January 22, 2005

BOOKS: The Sopranos & Philosophy, Richard Greene & Peter Vernezze, eds. (2004)

Open Court Publishing has been doing a series of books on "Popular Culture and Philosophy" for a few years now; of the earlier volumes, I'd particularly recommend the one on The Simpsons, and suggest that the Seinfeld volume is best avoided. (Other topics thus far: The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lord of the Rings, and baseball. Coming soon: Woody Allen -- that should be fertile ground -- and Harry Potter.)

This is a fairly solid entry in the series. There's a certain knowledge of philosophy assumed, though the essays are no doubt far too simplistic for serious philosophy students; they'd make good supplementary reading for an Intro to Philosophy course. The knowledge of The Sopranos that's required is a bit more complete; if you haven't seen most of the show (or at least the first four seasons; the book was apparently compiled during the gap between seasons four and five), you'll be floundering at many of the references.

It's interesting to see which moments from the show recur in the book as key points to understanding the show's philosophy. Tony's description of himself and his associates as "soldiers" who won't be going to hell pops up a lot, as does Melfi's conversation with her ex-husband about the "cheesy moral relativism" of their profession.

Among the highlights:
  • Lisa Cassidy's "Is Carmela Soprano a Feminist?," an analysis based on Carol Gilligan's distinction between "justice" ethics (a traditionally male style of thinking) and "care" ethics (traditionally female)
  • Michael E. Gettings' "This Thing of Ours: Language Use in The Sopranos," which is a touch heavy on the linguistics jargon, but provides an entertaining look at the things that aren't being said and the ways in which they aren't said
  • Mike Lippman's "Know Thyself, Asshole: Tony Soprano as an Aristotelian Tragic Hero"

Entertaining reading, and a different way to look at the show.

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