Good...Bad...I'm The Guy With the Blog
August 06, 2013
The recent demise of beloved actor James Gandolfini inspired me to get out my Sopranos complete series box set and begin watching the series all over again. I loved this show. It was truly the best drama/soap opera ever. In an age of DVRs and “waiting until it comes out of video,” The Sopranos still saw people arranging their Sunday evenings around the television schedule.
But how much of a cultural impact did it have? When you compare it to other shows like Seinfeld, Dallas, or even The Simpsons, which have injected idioms and sayings into our current vernacular, The Sopranos don't have a lot of influence (unless you count, “What no **** ziti?” as passionately exclaimed by A.J. in season 1.)
There is something else though, something that appeals to so many people across age, gender, racial, and socio-economic gaps: The Gangster. Why do we love gangster stories so much? If you look at the top 15 movies on the Internet Movie Database list of top movies of all time as voted on by regular movie fans, gangster movies take up 3 spots (5, if you include Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight, which prominently feature underworld gangsters). The #2 and #3 spots belong to The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.
The truth is, most of us aren’t gangsters. Most of us are law abiding citizens. Most of us hold jobs, have bosses, pay taxes, and pay for remodeling on our homes or trash removal. Most of us will never have the FBI knocking on our doors or helicopters following us. I think that is the appeal, the sense of adventure that living just outside the norms of society can provide. It’s an escape for so many people to see characters who could be our neighbors, coworkers, best friends, or even in-laws living a life outside the law. But living in fear of going to jail or your best friends telling on you to law enforcement could also be a very stressful way to live.
My wife and I recently finished watching Justified, another brilliantly written and performed show about a lawman who doesn’t always do things that are 100% morally and ethically correct. There is also the highly-acclaimed Breaking Bad, which concludes its series run this year. It’s a fantastic show about a rather timid character that just wanted to provide for his family and ended up becoming quite a ruthless individual.
So, what’s the deal with these fringe characters that we feel so passionately about? Do you we really love the bad guys? Do we really want to see them win? Not Really. We like to live through them, but at the end, we like to see the characters get their due. We can sit and argue about humans being inherently good or evil, but that is better suited for a psychology blog. I’m simply stating that when all is said and done, we like happy endings. And nothing is happier than when the good guys or the mostly-good guys win. The concept of the redeemable character is a literary device as old as storytelling itself. If a character commits a crime or any atrocious act, we need to see him go through many trials in order to "redeem" himself. The worse the crime, the more redemption required.
With the accessibility of the above mentioned shows on DVD, it’s easy to sit and analyze these stories and characters over and over again. Want to watch The Sopranos again or for the first time? The entire series is easily accessible through our Interlibrary Loan service. Justified and Breaking Bad are also available to borrow through MCPL. We also have a vast collection of true crime nonfiction that is always circulating well. People just love to read the stories of people who did bad things…and then got caught (sometimes!) Want to learn some true history about the underworld? Try one of the gangster tours offered in Chicago, Las Vegas, and of course, the best one offered right here in Kansas City. As for me, I’ll keep imagining what it would be like to live just outside the norms of society…and continue my career as a *ahem* legitimate businessman.