June 12, 2007

The "Sopranos" gender difference issue.

I'm seeing the same thing in two different places this morning, so let me bring it to your attention. (Only very mild spoilers ahead.) Here's Stephen Bainbridge:
I think the ending was absolutely in keeping with the tenor of a show that's about family and rarely offered closure (just like life itself).

In contrast, my good wife is seriously annoyed with the lack of closure. (Not unlike Dave's wife.) Is that a gender difference?
And James Wigderson says: "Jessica McBride is out to prove WISN-AM's Mark Belling wrong that women aren't analytical enough to truly appreciate the Sopranos."

So, various guys are reporting that it was the wives who were hoping for a big climax? Hmmmm... my thinking just got completely derailed! Staying with it all that time and not getting a climax in the end.... why does that especially piss off women?

Back on track: It surprises me that women are the ones who were watching for the bloody outbursts, and that men were the ones examining the complex details. Or, to put it slightly differently: Do women want a story arc and "closure," and do men feel satisfied swirling around in an open-textured narrative? Obviously, self-reporting from the marital sofa is not scientific, and even if we had a scientific study, it would generalize and there would be individual variation. But what if this gender difference is true? Would it not challenge the usual assumptions that men take to violence and linear thinking and that women are more multidimensional and interested in relationships?

The show is the creation of a man, David Chase. Alan Sepinwall has an interview with him, which has this:
I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he says of the final scene.

"No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he adds. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them."...

Chase has had an ambivalent relationship with his fans, particularly the bloodthirsty whacking crowd who seemed to tune in only for the chance to see someone's head get blown off (or run over by an SUV)....

"... Like everyone else, I get off partly on the betrayals, the retributions, the swift justice. But what you come to realize when you do a series is you could be killing straw men all day long. Those murders only have any meaning when you've invested story in them. Otherwise, you might as well watch 'Cleaver.'"
Of course, whatever ending he decided on has got to seem right to him, so he's on the side of those who are not angry at the ending. Yet he's not saying you shouldn't expect your investment in the story to pay off in violence. But it seems to be the case that hating the ending means that you didn't get the show. And if you realize that you didn't get the show this late in the game, after watching the equivalent of 40 movies, you really do have reason to be angry... though perhaps you should be angry at yourself.

22 comments:

vet66 said...

Unbelievable!

For once the guys go with the 'foreplay' and the women want closure in a big climax.

We can't win!

NSC said...

Unbelievable!

For once the guys go with the 'foreplay' and the women want closure in a big climax.

We can't win!


And we never will.

Telecomedian said...

Perhaps women wanted closure because these characters were so dispicable, so vile, for so long, they *wanted* to see justice pervail. If not by the law, then at least poetically.

Most guys watched this show secretly playing along, pretending they were mob hotshots, hanging out at stripclubs and spending money like it has no consequence. What red-blooded male didn't want to be Christopher when Adrianna was nearby? Or Tony with any one of his conquests (though the one-legged Russian would have flipped me out)? For men, it was a fantasy, and we like knowing that the fantasy might continue on.

Few women watched the show and though "wow, I wish *I* could be as manipulative as Janice!" or "if only I could live in denial like Carm!"

Hence, boys want the story to go on; women wanted it done.

ricpic said...

Could it be that both sexes watched the show because it was light years ahead of the competition in terms of a "Wow, this is real, this is the way life is," reaction?

vet66 said...

Tele:

Irving Berlin had it right! The Sopranos is an adaptation of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN! It is always about:

GUNS!
BUNS!
PUNS!

Was it good for you!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'm a pretty analytical woman (I have to be in my line of work) and I was teed-off mainly because I thought.....what a colossal waste of time. Years in the making and no resolution. Multitudes of dangling plot threads that got picked up and dropped along the way.

I wasn't looking for anyone to die, for the big wipe out. I just wanted to have an end to it.

My other thought was that the long black silence was symbolic of Toni Soprano's mothers philosophy.

"It's all a big nothing."

Which is about what I feel about the show.

PWS said...

I agree with those who state the ending is leaving space for the viewer. I think this is a characteristic of great art; some room for the consumer of the art.

Remember the end of Lost in Translation when Bill Murray's character says something to Johanson at the end and the audience never finds out what it is? That's another example where the viewer can imagine several different things he might have said. (Of course there is more closure there because they parted, etc.) It takes the narrative to a different qualitative level.

The moment when Tony looks up and what happens next promotes a feeling.

Chase wants to be known more for being an "artist"; creating a feeling.

(Aren't abstract art paintings also similar? It produces more of a subjective feeling rather than an objective resolution.)

Invisible Man said...

My girlfriend and I have had big disagreements for years about closure in cinema and television shows. I've never attributed those arguments necessarily to gender differences, but for instance on Lost which we have both been big fans from the start, she can't stand the meandering plot while I typically just sit back and enjoy the ride. She definitely prefers the bad guy gets his/good guy lives happily ever after dynamic which to me is just stale writing.

I loved the last Sopranos which probably puts me in a minority of even the men that watched the show. I just can't relate to the notion that this was just some Scarface-ripoff where we were supposed to get Tony Soprano high on coke with 2 machine guns getting pumped full of lead by his adversaries. I've always seen the show as much more than that, so the ending revolving around just the tension of living the life he does was enough for me.

mythusmage said...

Way back when ninja were the big thing a fellow once told me why he wasn't into the whole ninja thing. Said he, "They kill people for money."

If only organized crime had that level of honor.

The Sopranos romanticised emotionally stunted overaged frat boys with advanced tertiary syphilis and alcohol withered brains. Ersatz Sicilian bandit hill tribes in overpriced boardroom drag. Delusional sociopaths and lackwit tools.

Folks, you were lead around by the nose in a self-inflicted drunken stupor, then you got a caffeine colonic. The emperor was not only naked, his boils were dripping and his schlong eaten away by Gonorrhea. All put together in a package that was about as realistic as a Kuzinich cabinet.

Give it three years and people will be using the DVDs for coasters.

Roses may grow from crap, but so do weeds.

Doyle said...

But it seems to be the case that hating the ending means that you didn't get the show.

I don't know about all that. I liked the ending but don't think disliking it means you didn't "get" the show.

The show was great, but it was basically a mob/family drama. Not the kind of thing you can really fail to "get," IMO.

Smilin' Jack said...

We who have gotten sucked into "Lost" can only envy Sopranos fans their completely clear and satisfying ending. Our show has now gotten so twisted that it cannot end any other way than "Suddenly he woke up. It had all been a dream!" I hope the writers have a good place to hide when that show airs.

Terry said...

I'm a woman who is OK with the ending. Not only does life go on, but it goes on with danger all around, suspicion of every stranger, tension, tension, tension. Real life for the Sopranos is never going to be "normal." But, eh, waddya gonna do?

Thorley Winston said...

We who have gotten sucked into "24" can only envy Sopranos fans their completely clear and satisfying ending. Our show has now gotten so twisted that it cannot end any other way than "Suddenly he woke up. It had all been a dream!"

Fixed it for you.

Seriously with the exception of the mercifully brief introduction of Nikki and Paulo, Season 3 has been one of the best so far and the season finale mind-blowing.

Now if someone could just get the network to quit fracking with the schedule and start promoting the show, we can enjoy the final three seasons.

B said...

Sorry to compare the Sopranos to the Gilmore Girls, but they both basically ended the same - life goes on, some things get "closure" - is that a real word? -, most other parts of life, not.

My wife and I loved both show's endings - they were just like my real life: one week a dear older relative is dying and your oldest daughter breaks up with her college boyfriend of 4 years. The next week your second daughter presents you with your first grandson while you're finishing funeral plans for your close uncle.

Life just isn't tidy.

And that's a good thing.

John Stodder said...

Years in the making and no resolution. Multitudes of dangling plot threads that got picked up and dropped along the way.

I don't begrudge anybody their opinion, but this perception of the show is taking hold as received wisdom, and it's a myth.

Yes, there were a few dangling plot thread deliberately left unresolved, but that was their inherent payoff. Some of these characters had so much unfinished business in their lives, they could never relax.

But more to the point, there was lots of resolution, throughout the series and including the final episode. The slowly tightening Phil vs. Tony arc that began way back when Steve Buscemi's character killed Phil's brother was completely resolved. Another story arc, the relationship between Uncle Jun and Tony, reached a kind of resolution with Tony finally convinced that by the time Junior shot him, he was deluded. The scene between them in the mental facility was the real "last scene" of the show, and it was a great one.

We now know what's going to happen with AJ and Meadow. It's bleak news. They have both, in different ways, been corrupted by their parents' expedient values. The honesty both of them had as younger kids is now replaced by a willful blindness.

The real story about the Sopranos is how Chase & co. had the time to allow stories to resolve themselves more naturally, unfolding the way our own stories do, the meaning of events changing through time, having completely unexpected consequences. Or, sometimes, no consequences.

If, as some argue, the close of show black out meant Tony died -- sure, why not? But it could have just as easily happened from choking on an onion ring as from an arranged hit. Either way, it wouldn't have "resolved" anything, because Tony's death would not be because he suffocated Chrissy, or because he lied repeatedly to his wife, or because his mother screwed up his childhood, or because he was a criminal. He would have died because he lived -- as we all will. Whattayagonnado.

Seven Machos said...

I wish that I could short mythusmage's position...

Joe Hogan said...

As a man who liked the Sopranos ending very much, I suppose I confirm Bainbridge's theory. However, I'd like to offer some contrary evidence to the proposition that men were more satisfied than women in the ending.

Yesterday I had occasion to watch several of the late afternoon ESPN shows in which sports reporters from various media, all men, blare their opinions about everything sportif. On every show the Sopranos ending was a topic of discussion and the vast majority of these men hated the ending.

Like most sports fans in America, who are predominantly male, these guys live and die by events which provide clear winners and losers. Ties in sports have systematically been eliminated from even hockey and soccer over the years.

If one were to posit the contrary view, that there is some uniquely male need for clear resolution, there is evidence aplenty in the sporting world.

unreasonable said...

Do women want a story arc and "closure," and do men feel satisfied swirling around in an open-textured narrative?

If women care more about the characters as people, presumably they will feel a greater desire to find out what happened to them.

If men are more analytic, they will presumably care more about why things happen, than about what things happen.

Steve S said...

Let's see...among my friends surveyed, I count 3 males and 2 females liked the ending, while 1 male and 2 females disliked the ending.

Thus I shall conclude that men liked it better than women.

Wow, being a statistician is fun!

dave in boca said...

The Sopranos ended a bit like Goodfellas, which is a template for a lot of the soap-opera Jersey drama. Liotta living in some endless loop of witness-protection boredom instead of a Hamlet-style orgasmic wipe-out.

The Sopranos reflects the eternal-return humanistic philosophy of the Mediterranean instead of the chiliastic messianism of the Near East, with a Day of Doom and Last Judgement.
[pace Aristotle and Livia Soprano]

amba said...

Could it be that both sexes watched the show because it was light years ahead of the competition in terms of a "Wow, this is real, this is the way life is," reaction?

Well, that was my reaction. I'm a woman.

You could say women like happy endings and moral comeuppances, but when I wrote "Tony's dead," more than one man wrote to me saying, "Not at all." I thought maybe men were more sanguine about believing life went on -- from my point of view, better at denial.

And I've heard a lot of men damning Tony Soprano in no uncertain terms, as if he were a real gangster and not a fictional character it was okay to have mixed feelings about. Surprisingly many women think Carmela is far more despicable than the men.

In short, I don't think reactions to the ending are predictable by gender. It has more to do with your tolerance for ambiguity, and damned if I know what accounts for that.

As time passes I think more and more that this was the perfect ending, because if Chase had chosen among possible resolutions it would have meant choosing among the many strands and moods that were equally important components of the show -- sociopathy and transcendence and comedy and tragedy and nihilism and redemption. Ending it as he did left all those strands equally important, and people project on the blank screen whichever strand appeals to their temperament and outlook -- not their gender.

LutherM said...

We have been betrayed by David Chase.
Maureen Dowd writes, "Mr. Chase, an apocalyptic tease, gave us a gimmicky and unsatisfying film-school-style blackout for an end to his mob saga, a stunt one notch above “It was all a dream.” It was the TV equivalent of one of those design-your-own-mug places."
Dowd goes on to say, "we deserved some revelation better.."
So, ignoring the betrayal, when ANN writes, "hating the ending means that you didn't get the show," Daymon Runyon's comment applies, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and them's pretty good odds."