A break, please, from presidential politics, the argument culture and the failings of the mainstream news media. As Mike Lupica reminded us recently there will be an Olympics, a BCS and Super Bowl, and two World Series before we choose the next president.
But, we are about two weeks away from the end of something phenomenal in terms of the mass media that reflect and shape our culture, the conclusion of the great HBO series "The Sopranos." And, of course, now, after eight amazing years, there's really only one question left: What will happen to Tony?
I know there is a war in Iraq. And damn it, odds are another dozen patriotic young Americans died there since I started writing this a few days ago. I know people still are shattered financially and emotionally from Hurricane Katrina. And sometimes I think I'm the only person in the country about to explode over the fact that the Republican Congress - Vichy Democrats in tow - gave the president the right effectively to suspend habeas corpus and the Democratic Congress hasn't made that right again.
But it doesn't hurt to have a conversation about Tony Soprano, to discuss what his viewpoint has said about us since it burst into our collective conscious in 1999. There are countless ways to look at it, but only a dumb-ass or a demagogue would limit "The Sopranos" to an attempt to glorify violence or a tacit endorsement of organized crime.
Hegel, the most influential of the German idealist philosophers, agreed with Kant that our minds do more than passively absorb the external world. They organize it, he wrote, and the collective organization amounts to something real - a Geist (in mind, spirit and soul). Hegel argued that each historical period has a Zeitgeist (spirit of the age). These stages eventually reach the "telos" (Greek for "end") of self-understanding, and we aren't free to understand reality until Geist comes to know itself.
For Hegel, each individual consciousness is really part of the collective Absolute Mind. When we understand that we are part of a greater consciousness (when we are socialized and create groups, cities and relationships), we aren't so concerned with individual freedom, and we agree with to act rationally in a way that transcends selfish, primitive urges. (Freud later talks about this as "id" and "super ego.") And following the Real or the Rational is how individuals achieve self-fulfillment.
Enough about us. Back to Tony.
If Hegel is correct (or simply for the sake of a Hegelian analysis), the idea of "art imitating life" is the place to start, because it is a window into our collective political mind.
The task is to examine what we were thinking collectively when Tony was created, what unconsciously drove our fascination with him, and what in our collective mind -- the spirit of the times -- has concluded it is time to end this relationship. This is how we decipher the signals we've sent to the writers and producers who will consciously and unconsciously decide Tony's fate: self-imposed retirement, government-imposed retirement (prison) or sleeping with the fishes.
I vote for the fishes.
I know better than to do this, but I can't resist. So, I predict his demise will come at least partly at the hand of either his wife, Carmella, or his therapist, Dr. Melfi.
Freud, who built on Hegel's work, later argued that it's all about the dreams. The story line with Tony in therapy was brilliant. The writers routinely used that vehicle to give us dream sequences that acted as metaphors for Tony's real-life conflicts. (Remember, Freud believed dreams represent ruptured relationships and a desire for wish-fulfillment.)
In the pilot episode, Tony told Melfi that he dreamed he had a screw in his navel. When it was removed his penis fell off. He tried to find a car mechanic from his past to put it back on, but a duck swooped down and snatched it from his hand.
If you ask me, Tony is the anti-Oedipus. In his world, women are castrators. Consider Nancy Marchand's brilliant performance as the mother who conspired with Tony's uncle to have him killed. Tony hates his mother. His unfulfilled relationship is with his father.
In "Isabella," Tony suffered from depression after his longtime friend and gumba, Big Pussy, disappeared. He met a dental student named Isabella, who was staying in the Cusamano home, but he later discovered that he hallucinated her because he was taking too much lithium. In short, the male disappeared and psychiatry introduced him to a woman who wasn't threatening.
In "Pax Soprana," Melfi is the center of several of Tony's dreams and fantasies. He clearly decides he is in love with her, but she rebuffs his advances -- another female castration.
In "Funhouse," the writers create an extended dream sequence that ends with an innuendo-laden conversation between Melfi and Tony, who sports a prominent erection, and a second scene where Big Pussy speaks to him from the body of a fish literally on ice and confirms that he is a federal informant.
The writers have taken pains recently to remind us that Tony is a violent sociopath with no conscience -- as when he murders his helpless nephew, Christopher.
In a separate dialogue, Melfi's own therapist confronts her with a study that questions whether therapy has any effect on a sociopath other than to enable or embolden destructive behavior. This finding would be is anathema to a psychiatrist. Any credible therapist presented with this type of evidence would have to disengage. The question is how will she do that?
Of course, this would be another ruptured relationship for the promiscuous Tony, whose own infidelity repeatedly ruptured his primary relationship with Carmella.
So, what is it that made this show so popular, and how will it end?
If Freud is right, the conflicts in Tony's life are really metaphors for the ruptured relationships that are playing out in his dreams. If Hegel is right, then Tony's life story has been wildly popular because it captured part of the sprit of our times (1999-2007). It's art imitating life.
So, what has been going on in our national life these past seven years? What's been on our Absolute Mind?
o Any stubborn male leader with a harsh castrating mother who never had the relationship with his father he wanted?
o Any group of thugs ascend to illegitimate power and flaunt the laws bind our democracy together in ways that show they think it applies to them?
o Any situation where our legitimate government finds itself helpless to quell violence that permeates an ancient subculture where vendettas and tribal loyalties trump the rule of modern democratic law?
o A strong woman in the midst of it all trying to mitigate these forces?
o Or one on the horizon poised to effectively castrate or at least replace the present leader?
If the writers decide to kill Tony -- especially at the hand of a woman -- is that any signal for what our collective unconscious is bracing us to accept as the emerging Zeitgeist of the early twenty-first century?
Just a funny little set of questions to think about and enjoy for the next two weeks -- and for the next 18 months.