Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#1
It has been suggested elsewhere that Tony’s sudden obsession with gambling is out of character. T. has many peccadilloes -- fast women, fatty foods, liquor occasionally -- but he has always shied away from gambling. Inveterate gamblers are, in his view, “degenerate.” For a guy who claims that he doesn’t have morals, but does have rules, Tony’s judgment and punishment of gambling addicts like Davey Scatino seems suspiciously moralistic .

So, why is Tony breaking one of his sacred rules/morals: thou shall not be a degenerate gambler? The answer lays in season two’s episode, “Fortunate Son.” In a searing flashback, Tony the adult is visited by the childhood memory of his father Johnny Boy, cutting off the finger of an indebted gambler with something resembling a “cleaver” in the back of Satriale’s. The experience is traumatic; and it plays itself out as such in Melfi’s office. The butchering of the un-fortunate high roller, the sexual rush experienced by Johnny Boy and Olivia at the site of a vig of roast beef, and Johnny Boy’s “Father Knows Best” homily on the wickedness of gamblers is enough to cause Tony to faint on tasting Gabagool.

As I alluded to in the first post of the “Executioner’s Song” thread, Tony is currently suffering from clinical depression, exhibiting signs of paranoia and self-isolation (clearly he is cutting his ties with his crew). He is also performing acts of self-immolation, in this case, risking his family’s financial future. Psychologically, he has ritualized the trauma of his youth, the Satriale’s cleaver incident, by becoming a degenerate gambler himself. He is transgressing a once inviolate code in order to foreshorten his future. It’s common for victims to become victimizers. In this case, Tony is victimizing himself by re-enacting the trauma of the so-called “fortunate son.” He has become the thing he loathes: a degenerate gambler.

Melfi’s dictum is that depression is rage turned inward. Tony’s gambling spree is rage against his father’s odious vocation turned inward. He transgresses his own code, taking a cleaver to a life he can no longer stomach, but which he cannot discard. He needs to shit (a recurring symbol, especially this season) all the bloody meat clogging up his bowels, so to speak.

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#3
Calling gamblers "degenerate gamblers" does not mean that Tony truly thinks less of them or looks down on them as much as it provides an excuse for Tony's business. I imagine it is Tony's way of justifying what he does just as his father did before him.

I think there is a good deal of truth to what Avellino writes above, though I'm not so sure the life Tony lives and practices knowingly disgusts him. It may, but he does not realize this at the moment. But no doubt much of his seeming distemperment at present surely has something to do with a fleeting recognition that he may not be the "fortunate son" he might have considered himself.


Even his talk of being "way up" after the shooting is the same type of justification. When the reality hits, it will be pretty nasty.

And of course, that leads back to everyone's favorite decompensation. :icon_wink:
"Leave the gun...take the cannoli." - Clemenza

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Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#4
Detective Hunt wrote:Calling gamblers "degenerate gamblers" does not mean that Tony truly thinks less of them or looks down on them as much as it provides an excuse for Tony's business. I imagine it is Tony's way of justifying what he does just as his father did before him.


Point well taken, Detective Hunt. I suppose I'm thinking of the Satriale's trauma and the post-finger-chopping lesson in morality delivered by Johnny Boy to Tony, his so-called "fortuante son."

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#5
Avellino wrote:It has been suggested elsewhere that Tony’s sudden obsession with gambling is out of character. T. has many peccadilloes -- fast women, fatty foods, liquor occasionally -- but he has always shied away from gambling. Inveterate gamblers are, in his view, “degenerate.” For a guy who claims that he doesn’t have morals, but does have rules, Tony’s judgment and punishment of gambling addicts like Davey Scatino seems suspiciously moralistic .

So, why is Tony breaking one of his sacred rules/morals: thou shall not be a degenerate gambler? The answer lays in season two’s episode, “Fortunate Son.” In a searing flashback, Tony the adult is visited by the childhood memory of his father Johnny Boy, cutting off the finger of an indebted gambler with something resembling a “cleaver” in the back of Satriale’s. The experience is traumatic; and it plays itself out as such in Melfi’s office. The butchering of the un-fortunate high roller, the sexual rush experienced by Johnny Boy and Olivia at the site of a vig of roast beef, and Johnny Boy’s “Father Knows Best” homily on the wickedness of gamblers is enough to cause Tony to faint on tasting Gabagool.

As I alluded to in the first post of the “Executioner’s Song” thread, Tony is currently suffering from clinical depression, exhibiting signs of paranoia and self-isolation (clearly he is cutting his ties with his crew). He is also performing acts of self-immolation, in this case, risking his family’s financial future. Psychologically, he has ritualized the trauma of his youth, the Satriale’s cleaver incident, by becoming a degenerate gambler himself. He is transgressing a once inviolate code in order to foreshorten his future. It’s common for victims to become victimizers. In this case, Tony is victimizing himself by re-enacting the trauma of the so-called “fortunate son.” He has become the thing he loathes: a degenerate gambler.

Melfi’s dictum is that depression is rage turned inward. Tony’s gambling spree is rage against his father’s odious vocation turned inward. He transgresses his own code, taking a cleaver to a life he can no longer stomach, but which he cannot discard. He needs to shit (a recurring symbol, especially this season) all the bloody meat clogging up his bowels, so to speak.


I have thought that the compulsive gambler Tony was a stretch, but you make a persuasive case here. Great post.

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#6
Thanks, chaseisgod. Actually, it was your post that caused me to rethink the entire issue.

Tony does have morals, but they're often conflicted and obfuscated. He loves Carmella and believes in the sanctity of marriage, but is not averse to "f&*king a catcher's mitt." He loves his kids and extols the virtues of fatherhood, but kills and steals so that they can live in material luxury. Tony Soprano is struggling heroically, tragically, and pathetically to compartmentalize his domestic morals and his mafia rules. The result has been six seasons of tortuous inner conflict and the yet-unrealized desire to lead a morally/psychologically integrated life.

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#7
Nice thread, Avellino. It makes for an interesting continuation of aprilemoney's thread from last week in that several questioned there whether the gambling was a subconscious repudiation by Tony of his father. Several of us have also pondered whether the gambling is the first sign of, as you put it, some kind of self-immolation, a subconscious identification with a typical victim of his crime that has brought about a subconscious need in him for punishment, a need to endure the pain inflicted upon them first by themselves and then by men like him. His first murder victim, as we found out, was a bookie; his first up-close glimpse of mob violence, the de-fingering of a gambler. If long overdue compassion is in fact at the root of this, then I suppose it makes great sense why gambling is the vehicle for his self-destruction.

I agree with DH that none of this is conscious yet, though. He's not to that point. But I think he will get there, with Melfi's assistance. If, by the last frame of this series, he doesn't, I won't be able to contain my disappointment.

After fumbling through several interpretations of the monks in the dream/coma, the one that I settled on, that made the most sense to me, was that they represented Tony's conscience. He "ignored their letters and phone calls" for years: read panic attacks, depression, pangs of conscience, basic lack of inner peace. They were suing him because he had provided defective heat: he had not lived a life founded on love or "warmth"; he had quarrantined his conscience from the rest of his being, left it in the cold, so to speak. He denies that he is the person they think he is. They try to tell him that personhood is largely irrelevant, that everyone and everything is part of one organism, and that ultimately they needed him to take responsibility for Finnerty's identity and actions and provide heat: he must tear down the barriers to his conscience, invite it in from the cold. He continues to deny the Finnerty identity yet accepts service of process of the lawsuit in Finnerty's name and tells coma Carm, "I got involved in a lawsuit". Ultimately, at the door of death, he embraces the briefcase, and, hence, the identity of Finnerty, complete with the literal "baggage" (having to face his conscience and take responsibility for his actions) that life as Finnerty would entail.

Before this, the ER doctor explains that he is suffering from Alzheimer's, a disease leaving the afflicted unable to recognize himself or others, but urges that treatment is no longer entirely bleak and to "talk to your docs back home": he must really let Melfi in to understand and sort out the "Two Tonys" identity crisis that has been brewing for years. Of special interest in view of your last sentence ("He needs to shit (a recurring symbol, especially this season)") is how he describes Alzheimer's to the doctor: "You're a smurf for 10 or 15 years and then you die shitting in your pajamas."

Perhaps this foreshadows that Tony will have another one of his self-described monumental bowel movements in Melfi's office, like in Unidentified Black Males, this time acknowledging the long delayed truths about his father and self-loathing for having followed in his footsteps. I've always felt if it really got that far, came to that kind of profound, conscious realization, there's no way he could go on living, at least not without the intervention of a genuine Christian conversion, an acceptance that, no matter how horrible you have behaved in your life, you are still loved by God and are redeemable through Christ. I don't see Chase offering that kind of ending because I don't think he himself believes that, or believes that Tony could believe that, and this despite the fact that I think Christian redemption was depicted in the coma itself.

Without the Christian avenue to accept the grace of forgiveness, I suspect the desire in Tony for suicide would be absolutely overwhelming. It would be the "crash" that Melfi talked about in House Arrest, otherwise termed "decompensation" in season 6a. And perhaps this illuminates the part of the Funhouse dream when Tony acknowledges that he is fatally ill, wonders while looking at the ocean if "he" or "they" are coming (presumably God or Christ), decides they're not, and proceeds to light himself on fire, which some poster (chaseisgod, patriquem?) long ago pointed out is a modality not only for death but for purification.

A couple of comments from the Vito Jr. storyline seem relevant here too. Some have already talked about the identification Tony might feel with Vito, Jr., when he acknowledges that Vito still misses his father "no matter what he was". I found it very interesting that Tony, on three different occasions, two of which came after he was explicity informed that Marie and Phil were only second cousins, kept referring to Phil as Vito Jr.s "uncle" and acknowledged that "it's not easy to replace a father". Also notable was the extremely angry, bitter tone he took when he told his guys that he would "never, ever forget that Phil didn't come through here".

Sounds as if Tony harbors a lot of anger toward uncles who don't come through as substitute fathers. This strengthens my hunch that the ultimate catalyst for Tony confronting his father issues will be Uncle Junior's death.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#8
"But if you couldn't lose then what's the f***ing point? See you need the risk."


In "Remember When", when Tony floated the loan from Hesh, I immediately thought of that scene from "Fortunate Son", which is why that quote is so interesting, because it's his justification for the transgression of his moral code. As to DH's point, it seems that he uses this moral teaching to justify his violent expressions of rage. But I do think that he does understand that gambling leads to moral and social degradation, to becoming the object of scorn and pity - first learned from his father in the Satriale's incident, and re-instilled through his subsequent dealings with gamblers.

What's also interesting is that this self-victimization manifested through the gambling is in of itself a transgression of his moral code. I'm thinking of the long diatribe at the end of "Christopher", where he berates the victimization narratives of identity politics (one of my favorite scenes). If Garry Cooper is the model, than his gambling not only violates his father's moral code, but the Tony Soprano moral code.

Something about that quote, though, reads almost as a veiled confession of the logic behind his decision to follow in his father's footsteps, to be a mobster. And it seemed to be in line with what Carmela said about the piano hanging over his head. He knows the odds, but he refuses to believe that he can't win/that he's lost. He thrives off the challenge, in fact, which is another reason why the gambling addiction doesn't seem far-fetched. He's at the top, he's successful, but he constantly needs a challenge, a call to action in order to both assert his control and distract his conscience, and thereby assauge his guilt. In a way, it reminds me of the Season 2 episode "House Arrest", where Melfi describes the psychological condition of alexithymia, in which people need constant action in order to avoid reflecting upon the suffering they have caused others. Gambling facilitates exactly that kind of moral amnesia, and it embodies that kind moral devolution. What sweeter victory than that over the most elusive of foes, chance? Fleeting and illusory victory, nonetheless (just like his victory over death and the Feds). It only serves to perpetuate the inner conflict between the Two Tonys, who clearly cannot coexist for much longer.

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#9
FlyOnMelfisWall wrote:
Without the Christian avenue to accept the grace of forgiveness, I suspect the desire in Tony for suicide would be absolutely overwhelming. .


And there are other ways to kill yourself without using a rope or a gun. You can stuff yourself with food, gamble, drink too much, set yourself up for failure as a boss. It's been interesting to me how much sloppier Tony has been this season in terms of being a boss. He talked about taking care of the husband to the two Canadian strangers; he met out in the open with those Cuban strangers and Paulie. He's been losing money -- and taking a big loan from Hesh -- all in direct view of his underlings, which could lessen their respect for him. He talked to Paulie about the FBI finding the body out near the pool (I think) instead of taking him downstairs where there would be less risk of someone listening in.

All of this runs counter to how careful he has tried to be in the past, or at least to his stated preference of putting some distance between himself and the illegal activities. Tony seems to have a death wish, or at least a subconscious desire to get caught.

Re: Tony Soprano: Degenerate Gambler/Fortunate Son

#10
ldrollins wrote:
Something about that quote, though, reads almost as a veiled confession of the logic behind his decision to follow in his father's footsteps, to be a mobster. And it seemed to be in line with what Carmela said about the piano hanging over his head. He knows the odds, but he refuses to believe that he can't win/that he's lost. He thrives off the challenge, in fact, which is another reason why the gambling addiction doesn't seem far-fetched. He's at the top, he's successful, but he constantly needs a challenge, a call to action in order to both assert his control and distract his conscience, and thereby assauge his guilt. In a way, it reminds me of the Season 2 episode "House Arrest", where Melfi describes the psychological condition of alexithymia, in which people need constant action in order to avoid reflecting upon the suffering they have caused others. Gambling facilitates exactly that kind of moral amnesia, and it embodies that kind moral devolution. What sweeter victory than that over the most elusive of foes, chance? Fleeting and illusory victory, nonetheless (just like his victory over death and the Feds). It only serves to perpetuate the inner conflict between the Two Tonys, who clearly cannot coexist for much longer.

You know, this is interesting. Thinking back all the way to when Junior first tried to rub Tony out, it was at a moment of complete and utter depression and the shooting invigorated him, or so Tony stated to Melfi. And years later, we see Tony and Chris somewhat reliving "glory days" when they boost the wine from the Vipers. For a brief time, they both laugh and share the fun memory, but it is short-lived (perhaps shorter-lived than his "rush" from almost being killed by two "unidentified black males.")

I seems as though all his outlets are somehow closed off (physically or mentally) such that his last avenue for risk and excitement is the gambling (or starting a surely losing war with NY.) Regardless, the "fun" of this life wore off some time ago for Tony. All that is left is the financial reward of being boss which Tony seems bent on harming one way or the other - through gambling, poor placement of capos or a disasterous war with NY.
"Leave the gun...take the cannoli." - Clemenza

Think Tony Died? Consider this...

Visit my Blog at Hear the Hurd
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