crisis; torn between the competing demands of ‘Family’ and family, he captures perfectly the post-feminist, fin-de-siècle zeitgeist, his vulnerability offering a humanising and beguiling counterpoint to his brutality. This juxtaposition of Soprano’s violence and tenderness, laid bare by the famous episode in which he ‘deals with’ an informant whilst touring colleges with his daughter, is the key to the character’s appeal. The viewer is drawn into a Kristevan ‘vortex of summons and repulsion’, a weird and enigmatic empathy. My chapter will explore the tensions between the attraction of repulsion and the character’s relatability, paying particular attention to the narrative and cinematographic techniques that encourage empathetic engagement with transgressive characters. I will also address the impact that audience acceptance of this figure has had on popular culture, social mores and the future trajectory of the fictional anti-hero.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Peters, F and Stewart, R
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Publisher: Intellect
Series Name: Crime Uncovered Series
ISBN: 9781783205196 (print); 9781783205202 (ebook)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Dr Abby Bentham
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2020 08:44
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 05:01

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