A Deliberate Design

My articles on The Sopranos have prompted several readers to query whether Dr. Krakower's smackdown in Episode 33 is linked to Sopranos creator David Chase. After some net-hunting, I'm pleased to report that Krakower and other remarkable aspects manifest a direct nexus to Chase.

Recall that Dr. Krakower criticized American psychiatry for catering to the victim-identities of volition-impaired patients. These are strong words, for sure (as well as sound ones). In an interview with HBO, Chase has this to say:

…I think it [The Sopranos] describes American materialism. American…psychobabble. The victim society that we have, that we're developing. The society of non-accountability. You know, the rugged Yankee American guy, who doesn't really seem to exist anymore. So in that sense it's an American phenomenon. But then I go to Europe and I hear the same things. That it's a welfare state and half the people are on the dole and nobody takes responsibility, you hear the same thing all over.

Chase may not have written Episode 33 (Lawrence Konner did), but Krakower strikes this viewer as the embodiment of his sentiments: "Many patients want to be excused for their current predicament because of events that occurred in their childhood. That's what psychiatry has become in America. Visit any shopping mall or ethnic pride parade to witness the results." He is a refined conduit of the creator's attitude.

Chase has elsewhere commented on the moral indeterminacy in modern psychiatry. When asked in a Salon interview if Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) appreciates her patient's (Tony Soprano's) criminal nature, he answered: "She absolutely understands, but to admit it to herself would be to have to confront the question of why would you bother trying to help someone like that. There is a squiggly kind of morality going on right there in the therapist's office."

Chase's criticism of American materialism also appears in Episode 33. When Carmela visits her daughter Meadow at her dorm room, she notices a book on the shelf. We are transiently shown its indistinct cover: Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, a perfect book since Meadow's conspicuous consumption incarnate. (Krakower's mall-critique is prefigured here. Don't worry, I'm not going to dispute Meadow's right to make vacuous purchases. It is an individual's sovereign discretion to blow his or her money on the latest DKNY.)

(Speaking of books, comrade Gene Healy has reminded me that Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia appears in an episode from last season. I'm convinced this is the Rosetta Stone to The Sopranos, even if I haven't cracked it.)

In another context, the song I found so significant in Episode 32 (The Kinks's "Living on a Thin Line") also appears to be a Chase-based technique. (Ok, this isn't exactly a discovery. The slick use of A3's "Woke Up This Morning" in the series' opening credits gives that away, in addition to the production of a Sopranos soundtrack. He explains in the HBO interview:

…I've always been inspired by music. I listen to music while I'm trying to think of ideas and I just like it. So even from the beginning I said we really need to have a good music budget. And originally people said u2018Why, I don't get it, what do you mean music budget?' And now I think they see it. It creates a tremendous mood and it also creates a sense of contemporaneity.

(For another masterful marriage of screen and song, see Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" in Michael Mann's Heat. Overlook the relativistic circumstance of its placement. Hear a sample of it here.

Far from a valorization of American wallowing and Armani-cloaked aggression, The Sopranos has proven to be a quite traditional, mindful rejection of ethical anemia and well-attired thuggery.

Note: Krakower's critique recurs in Episode 34, to be discussed.

April 17, 2001

Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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