A Silent Majority
Jude Wanniski
March 27, 2001


To: Cyberspace
From: Jude and Patricia Wanniski
Re: The Soprano Rape Scene Feedback

Jude’s memo last week about the graphic rape scene in “The Sopranos” generated a terrific amount of email. The responses really ran the gamut. Some were derisive, ranging from “I had nightmares” to “you must really be slow to see garbage” to “gee, can’t you take a simple plot twist?” Naturally, some screamed “First Amendment!” rights and privileges. A few, appropriately enough, were profanity-laden. We’re talking “Sopranos” watchers here. One email sender took an informal survey of his fellow seminarians, and put forth the idea that it was “the most ‘moral’ and Christianity-affirming story they had seen in popular culture in a very long time,” since Lorraine Bracco’s character didn’t immediately demand Tony Soprano whack her rapist. “In other words, Dr. Melfi made a conscious, moral decision not to seek revenge on her rapist, but to forgive him instead.” Interesting theory, but I don’t think it will pan out as a forgiveness theme, and there are, I think, better ways to introduce more moral ambiguity to Dr. Melfi in terms of plot device. Several helpful souls told us we’d have to cancel HBO through our cable provider, just in case I didn’t know. We even received a note from a white supremacist blaming black America for the downfall of culture in this country. Most writers, though, affirmed the idea that a higher standard, a gold standard, is necessary, and how they’d created their own cultural gold standard.

This gives me hope. I really had been depressed last week, thinking about the rape scene, and the fact that so many people seemed not only to shrug it off, but to applaud it as grand theater. More depressing was a report in the New York Daily News that Ms. Bracco had asked for such a trauma to her character in order to grow as an actress. Is this really growth? A reviewer in the same paper discussed the episode in detail after the first airing, gleefully reporting that he’d known about the rape scene, but didn’t want to “spoil the fun” of the surprise of it. Fun? The News did run a Kay Gardella review decrying the state of television viewing in general, which took David Chase and “The Sopranos” to task, however briefly. One thought that does console me is that at least it’s not TV, it’s HBO. So though it’s available to the general public, there is an extra cost involved in watching. And, as was pointed out to us, we don’t have to be a subscriber. Much of the correspondence Jude received via the Internet recounted stories of similar epiphanies with HBO, and television, and the movies. We haven’t been to a movie theater in almost two years, since I dragged Jude to see Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace. And the industry wonders why the theater chains are filing for bankruptcy. The silent majority stays away rather than watches some of the tripe being proffered at your local cinema.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating a return to the dark ages (as one email suggested), but the golden ages of the mass media. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when you could trust television, no matter what was on the tube. Remember Walter Cronkite? There was a time when most of television comedy was actually funny, without resorting to sexual innuendo or crudity. It’s available on Nickelodeon and TVland. (I’m keeping the cable access.) There was a time when television drama covered just such social issues as rape seriously and thoughtfully, leading to discussion instead of disgust. These shows are on the networks now: CBS’s “The District” and NBC’s “Law and Order,” to cite two. Interestingly, these air an hour later in our viewing area than “The Sopranos.” Government really can’t regulate these industries, and I’m not sure that it would be a good idea, anyway. But the public can, and the longer the silent majority stays silent, the further we will sink into the muck.

The golden rule means do unto others. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. I’ll be hopeful for a gold standard in all ways, monetarily, morally and cinematically. I’m sure, though, it will take a while. That’s okay; I’ll wait. I just won’t be watching HBO in the meantime. One fellow emailed earlier this week and wanted to know what I thought of this Sunday’s episode. He just assumed that we didn’t mean it when we said we would no longer watch. Well, sir, we meant it. We don’t watch “The Sopranos.” That’s our start to the gold standard.