Degree Granting Department
Humanities and Cultural Studies
Arc Television, Gangster Genre, HBO, Neoliberalism, Pay-Cable Television, Psychotherapy
My thesis explores what I call the "Sopranos Experience," which draws upon both the historical conventions of the gangster genre as well as the aesthetics and economics of pay-cable television to complicate The Sopranos' (HBO, 1999-2007) psychological relationship with the 21st-century, neoliberal American audience. The Sopranos Experience explicates how wavering identifications and dis-identifications that develop for the spectator through the series' form and content draw the responsibility of an audience away from moral ultimatums that attempt to finalize their experience with the genre, and towards a more personal ethical entanglement with the characters and their socioeconomic anxieties and desires. The ethical entanglement highlighted by The Sopranos reveals an entanglement that has always existed for the gangster genre throughout its history that has been recognized, but not thoroughly explored by previous gangster scholarship.
Because of the The Sopranos' psychotherapy story arc through Tony's (James Gandolfini) relationship with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), psychoanalysis plays a key role in the Sopranos Experience. The serial form and narrowcasting develop a more in-depth psychological relationship between the spectator and the characters than seen in previous gangster genre films. Through the psychoanalytic theory of Jean Laplanche, I argue the spectator's closer relationship with the series not only results in the spectator's constitution of self through the fictional characters, but that this constitution of self extends into their lived, everyday experiences with others.
In this discussion of the psychological connection between the spectator and the characters, their shared anxieties about and desires for socioeconomic stability in a neoliberal environment mobilizes the spectator's relationship not just with the series, but with others in their lives. In recognizing their atomized role in the viewership experience, The Sopranos allows the spectator to make ethical demands about their atomization and vulnerability in a neoliberal society. Because they can recognize the collective's similar situation, the spectator is situated to make larger demands about socioeconomic systems that atomize the individual.
Scholar Commons Citation
Weidinger, Eli Benjamin, "The Sopranos Experience" (2013). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.