Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Redemption in Popular Culture: The Sopranos

Cathleen Kaveny, who teaches law and theology at the University of Notre Dame, is also a frequent contributor to Commonweal, as well as a blogger on the dotCommonweal blog. For those people committed to binary and linear thinking, Commonweal is something of the polar opposite of First Things. For myself, I subscribe to and read both. I also frequent both blogs.

Binary thinking, which is best characterized as either/or thinking because it turns everything into a (an almost always false) dilemma, is quite foreign to Catholic thought. Such thinking is for those who cannot reconcile having faith, which is a gift from God, with not having the answers to all life's persistent questions. It also diminishes life by not, as St. Igantius of Loyloa urges us, seeing God in all things. What is forgotten, or set aside, in this cognitive schema is our very understanding of the faith as the mysterium fidei, which also makes it the mysterium tremendum, or the overwhelming mystery. It overwhelms us because we cannot take it all in. No matter how hard we try, ambiguities and cold-hard, complex reality remain and often resist our attempts to make our experiences fit into our ready-made categories. Is this to argue away the objectivity of truth or the claim it makes on us? As St. Paul might answer such a rhetorical question put to himself, No! It is, however, to be somewhat circumspect about our apprehension of the truth. To paraphrase President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, we see the truth as God gives us to see the truth. Or, as von Balthasar observed: Truth is symphonic. So, perhaps the musical point and counterpoint best describes the relationship between these two fine Catholic publications, at least it does for me.

Now that my brief prolegomena to a reasoned consideration of the world is out-of-the-way, the purpose of this post is to draw attention to Kaveny's magnificent article in the current issue of Commweal, on HBO's The Sopranos, entitled Salvation & 'The Sopranos 'Redemption in New Jersey

To whet your appetite, here are her three opening paragraphs:

"In Romans 8:22, St. Paul says that the 'whole creation has been groaning' while awaiting redemption. He wrote these words as an evangelist addressing the fledgling church in first-century Rome, but they might just as easily have been written by a current film or television critic.

Like Paul’s Roman audience two millennia ago, American society is deeply engaged with the question of whether-and how-human beings can be redeemed. Many of us aren’t sure the question has a positive answer. And in America, such pessimism expresses itself most visibly in popular culture.

I want to justify this claim by discussing the Emmy-winning HBO series The Sopranos, which will begin the second half of its sixth and final season in April. The Sopranos centers on the life of fictional New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. Although its violent subject matter and coarse language will shock the faint of heart, it is easily the best series on television, both a popular and a critical success. The show’s complex characters and sharp dialogue have attracted a wide variety of attention over the years. The online magazine Slate has sponsored forums of psychotherapists and mob experts offering their reflections on the weekly episodes. A Sopranos Family Cookbook has been a big seller. And no television show has explored more relentlessly-or more compellingly."

After introducing and giving the necessary background, she begins her analysis with a section on "Fate & moral failing" before moving to therapeutic redemption and twelve step redemption before with an exploration of the Soprano's underworld. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Uggh. What an utterly depressing article. ***shudder***

    As someone who tends to get overwhelmed, I think I'll be crawling back into my bubble now. Or something.