Posts about Culture

Sopranos, the sequel

Kudos to Alan Sepinwall at the Star-Ledger, the official newspapers of The Sopranos, for getting the only interview with David Chase.

“I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there,” he says of the final scene.

“No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God,” he adds. “We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds or thinking, ‘Wow, this’ll (tick) them off.’

“People get the impression that you’re trying to (mess) with them, and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them.”

In that final scene, mob boss Tony Soprano waited at a Bloomfield ice cream parlor for his family to arrive, one by one. What was a seemingly benign family outing was shot and cut as the preamble to a tragedy, with Tony suspiciously eyeing one patron after another, the camera dwelling a little too long on Meadow’s parallel parking and a walk by a man in a Members Only jacket to the men’s room. Just as the tension ratcheted up to unbearable levels, the series cut to black in mid-scene (and mid-song), with no resolution.

“Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there,” says Chase, 61, who based the series in general (and Tony’s relationship with mother Livia specifically) on his North Caldwell childhood.

Sepinwall also debunks the email and comment-thread that burst into forums and blogs like Phil Leotardo’s brains under the SUV tire. There was a lot of excitement about the idea that all the people in the final scene in the restaurant were assassins or ghosts — take your choice — from earlier shows but Sepinwall says it’s just not true. The speculation almost got me to believe that Tony was dead: he saw himself in the restaurant as he came in and this was his life passing before his eyes as he died. But that did seem too neat and the appeal of the Sopranos is that it’s not neat. Cue Sartre.

Sopranos

I liked the ending. The banality of evil. The devil’s in the diner. Jersey as purgatory. There is no justice. Cue Sartre.

At the NJ.com forums, the ending confused some folks: They thought their TV’s had died. Damned TiVo, cut off again. Art appreciation in the land of the Sopranos. Existentialism doesn’t play outside Princeton.

It was a great run and an appropriate end.

The ironic bone in our bodies

In the comments on this post about a Guardian mockery of Mac users, we Americans are accused, once again, of not knowing how to spell irony.

But today, in the Guardian, Simon Pegg says that we do, indeed, have ironic bones:

When it comes to humour, however, there is one cultural myth that just won’t die. You hear it all the time from self-appointed social commentators sat astride high horses, dressed as knights who say, “Ni”. They don’t get it. They never had it. They don’t know what it is and, ironically, they don’t want it anyway. That’s right: “Americans don’t do irony.” This isn’t strictly true. Although it is true that we British do use irony a little more often than our special friends in the US. It’s like the kettle to us: it’s always on, whistling slyly in the corner of our daily interactions. To Americans, however, it’s more like a nice teapot, something to be used when the occasion demands it. This is why an ironic comment will sometimes be met with a perplexed smile by an unwary American. . . .

When Americans use irony, they will often immediately qualify it as being so, with a jovial “just kidding”, even if the statement is outrageous and plainly ironic. For instance…

A: “If you don’t come out tonight, I’m going to have you shot… just kidding.”

Of course, being America, this might be true, because they do all own guns and use them on a regular basis (just kidding). Americans can fully appreciate irony. They just don’t feel entirely comfortable using it on each other, in case it causes damage. A bit like how we feel about guns.

It’s not so much about having a different sense of humour as a different approach to life. More demonstrative than we are, Americans are not embarrassed by their emotions. They clap louder, cheer harder and empathise more unconditionally. It’s an openness that always leaves me feeling slightly guilty and apologetic when American personalities appear on British chat shows and find their jokes and stories met with titters, not guffaws, or their achievements met with silent appreciation, rather than claps and yelps. We don’t like them any less, we just aren’t inclined to give that much of ourselves away. Meanwhile, as a Brit on an American chat show, it’s difficult to endure prolonged whooping without intense, red-faced smirking.

In the end, he says, the smashing success of The Office on both sides of the irony divide proves that we’re more alike than not. We’re American: Let’s hug.

Starblocks

Well, the good news is that Starbucks got rid of transfats last week in New York and other markets. The bad news is that my beloved raspberry scone changed. That means that for the last year or so, I’ve been breakfasting on transfats. Last week, my cardiologist also scolded me for my bad cholesterol. I blame Starbucks.

But they do have a “reduced fat” (how reduced?) cinnamon chip mini loaf that’s pretty damned good. It’s probably loaded with heroin.

Digital evolution

Fascinating tidbit in Edge’s question of the year about optimism. Simon Baron-Cohen, at psychologist at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, argues that the digital age is a blessing for the autistic:

Some may throw up their hands at this increase in autism and feel despair and pessimism. They may feel that the future is bleak for all of these newly diagnosed cases of autism. But I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them, it has never been a better time to have autism.

Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age. . . . Computers operate on the basis of extreme precision, and so does the autistic mind. Computers deal in black and white binary code, and so does the autistic mind. Computers follow rules, and so does the autistic mind. Computers are systems, and the autistic mind is the ultimate systemizer. The autistic mind is only interested in data that is predictable and lawful. The inherently ambiguous and unpredictable world of people and emotions is a turn off for someone with autism, but a rapid series of clicks of the mouse that leads to the same result every time that sequence is performed is reassuringly attractive. . . .

As I read this — and thought of people I have known in this industry who, though I have no idea of their diagnoses, display some of these signs and who are very good at their computer jobs — I started seeing the beginnings of a sci-fi novel: Autism and Aspergers grow through cultural Darwinism and I imagined a world where understanding machines better than people is the norm, a society of Spocks.