Made Men and Whores: The World of Predators

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Episode
34 of The Sopranos is a portrait of predatory psychology.
We gain a window into this criminal subculture's thought process,
and the sights destroy any pretense of dignity among these rogues.

In
Episode 32, Tony Soprano confronted Ralph Cifaretto after he beat
his pregnant mistress Tracee to a dead pulp. "Is it my fault
she's a klutz?" he asked, implying that her body got that way
through a fall. Soprano punched him several times, after which Cifaretto
yelled with pseudo-indignation, "Are you outta your fuc*in'
mind layin' your hands on me? I'm a made guy!"

Episode
34 tracks the aftermath of their altercation. Soprano and Silvio
Dante (who had perpetrated assault and battery against Tracee) have
this dialogue during dinner:

SOPRANO:
He bashed that poor girl's brains in.

DANTE:
I hear ya. I know. It was a tragedy. The fact is, though, she was
not related to you by blood or marriage…All things considered, he's
got a legitimate beef.

At
the same time, Cifaretto and fellow pinky-ringed pirates converse
at a diner:

CIFARETTO:
He knew it was wrong, what he did.

PIRATE
#1: He's the boss. He can do what he wants.

PIRATE
#2: Boss or no, you don't raise your hands to another made guy.

CIFARETTO:
Rules are rules, otherwise what? Fuc*in' anarchy.

PIRATE:
#2: At the very least, Tony owes you an apology.

CIFARETTO:
…I could see if it was his daughter or a niece of his, but all this
over some dead whore.

(Later
at Thanksgiving dinner, Tony sees his daughter Meadow carry a pumpkin
pie. In a poignant moment of paternal introspection, he thinks of
when Tracee brought him a plate of bread in gratitude for giving
her advice on her son's health. [Tracee was slightly older than
Meadow.] It's an ephemeral moment, but it has an almost lachrymose
effect. Tracee was neither intellectually nor temperamentally similar
to Meadow, but she was a young woman just like Tony Soprano's daughter,
and that's commonality enough to disquiet him. He's a father, with
the instinctive apprehensions therein. Of course, he's also an adulterous,
murderous monster.)

Cifaretto
seeks the advice of Johnny Sack, a New York mobster relocated in
New Jersey:

SACK:
You want me to be frank? You brought this on yourself with that
girl.

CIFARETTO:
A) She was a whore, B) She hit me. (Pause.) And that wasn't my kid
she was carrying. (Sigh.) It was the fu*kin' coke, I shoulda never
started with that sh*t. Fu*kin' Miami, it's all over the place.
[Cifaretto had spent some time in Miami.]

Sack
has a meal with Tony, and they discuss The Cifaretto Question. He
suggests Tony make him a capo (captain) to resolve the bad
blood:

SOPRANO:
No fu*kin' way. Never. You heard what he did. That poor girl just
had a twentieth birthday!

SACK:
Capo's what he mentioned. I threw cold water on it right away. (Pause.)
But she was a whore Tony.

Sack
arranges a meeting between Cifaretto and Soprano where he makes
penance:

CIFARETTO:
I was doing a lot of coke. I said some things and I did some things
that I'm sorry for. It's not gonna happen again.

SOPRANO:
What'd you do?

CIFARETTO:
I was rude when you offered me the drink [at a casino early in the
episode – Cifaretto turned him down], and I disrespected The Bing
[the headquarters for Sopranos' crew]…and the girl. That shouldn't
have happened, but like I said, I was doing a lot of coke.

Episode
34 maintains Dr. Krakower's critique in the preceding episode. Cifaretto
uses his former cocaine abuse to mitigate and damn near exculpate
his murder of Tracee. (He won't even refer to her by name, just
"the girl," a nameless victim of his rage.) This is a
variant of the "patients [who] want to be excused for their
current predicament because of events that occurred in their childhood."
It also corresponds to David Chase's description of "The victim
society that we have, that we're developing. The society of non-accountability."
(Cifaretto may thus be termed a La Famiglia leftist.)

Episode
34 furthermore reveals Cifaretto and the gang to embrace a warped
libertarian ethic. They hold self-ownership sacrosanct when it comes
to a "made
guy
" (someone who is a member of an organized crime family);
Cifaretto displays an acute sensitivity to property rights after
Soprano punches him, joined by his cronies' stupefaction that the
boss would hit another made man.

Self-ownership
accrues to made men only, though. Cifaretto has immunity from aggression,
but non-made individuals such as Tracee may be savaged with impunity.

This
is a predatory version of caste. Underneath the prettification about
the Mafia code of honor, what the system boils down to is reducing
non-aristocrats (those who aren't a made man or related to one)
to expendable beings. (Note how the description of Tracee as a whore
has the intention of dehumanizing her.)

So,
it's not that Cifaretto and his ilk are oblivious to the importance
of self-ownership; they just don't think most people merit it. There
are Made Men, and there are Whores. Bear this binary in mind the
next time someone presents these wannabe nobles as men of honor.

April
20, 2001

Myles
Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Myles
Kantor Archives

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