Thursday, June 20, 2013

Point of Personal Privilege: Death of James Gandolfini

I was taking my late-afternoon walk yesterday, switching channels on my XM radio, and happened to land on Shepard Smith of Fox "News" talking about "reports that caused jaws to drop in this studio...the untimely death of a giant of a man, people here looked at each other in disbelief, could this be true?"  I waited for maybe thirty seconds to find out exactly WHO this very important person whose death was so sudden and unexpected and shocking and then learned it was....

James Gandolfini.  A television and movie star.  Known by about 99 percent of the public solely for his work on The Sopranos.

I instantly realized that I would be unable to watch any of the news shows that night on Fox, MSNBC, or CNN, unless I wanted to be dragged through an endless Mobius strip of solemn-faced yakkers expressing shock and sadness that an actor on a show they all inexplicably worshiped had died.  Oh, and absolute SHOCK that an obese chain-smoker could die of a heart attack at the tender age of fifty-one.

(Sidebar:  Anyone who has any experience watching reports of celebrity deaths knows that events like heart attacks and car crashes are simply not supposed to happen to these Very Important People.  Those standard, boring ways of passing are reserved to us Mortals.  Dying in private plane crashes, ski accidents, or overdoses- that's fine.  Car crashes and heart attacks?  Please.  I give this 24 hours, tops, before we start hearing the James Gandolfini Was Murdered By The Mob rumors.)

Ok, back to the point of this particular rant:  Through it's entire run, I probably viewed less than half a dozen episodes of The Sopranos, and then only because I think a law was passed requiring that I do so, and being unable to slack off work to discuss the show the next day made one a Social Outcast.  My principle relationship with the show was that it convinced at least one new student a year to ask me why, being an Italian-American, I didn't belong to the Jersey Mob, because aren't ALL Italian-Americans in the Mob?

To me, James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano, feeding into every anti-Italian Stereotype that non-Italians have of Italians, always rubbed me the wrong way.  I tried to imagine the reaction if Denzel Washington played a Stephin Fetchit character on a cable tv series- and became the most popular, beloved character on TV for doing it.

No, I am not asking for Italian-Americans to comment on whether they found The Sopranos offensive.  I'm not trying to conduct a poll, and my distaste for the show and it's characterization of one-fourth of my heritage doesn't hinge on the opinions of others.  I'm just using my blog to explain why I am switching channels whenever I see a ponderous, pointless "tribute" to a guy who was basically playing Marlon Brando for HBO.  That's all.

Back to commercials tomorrow, I promise.


  1. I have never watched even a single episode of "The Sopranos". People always thought that was weird, but whatever.

    I liked Gandolfini for his not-Soprano roles. And the most shocking thing to me about his death was that about a week ago, I heard about him dying and it turned out to be one of those internet hoaxes. So I wasn't sure if I could believe this report or not.

  2. It probably isn't just you that's sort of annoyed that he made it big being Mr Stereotype. I bet most Italian Americans are as unmoved by his passing as this WASP is. He's a man who couldn't Stop Being Stereotypical, not anyone important.

    1. I might have posted if it had been some other actor who the media inexplicably decided deserved wall to wall coverage because they committed the very ordinary act of dying. I get very bored of being told that the nation (of which I am part) is "deeply saddened" by the death of a person I never met, didn't know, didn't contribute one iota to the overall betterment of society, and couldn't care less about. All the best to the Gandolfini family in their time of sorrow, but the same sentiment to the many, many people who lose loved ones who will not be accorded hours of public mourning on television.

  3. I remember all the trouble Andy Rooney got in when he got pissed off that no one stopped to remember someone who actually contributed to society while at the same time whining about how great a marksman Cobain was for shooting his brain cell out. Same damned deal.