14 June 2007

Sadism as postmodern entertainment



I have never watched The Sopranos. (A) because I don't enjoy watching violence, and (B) because I consider the whole crime-as-sexy-and-amusing ethos phoney. To the extent there are real people who commit acts of the kind portrayed in this genre (see e.g. Guy Ritchie and imitators) I very much doubt they are sexy or amusing characters — unless you have very warped definitions of 'sexy' or 'amusing'.

However, this comment (from the head of an online investment service) surprised me, as I hadn't realised the programme was quite so explicit in its portrayal of in-yer-face brutality.

[Tuesday's action on Wall Street] reminded me of the last episode of The Sopranos, probably the most savagely violent TV series ever created. I stopped watching it three, four, five years ago when four or five thugs took one of their own out on a boat and filled him full of holes. Just before the first shot, the ill-fated hoodlum pleaded, "Please don't shoot me in the face."

In this widely feted and praised last episode (which I decided to watch), an anonymous figure walked up to one of the family hooligans and shot him in the head. The assassin dashed to his car and sped away. In the meantime, the car the dead man had stepped out of began to roll. It rolled over the dead man's head pointlessly, thereby achieving an all-time-high of putrid taste on TV. (At least they didn't show the squoosh.) One of the pedestrian onlookers got the point across by throwing up.
If this is a taste of what the programme is like, I'm astonished. One anticipates this kind of stuff by now in X-rated gangster movies, but in a mainstream drama programme? In which we are expected to semi-indentify with the criminals? And this is the series which Damian Whitworth described as "the greatest TV show ever made" in yesterday's Times? (Good old Times, keeping well up with the latest mediocratic trends.)

Perhaps some readers find the programme entertaining, and think I am being squeamish. I dare say it is possible for most people to reach a point where they stop finding a given level of horror shocking. Personally, however, I doubt that it's desirable to become desensitised to things that would once have made one feel sick, unless one is a surgeon or a soldier.

Also in yesterday's Times, the case of a woman set alight in a country lane and left to die an agonising death. Of course there is nothing new in people wanting to kill other people, but I do wonder whether the inventive styles now employed for doing so owe anything to the sadism-as-amusement concept exploited so effectively by Quentin Tarantino and others.

Update
More waxing lyrical about The Sopranos from The Times, this time from Ben Macintyre. It's both Shakespearean and Dickensian, apparently.
"Like Shakespeare, David Chase, the creator of the series, revelled in food and sex, bawdy jokes, cruel satire and vivid metaphor. The perfect hit, says Uncle Junior, should be “as silent as a mouse pissing on cotton”. The Sopranos demanded and deserved to be treated as high art. But if the programme’s ambitions were Shakespearean, its detail was Dickensian ..."