Feminist Sopranos

Curator's Note

The drama opens on this sculpture in Dr Melfi's office. Tony is introduced as discomfited by Woman, indeed caught in its scissor. The old skirt-chaser fears the feminine. He'll extol Gary Cooper's strong silence but deny his softness. The statue reappeared this season, as the coded denial of the feminine continues. Tony, Junior, the abusive Ralphie and the abused Vito, painfully deny the feminine. The exception is Furio who's transformed from killer to gardener by loving Carmela. Livia, Janice, Carmela, Pussy's widow, aspire to male callousness. Even Tony's boat (a She) is The Stugotz (Balls). As well as about Evil and Power and Declining America the show is about the conventional denial of the feminine. Tony won't release his soprano.


In this regard, I am reminded of Episode 70: "Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request." Amidst Tony's concerns about being "alpha male" in the family after being shot by Uncle Jun--like Ginny Sacrimoni, Tony almost collapses at the wedding--New York and New Jersey members alike condemn Johnny for crying at the wedding "like a woman." To reassert his masculinity in the family, Tony deliberately picks a fight with his muscular new bodyguard. As much as Tony and the other family members would deny their "sopranos" and live up to these standards of masculinity, the problems that they have, from Tony's therapy sessions to Christopher's drug habit, typically stem from a need to express this other repressed side.

And yet after Tony's shooting and recovery he seems to be the one most in touch with his feminine side (due to Carmela's ministrations maybe). It occurs to us that the closer the mobsters get to their femininity, the harsher and more bloody the punishments are. Think of the death of Ralphie at Tony's hands. The punishment meted out takes longer and is far more bloody than any other death at his hands (even Big Pussy is despatched cleanly) and, it could be argued, this is due to the release of his 'feminine' side. Ostensibly his rage is due to the deliberate death of Pie O My - their horse - but we know that this outburst has its roots in Ralphie's beating to death of Tracee. Another expression of cold-bloodedness that maybe finds its roots in a possible 'feminisation' of Ralphie. Don't forget this episode was the one where he extolled the virtues of the Romans (through constantly quoting Gladiator) and especially their version of masculinity. Could it be that the vulnerability that is exposed through the mobster's dependance on their women (whether wives or goomahs) brings out the macho in them? It maybe that Tony is reluctant to release his soprano but to us at least he sems closer to that side of himself than any of the other mobsters.

I'd just like to add a few comments to the 3 posts thus far.

1. To add to Maurice's point, there's Corrado's penchant for (and apparent skill at) cunnilingus, which gives him the reputation of being a closet "fanook." He is mercilessly teased by "T" about this at the golf course ("You drove into the MUFF") and at dinner. Uncle Junior pushes a pie into the face of his goomah and leaves her when he learns that she had "ratted him out" about his sexual proclivities.Also, in Season 6, Episode 1 ("Members Only"), Corrado mentions that he thought he had "a banana in [the refrigerator]," a possible reference to his now-dormant male sexuality. (Yes, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a banana is only a banana.)

2. To Douglas: And after Tony beats up the new bodyguard, Perry, he promptly goes to the bathroom, confronts his "macho" image in the mirror, and promptly throws up TWICE, perhaps an indication of his guilt over having to act out that macho male "captain of industry" role for the crew. Also, at the wedding of Johnny Sach's daughter, Tony is the only one to defend Sacrimoni's tears: "Give him a break," he says. "Emotional day." (Earlier at the recption, Christopher had challenged Tony's judgment -- as he does from time to time throughout the series: "You ask me, [that was] a PUSSY-ASS move!" The Oedipal trajectory at work again, as Tony feels his power and authority dropping after his shooting and recuperation. (Shortly afterwards, Fat Vito is outed in the gay bar, another reminder of the sexual dynamic in Mob life. Then, at the pork store, Tony is treated like a convalescent: Paulie Walnuts offers a chair (T: "I don't want a chair!); Tony sees 265-pound Bobby dunk a basketball, a feat that he's incapable of during his recuperation; and T also admires Paulie's toned muscles, and the "pecs" of the entire sleeveless undershirt crowd, including Perry's well-developed torso.

3.Re.: Janet & Kim's points: Ralphie prepares and serves up EGGS to Tony just before the fight starts that ends in his death. Again, this is what Orson Welles called "dollar-book Freud" sexual symbolism but it's indicative of the sort of double-entendre that traces its way throughout the series, whether in dialogue, images, motifs, or narrative situations. It's also interesting to note that despite Ralphie's killing of the feminine (Tracy), it is established (and Tony knows about it from his sister Janice) that Ralphie doesn't engage in "normal" male sexuality: "he didn't make penissory contact with her Volvo," as Tony puts it. So, yes, the fight is EXTREMELY violent but there's a subntext of Ralph offering femininity to Tony (eggs, a nontraditional sexuality) while the text is about the murder of Pie-O-My (who I believe is a female horse).

In all cases, I re-express my concern that these depictions of male chauvinism are portrayed as part of an Italian male culture -- what I call "prejudice lite."

Frank P. Tomasulo, Ph.D.

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