Thursday, June 20, 2013
The Sopranos is profitably read as a meditation on the end of ethnic America, at least as ethnicity was defined in the 20th century. For decades, people believed in ethnic essentialism, the idea that character traits, intelligence, work habits, you name it, were essentially fixed based on country of origin. That belief is essential to racism and explains why for much of the 20th century, immigration quotas were based on where you came from. It helped explain why ruling elites with ties to Britain or northern European countries rigged the scale in favor of their ancestral homelands and why so many people are freaked out today by mostly Mexican immigrants. Despite constantly rising rates of inter-marriage and a glorious mongrelizing of Americans, too many people believed that ethnicity was, in the profoundly mistaken parlance of Michael Novak, "unmeltable." This belief in essentialism was not only a negative thing, not only a way of building walls; it also allowed for the creation of ethnic-based community and cultural power, of course.
A thoughtful reflection on the show. -ts