Monday, September 27, 2010

Tony Soprano: Ethics vs Psychoanalysis

Anatidaephobia - The Fear That You are Being Watched by a Duck

This piece of useless info doing the rounds of Facebook made me think of Tony Soprano: “What are you looking at?” And, of course, he has ducks in his swimming pool which he has a sentimental/ symbolic attachment to. I’ve watched all 7 series of The Sopranos over the last few months, and Tony seems a classic Scorpio, in its most primitive form.

Tony gets panic attacks, and sees an analyst about them. He has to keep quiet about this or the other mobsters would see it as a sign of weakness. His relationship with his female analyst is fascinating. She ends up needing him as much as Tony needs her. At one point she is raped, and she has a dream in which a black dog saves her.
In the next analysis session, Scorpio Tony spots something is up and asks her what the problem is, and you see her moral struggle. She only has to say to Tony, and he will find the rapist and despatch him, for he is the protecting black dog. She wants to tell him, she wants his protection, but in the end she doesn’t tell him.

Tony’s analyst has an analyst herself, and he always keeps bringing the subject back to Tony. She accuses her analyst of having a tabloid interest in Tony, and she is right, but he won’t admit it.
He is a stereotype of the New York Jewish intellectual analyst, heady and disembodied. Both analysts occupy a ‘civilised’, rational world – Libra? – and Tony is the perfect shadow figure for them, that both fascinates and repels.

Tony acquires some self-understanding through the analysis (which goes on for years) but he becomes no less brutal, no less of a murderer. He can’t, for legal reasons, tell his analyst much of what he does. At one point he refers to a ‘manpower’ problem involving a member of his gang who he is related to. Tony’s analyst helps him see the feelings of guilt and sentimental attachment which are clouding his ability to think clearly and do what is necessary. The next thing you see is Tony heading off and despatching the guy, who has become a liability. This series of events seems quite plausible to me, and forcefully makes the point that successful psycho-analysis doesn’t necessarily make you more moral.

This theme arises earlier in the series when Tony’s wife Carmela goes to see an analyst because she is having problems with his serial infidelities (Tony has a strong desire nature which he never restrains – Scorpio again). This analyst is again Jewish, but of a very different cut. He speaks like an Old Testament prophet, taking a clear moral stance and denouncing the self-centred nature of modern analysis.
No, he will not accept money from her, because it is blood money. Carmela should leave her husband because he treats her very badly and will continue to do so. What Tony needs, the analyst continues, is to repent of his sins. He needs to be put in prison in solitary confinement with just the Bible to read, and after 7 years he might just see what he has done and repent.

This scene only lasted a few minutes, but I felt relief flooding through me as I heard it. The basis for personal transformation, according to this more old-fashioned viewpoint, is ethics, is considering the effects your actions have on others. Without that, you are just refining your own self-centredness. This point comes up again at the end when Tony’s analyst reads a study that describes psychopaths like Tony, and how the effect of psychoanalysis on such people is often to give them more tools with which to manipulate people and get their own way. (This study is for real: I have read it elsewhere.) At this point she finally gives up on Tony, and you are left with the realisation that for all his charm and his feelings for his wife and kids, and his attempts at understanding himself, Tony remains an unreformed monster.

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gawd_almighty said...

Yes, I wonder when ethics will make a comeback in conventional culture (apart from when they are used as a marketing/political ploy). It's about time. Meanwhile, this post made me think of monsters I have met (though much more civilised than Tony S, of course) who have learnt a lot about psychology in order to, basically, gain power over other people, by finding their Achille's heels, etc. They are always very smart, appear nice, and yet, deep down, are profoundly ruthless and cold.

Dharmaruci said...

Yes, I reckon many so-called 'spiritual teachers' are like this. Like that guy a year or two ago in the US who had people dying in his sweat lodge.

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Kenna J said...

"The basis for personal transformation, according to this more old-fashioned viewpoint, is ethics, is considering the effects your actions have on others. Without that, you are just refining your own self-centredness."

Haha, I love this! How perspicacious you are.