The role of bystanders

#1
Following on from RichJCrouch's motorcycle thread, can anyone think of times during the Sopranos where the role of bystanders seemed a little odd?
In series one, when Mickey throws the drug seller off the bridge, there is a group of black youths at the end of the bridge, which Mickey pays off as he leaves. There presence seemed unnecessary. Then when Phil was killed there was another group of black youths looking on, one of which vomited, which seemed an unusual reaction!! Then of course, there was the scene outside the Bing with the motorcyclist, when everybody was looking on ooohhing and aaahhing, which once again seemed unusual and unnecessary. Were the onlookers supposed to represent something or someone?

Re: The role of bystanders

#2
Seems likely to me that there are probably a substantial number of viewers who identify more with the happenstance bystander- versus particular regular characters. Sometimes even i, usually obsesssed or following every move of various regulars, sometimes step back from it- outside of the scene, and stand in the shoes of the vicarious onlooker.

i mean think about it- if i just happened to be at that gas station- in real life, and accidentally witnessed a stranger's head get squashed like a melon- i might vomit too. Remember that those onlookers have no idea who Phil Leotardo is.

i think Chase uses those moments to keep the show anchored. Pull us out of the "insider-ness" of it. Bring it back to seeing the micro-world of the Sopranos and their gangsters in context of the larger whole worldview of average, regular people. It actually serves, imo, to remind us that these mobsters, as endearing as they have become to most of us, are really operating far outside the socially acceptable standards of most of humanity.

In addition, maybe Chase has often used the "African American males" character in the bystander role to remind us how that group so often has historically been marginalized unfairly, denied really- the ability to just be an innocent bystander.

The usual automatic response when there were black males in the vicinity of some crime was/is often- how are they connected to it? Around here, in California, there is a lot of controversy over racial profiling, especially when cops immediately start flagging down cars with black drivers after some crime is reported in the vicinity- even if there was no witness ID of a black man involved.

(Not to pull your interesting thread off-topic to the dreaded subject- but here goes):

Think carefully and fairly: When the black males came into the Holsten's diner scene- did anyone wonder about if they were up to something suspicious? Could they be there to get Tony? Or maybe they were just coming in to get onion rings, pastries or ice cream like everyone else.

Another implication (or just another Chase tease to heighten the tension): Were they yet again- more innocent bystanders to a hit?

Re: The role of bystanders

#3
We the audience of the show and our voyeurism are, I'd say, represented at various points by audiences within the show. The crowd who sees Phil get killed and the other who watches Sil get killed for example. Also, Mink trying unsuccessfully to get the ketchup out (which I think is straightforward symbolism for blood) while sneaking a peek at the nude strippers on the (security) TV screen. Also, the conversation where AJ snipes that Carmine makes porn and Tony's defense, "He made Cleaver." I took as a suggestion that maybe Cleaver and porn are the same thing. If you've ever seen The Godfather on basic cable by the way, it's funny that they excise the shot of Apollonia's breasts on her wedding night a short while after they let us see Sonny get massacred at the toll booth. Way to protect the kids!

Anyway, I think Chase looks at our paradoxical feelings - entertained/disgusted by the violent scenes. As Chase gives us the almost absurd destruction of Phil Leotardo, we see an audience both watching in curiosity and puking. I think Chase's treatment of us the audience is understood better with his interviews talking about people essentially using Tony as their alter ego, yet also wanting to punish and kill him. Agent Harris, working for the FBI that's supposed to catch the bad guys also ends up merging his identity with them in "We're gonna win this thing!" The FBI is earlier depicted as a TV audience watching Bobby's funeral on monitors. Perhaps that and Agent Harris's slip all adds up to a reflection of our paradoxical feelings. We the audience watching on our own monitors are illogically, simultaneously rooting for Tony as "we" yet also for him to face justice. (Maybe this is too much of a stretch but the FBI listening to Tony talking to George leads right into the sit-down that recalls Cleaver further mixing our pursuit of justice against Tony with our salacious tastes.) So maybe that final scene is us waiting to see Tony's blood unaware like Agent Harris that we've already invested our identity in him. As we already saw happen to an FBI agent, Tony is already "we". And look at us... if it was as hard for Tony to walk away from the world of the Sopranos as it is for me to stop talking about the show, then absolutely I identify with his addiction. It's fun! Wheeeeeeeee.......

Re: The role of bystanders

#5
turangawaewae wrote: Then when Phil was killed there was another group of black youths looking on, one of which vomited, which seemed an unusual reaction!!


You make some excellent points, and I really think there is something in this. I will expand a bit further later on.

The scene I left in the quote is one I found to be totally strange, and completely out of sync with the Sopranos.

The way the guy kind of went 'ooh shit' reminded me of either a Budweiser commercial or Scary Movie.

Budweiser

Scary Movie

Image


The pic from Scary Movie is very similar to the shot when Phils head is squashed.

Re: The role of bystanders

#6
badabellisima wrote:Seems likely to me that there are probably a substantial number of viewers who identify more with the happenstance bystander- versus particular regular characters. Sometimes even i, usually obsesssed or following every move of various regulars, sometimes step back from it- outside of the scene, and stand in the shoes of the vicarious onlooker.

i mean think about it- if i just happened to be at that gas station- in real life, and accidentally witnessed a stranger's head get squashed like a melon- i might vomit too. Remember that those onlookers have no idea who Phil Leotardo is.

i think Chase uses those moments to keep the show anchored. Pull us out of the "insider-ness" of it. Bring it back to seeing the micro-world of the Sopranos and their gangsters in context of the larger whole worldview of average, regular people. It actually serves, imo, to remind us that these mobsters, as endearing as they have become to most of us, are really operating far outside the socially acceptable standards of most of humanity.

In addition, maybe Chase has often used the "African American males" character in the bystander role to remind us how that group so often has historically been marginalized unfairly, denied really- the ability to just be an innocent bystander.

The usual automatic response when there were black males in the vicinity of some crime was/is often- how are they connected to it? Around here, in California, there is a lot of controversy over racial profiling, especially when cops immediately start flagging down cars with black drivers after some crime is reported in the vicinity- even if there was no witness ID of a black man involved.

(Not to pull your interesting thread off-topic to the dreaded subject- but here goes):

Think carefully and fairly: When the black males came into the Holsten's diner scene- did anyone wonder about if they were up to something suspicious? Could they be there to get Tony? Or maybe they were just coming in to get onion rings, pastries or ice cream like everyone else.

Another implication (or just another Chase tease to heighten the tension): Were they yet again- more innocent bystanders to a hit?



I think you have a point here, but I'm not 100% sure it is something Chase specifically aimed at.

For me, black people are an anomaly when the Mafia is concerned. The only time anyone black has been mentioned was either Noah, or when Chris used it as an excuse not to bring his new Goomah around. Other than that, they were only ever used as hired guns, and only once to take out someone big, which they failed on.

Actually, I think Chris hired some to kill Carmine (or possibly Johnny Sac), then killed them when the hit was called off.

When they walked in the diner, I never thought they were there to kill Tony. The only person in there who fit the 'racial profiling' ingranied in us was the guy in the Members Only jacket.

It's driving me up the wall thinking about the additional things in the episodes that surely have meaning, but we can't quite seem to put our fingers on.

Re: The role of bystanders

#7
harpo wrote:We the audience of the show and our voyeurism are, Also, Mink trying unsuccessfully to get the ketchup out (which I think is straightforward symbolism for blood) while sneaking a peek at the nude strippers on the (security) TV screen.


Too many good points for me to address at the minute!

Again, the one I quoted is what I would like to address right now.

I never thought about that being a straight forward representation of blood. Are you using the 'blood out of a stone' adage? Didn't Chase have some recent legal problems? Was this what he was hinting at?

The security footage of the 'backstage' area always puzzled me.

Perhaps this links in? The idea of someone sitting watching something that they have nothing to do with, whilst coming up with ways to make money for themselves from the situation?

As I recall, Chase had legal problems regarding the idea of the Sopranos.

It's one of the scenes, albeit a short one, that I've always wanted to see talked about on here.

I am liking the talk of showing an audience. A Midsummers Night Dream style 'play within a play' if you like.

Re: The role of bystanders

#8
Yeah- that scene with the backstage hallway was sort of out of place in a way. Maybe just to emphasize the fact that Tony and Mink are "behind the scenes", as well as the idea of a "back-room" deal going on between Tony and his "Mouthpiece".

And no doubt the men who come to see the strippers from the 'front end' of the stage might also occasionally have experienced similar troubles in their efforts at getting their ketchup out of the bottle if you catch my drift...with the stripper helping to solve the problem...:rolleyes:

Re: The role of bystanders

#9
The role of bystanders is a great point of interest for me. I agree that they serve as kind of observers or as voyeurs. But of more interest to me is the role by "civilians" or "straight" people who come into contact with these animals. And that's what they are. Take the poor head waiter who queries the tip from Chris and Paulie. He ends up with a bullet in the head in a matter of minutes on the pavement outside his restaurant.
Or the guy who's car Vito hits on his way back from New Hampshire. Vito is swilling Vodka with tears in his eyes and crashes into the parked car. He ends up shooting the guy in the back of the head, presumably to be later found by his now widow or by a neighbour.
Take the scene with Mustang Sally. His girlfriend hassles some guy to give her a lift somewhere. He thinks he's maybe hitting on her,or maybe he knows he's not but nearly beats him to death in broad daylight with a golf club anyway.
I believe the purpose of these and other similar scenes is to remind us that these people, in case we forget, are the scum of the earth. They solve every little problem with violence or worse. It is to remind us that this "thing" is all around us, in every day life. We brush up against it every day and don't even know it. The effect of gangsters killing other gangsters rends us immune to the effects of all this violence. But when an ordinary member of the public is involved it really brings it home to us.
I for one never, as David Chase put it, "rooted for Tony". If I wanted him to survive it's only because I wanted the show to continue forever. But "rooting for" the show is not the same thing as cheering for these vile people. The impact on regular decent people like ourselves is what gives the show it's realism and placing them in the world of Tony Soprano and his "family" highlights how utterly alien these people really are to the rest of us.

Re: The role of bystanders

#10
Well, of course i am admittedly one of those people who root for Tony and some of his friends, but i never ever had the conflicting interest in seeing his brains splattered over his onion rings at Holsten's. I guess i root for Tony and what i hope for Tony and what he represents. (back to the redemption idea i suppose). ANd at the same time i agree with you that the voyeurs or bystanders serve to highlight the differences between Tony's Crew and the "decent" people...maybe i never identified fully with the decent people as a separate entity, over and above the other kind. We're all in it together, imo.
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