The Sopranos: The Present Evil Age on HBO

3500171969.jpgFrom the days of the early Medieval theater, Satan and his demons- in whatever contemporary guise they appear – have been the most alluring characters on stage or film. Representing the world of this Present Evil Age in all its “glory”, Satan speaks the vernacular while the other characters speak Latin.

             Subsequent Satans use the hippest of contemporary lingo, whether ethnic sub-culture or academic post-modern. Satan knows the latest songs and jokes; he is wise to the ways of the real world. He is no chump. His clothing and house look like those of our dreams, only better.

            So from the Italian “sopra” for above, we have the Soprano family of HBO. Anthony is the head and, like all of Satan’s manifestations, we can relate to Tony in his worldly hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, and frustrations. He, the false prophet, is made to look like Everyman to engender his audiences empathy, trust, and faith. N. T. Wright observes, that “the trouble with false prophets is of course that they seem very nice, very reasonable, very trustworthy.” And as with every Satan in stage and screen history, only when the curtain falls or the credits roll, may we begin to regain a perspective on them and their cohorts, to begin to see sin as sin, evil and evil, and Satan as the Enemy.

         This year The Sopranos ends and some fascinated viewers are preparing to put the latest batch of our evil neighbors into perspective. The best so far is by Ross Douthat, in his essay “Lost and Saved on Television” in the May 2007 issue of First Things. Here is a sample:

 “The Sopranos is a show about what it means to go to hell….The Sopranos dares. . .to explore the terrible banality of evil, depicting ordinary people held prisoner by their habits and appetites who choose hell instead of heaven over and over again, not with a satanic flourish but with an all-American sense of entitlement. Sin is never glamorized or aestheticized: The violence is brutal rather than operatic, the fornications and adulteries are panting and gross rather than titillating. The characters’ sins breed even physical dissolution: obesity, ulcers, hemorrhoids, constipation, cancer. The show offers a vision of hell as repetition, ultimately, in which the same pattern of choices (to take drugs, to eat and drink to excess, to rob and steal and bully and murder) always reasserts itself, and the chain mail of damnation—in which no sin is an island, and gluttony is linked to violence, sloth to greed, and so on—slowly forges itself around the characters’ souls.”

             In HBO’s celebrated dramatization of life in the Present Evil Age circa beginning of the 21st Century, few, if any, invasions of God’s Kingdom have been evident. And those few proved corrupt. Saint Anthony is the patron of lost things; Anthony Soprano is the very picture of a modern lost soul: evil has taken over everyone and everything. The Strong Man is unbound and everyone is his captive. Life without the Savior. A portrait of Hell.

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