The Sopranos, the author argues, is a reflection of a moral code which is prevalent in American society. This code, based on a twisted version of the American Dream, basically states that anything is acceptable as long as it furthers one's economic prosperity. No matter who gets hurt, or which laws are broken, as long as it benefits one personally, it is acceptable. Simon argues that the lead character, Tony Soprano, is a representative of the "power elite" in the United States; which also acts in a manner that is strictly for the benefit of themselves and with little regard for the collateral damage they cause. The moral code exemplified by the characters in the Sopranos is a representation of the twisted perversion of the American Dream which some, less honorable members of American society adapt; but unfortunately those members make up the most powerful and influential members of society.
The American Dream has always been to prosper without the interference of a government which wants to regulate and control. However, the American system has always regarded the rights of the individual of the highest priority, and therefore the government sometimes has a duty to protect it's citizens from the predations of other citizens. While Tony Soprano may feel that this interference limits his ability to achieve the American Dream, and thus simply ignores the laws, those laws are necessary to protect others from Tony Soprano.
Everyone in America deserves the chance to achieve the American Dream, regardless of "race, age, gender, class, or level of education." (Simon, 2002, p. 17) But Simon views the American Dream in terms of the Sopranos, and while he also defines it as "universal," he points out certain unattractive aspects of the American Dream. Simon claims that the American Dream is also oriented towards achievement, which is true, but asserts that in the Sopranos, and by extension American society, this orientation towards goals often clouds people's judgment, creating pressures which cause many to put the ends above the means. In other words, the American Dream's expectation that everyone can succeed puts pressure on people to do just that: succeed, at any cost and without regard for how one succeeds.
And success in America is often measured in terms of money, or "the fetishism of money" as the author calls it. (Simon, 2002, p. 17) As the wealth in the U.S. is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the "power elite," this inequality has altered the moral codes surrounding the acquisition of wealth. Tony Soprano, according to Simon, is a representation of this change in moral values, and reflects the new American morality which permeates the nation. Many Americans feel that as the wealthy hold all the money, all the power, and make the laws to benefit themselves, breaking the law is more an act of rebellion against an unjust system. Tony Soprano is a manifestation of this idea, he feels this way and rationalizes his own reprehensible behavior as part of what Simon calls "Good American Values." (Simon, 2002, p. 19)
As Tony Soprano justifies his actions in terms of a moral code which is represented in the real world by what Simon calls the "power elite," it is important to explain what the author means by this term. According to Simon, the "power elite" is more than just a conspiracy theory, but a fact. He makes an interesting case that it exists among the highest ranks of corporate America, the military, and within the political establishment. He also demonstrates how this group has actually caused harm to individual Americans. This group of elite operates by a uniquely beneficial code of moral ethics, one which the author demonstrates is selfish, harmful, and often illegal; one which Tony Soprano seems to operate by as well.
In a society that has unrealistic expectations of success, and an insufficient amount of means to obtain that success, people often become alienated and detached from society. This can take the form of entertainment, as the real world is difficult, people retreat to the realm of media and fiction. As they see what the media presents as "success," many often confuse the media's interpretation of morality and society with what is acceptable in real society. And America has always had a history of stories of heroes breaking the rules. During the 1800's dime novels detailing fictional accounts of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and the likes were one of the most common forms of entertainment. With the arrival of the motion picture, criminal activity was commonly a popular theme in films. One need only examine the careers of such Hollywood icons as James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart to see the impact of the criminal element of society on film.
With the invention of the television as a means of mass media, crime dramas became an almost instant feature on this new technology. From the beginning of television in the early 1950's, police dramas, stories of private detectives, mysteries, and other such programs have enticed the American viewing audience. While America recoils at the violence of the daily news, they are mesmerized by the fictional violence on television and in the movies. And as Simon points out in his book, "Media violence outpaces even the real violence in society. Movie and television role models have grown more violent since the 1950s." (Simon, 2002, p. 95) And he has a point, Tony Soprano is only the latest incarnation of this manifestation of violence in America.
David Simon does a good job of presenting the moral code of Tony Soprano; a code which allows for any action, no matter how harmful to others, as long as it brings financially benefits in line with success as defined by one particular interpretation of the American Dream. As a depiction of the "power elite," Simon does a good job explaining how the Sopranos are a fictional representation of real people in the real world who actually operate by the same morals; and these people are not considered "criminals" like Tony Soprano, but legitimate and influential members of society. He also has asserts that American history is replete with examples of outlaws and criminal, glorified by the media of the time. But there is a major difference between media violence; violence in movies and on television, and real life.
While many immature and selfish members of society may look to media violence, and the glorification of criminals in the movies and on television, the majority of American citizens do not accept this type of self-serving violent code of morals. The ends may justify the means to some in America, but not that many; David Simon fails to mention another aspect of American society, good old fashioned justice. While that may seem an anachronistic ideal, American history is also filed with good, decent characters who obeyed the rules, fought against those who would not, and usually ended up winning in the end. Great Americans like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Elliott Ness have also been glorified in the media along side with criminals like Al Capone and Charlie Luciano. The media may glorify criminals, but they also glorify lawmen who risk their lives, against insurmountable odds, and through sheer determination and a belief in what is right, come out victorious in the end.
Part II (Answer to question #2)
Tony Sopranos moral code is unacceptable in any society, let alone American society. His code of ethics may be used everyday by those in powerful positions around the globe, but that does not mean that anyone should take their actions as "acceptable" or imitate them. And while the media may continue to glorify such criminals as Tony Soprano, and the American public may tune in by the millions to watch, the majority of those watching will not imitate this type of morality or behavior. It is one thing to discuss, theorize, postulate, and explore the infinite possibilities of such subjects, it is quite another to actually beat a young prostitute to death in a parking lot. Most Americans simply do not have that kind of sociopath indifference and lack of conscience.
It is true that in a sense Tony Soprano is a good provider for his family, he lives in an upper class neighborhood, his neighbors are doctors and other such members of the wealthier class. He is a kind of celebrity among those he lives with, but at the same time it is infamy which makes him a celebrity. Tony Soprano causes much harm to others in his quest for wealth and security for his family. As Simon states this harm comes in three principle forms: physical, economic, and moral harm. The physical harm Tony and his "business" cause directly effect people like "small business owners Tony and his men shake down, the citizens who suffer the effects of the drug trade around them, [and] the truck drivers beaten or killed for the goods they're hauling…"…