Now that it’s over we can agree that The Sopranos was the great testosterone soap opera of the decade. We had, even if we did not realize it, a need to watch beefy Italians cursing, slamming each other against bathroom walls, and splattering their rivals’ brains across their tablecloths. HBO’s epic filled that need.
The one buzz-killer — one that killed more and more toward the end of the series — was Tony Soprano’s shiftless son A.J. Over seven years we saw him blossom from a chubby wimp into a skinny-but-stupid lay-about. In a late series episode the elder Soprano walks past his son and sees him “giggling on the computer, typing away in some little chit-chat room.” Tony recounts the scene to his therapist and shakes his head: “I just wanted to slam his face in.”
Again and again, Tony saw chances to toughen up his son but passed. He coddled the kid and eased his way to wimpery. When A.J. finally ties a cement block to his leg and jumps into the family pool, Tony yanks him out of the water and holds him close, stroking his hair, weeping. Back in Dr. Melfi’s office, Tony frowns and blames himself for the lump that his son’s become. But even then, Tony doesn’t take responsibility. A.J.’s problems began, Tony scowls, when he inherited his father’s “putrid genes.”
David Chase’s series was always as much about a dying way of life as it was about Tony Soprano’s fractious families. How did mob boss Tony grow up so much softer and more depressed than his father? Why was Tony’s son such a useless, confused lump? How did a country and a culture that produced Michael Corleone produce… this?
THAT, IN A WAY, is the question John Strausbaugh wrote Sissy Nation to answer. He did not write the book to explore the reasons: He wrote it to grab readers by the lapels and shake them until they saw his way. “I’ve been around long enough to have watched us retreat from self-exploration to self-indulgence,” he writes. “I’ve witnessed our descent into Sissihood, and it really worries me.”
If Strausbaugh wasn’t constantly worried or constantly spotting signs of cultural decline, he might not write at all. A former editor of the acrid New York Press and a current contributor to the New York Times Magazine, Strausbaugh writes because he hates.
He walks down Chicago’s Navy Pier and sneers at the “Holsteins” gorging themselves to death. He watches “blogger boys” infiltrate his beloved New York, listening to iPods, blocking out the world, pulling on ironic T-shirts that, no matter what slogan or brand they advertise, make them look exactly the same. Every day and in every way, he sees things getting worse and worse.
As David Chase and his Sopranos players could tell you, this isn’t the most daring of arguments. Practically every boomer who’s survived into the age of TIVO feels this way. All of them, like Strausbaugh, assume that their parents’ generation got it right and that some crucial DNA strand got snapped around 40 years ago.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?