Books are dead, nobody’s reading anymore. That’s not strictly true (what about the kindle you might ask?!) but as we are all aware, there are less people reading for pleasure than say, a hundred years ago. While many people will bemoan the perceived drop in intelligence our globe has suffered over the past century, it’s hardly a surprise. The magical invention of television has attributed to this, but shock horror (coming from an English Lit graduate) I dont think this is a bad thing at all.
The problem I had when studying literature was that I found it difficult to conjure an original reaction to whatever I was involved with. Yes, it would be my reaction, but I found that it was near impossible to say something which hadn’t been said before. Now most texts that have stood the test of time have had a chunk of time to be appreciated and discussed – so this would be fairly obvious.
I don’t think the current age of television indicates a drop in intelligence at all though. Sure, for every season of The Wire we have endless seasons of Big Brother in about 200 languages, but there are some truly original, brilliant works of art on our screens, and I dont think we give them enough credit as they are aired on the idiot box. I’m ignoring film completely here – this medium is given (and rightly so) enough attention as it is.
The genre to have flourished in this age of technology has to be comedy. Let’s face it, things are funnier on screen. Jokes have been around for god knows how long, but neither Alan Partridge nor David Brent would be as funny ‘on paper’. Someone who makes a living from being funny, but relies on the stupidity and banality of everyday telly (soaps, reality shows, cooking programmes etc) is Harry Hill. I think he is far too underated – he is not in the same vain as the intelligent, perhaps more serious comedians – Gervais, Coogan, Brand et al., but his astute appreciation for the visual indulgences that the majority of the country turn to for light relief after a hard day at work, cannot be undermined.
Right, I digress again. Originality is the main focus of this post. I find it much easier to comment and debate things in the here and now, TV for instance, as they are relevant to me, and whilst this is blindingly obvious, there are some nuggets of gold out there that will be looked upon as canonical works of art, once they have had the chance to stand their ‘test’ of time. The Sopranos for example – I am convinced, that in 100 years time, it will be hailed as one of the greatest works of art of this past century. This is maybe due to the cinematic detail which previous TV seasons hadn’t had (each episode is nearly an hour long, and looks, sounds & feels like a film in its own right) – but it is original, daring, brutal, honest, beautiful, developed. I could go on forever with adjectives, the entire 6 seasons need to be watched in their entirity for David Chase’s genius to be fully realised.
If you take an hour or so to trawl through internet pages and forums, you’ll see that there are a large number of educated, passionate followers of the Sopranos, who go into Tony’s antics in as much depth as critics do with Chaucer. Indeed these modern critics, who albeit have too much time on their hands one could argue, deal with parts of the show in the same way that scholars look into literature. Themes, motifs, character development, philosophy, ideology and contextual importance are some of the things widely debated by Sopranos fans, in the same vain as one would discuss literature. One uber-fan published a dissertation sized argument to back up his claim that the final scene of the Soprano’s (which famously fades to black) shows Tony’s death – at http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/. The detail he goes into is extraordinary, some would argue bordering on psychotic, but it is the least this groundbreaking series deserves. It should, and deservedly has, been discussed in frantic depth. As the author notes, ‘those final few minutes of the final episode is the truly the greatest scene in the history of medium; a scene constructed as a culmination of 8 years and 86 hours of epic storytelling. Chase created that scene for the fans of the show who were willing to dig beneath the surface and see exactly how much thought and creativity went into every tiny detail of this show.’ A show, that the New York Times hailed as ‘the greatest work of popular culture of the past quarter century’ in 1999.
The shows final scene opens with Tony entering a diner. The context behind this of course is that in the episodes leading up to this scene, an all out war had been waged by Phil Leotardo, head of the New York mob, and Tony’s main rival. After killing off a chunk of Tony’s mafia ‘family’, the concern for Tony, and his blood family’s safety becomes the main thrust behind the plot leading up to the end. His wife, Carmela, joins him in the diner, followed by his son A.J. We see his daughter Meadow trying to park, and failing (apparently symbolic) twice, but succeeding on the third try. Just as she is about to walk through the door, Tony looks up and the screen goes blank. People all over the US thought their TV sets had cut out when the millions of viewers sat down to watch the last ever Sopranos episode, but this was all intentional. The reasoning for this is that the screen going blank signifies Tony’s death. Without giving too much away (and I haven’t, this information alone doesn’t ruin or hinder any viewing pleasure whatsoever) the assertion that Tony dies is one of massive debate. The fact that Chase doesn’t explicitly reveal anything leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions, but as Chase noted in an interview, ‘its all there if you watch it’.
Without trying to turn this into a reveal all about Soprano’s fan’s interpretations about the show as a whole, it just goes to show how much artistry has gone behind a creation in this medium. I fully believe that this show deserves to be discussed in the same vain as Kafka’s The Trial, or the Beatles’ Revolver. Give the article a read if you’ve seen the show, it’s an interesting read to say the least. If you’ve never seen the show, go and get the first season, it’ll be more than worth it.