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Levin, L. (2003). Psychology Of The Sopranos: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America's Favorite Gangster Family. By Glen O. Gabbard. New York: Basic Books, 2002, 224 pp., $22.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51(1):365-368.
(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(1):365-368
Book Reviews: Briefly Noted
Psychology Of The Sopranos: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America's Favorite Gangster Family. By Glen O. Gabbard. New York: Basic Books, 2002, 224 pp., $22.00.
Review by: Leon Levin
In his preface, Glen O. Gabbard writes that he is taking “a hard, but lighthearted look” at the existential dilemmas of love, death, desire, and betrayal as they are showcased in the TV drama, The Sopranos. The drama centers about a New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, whose panic attacks drive him to the office of psychoanalyst Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Gabbard, who engages zestfully with popular culture without condescension, understands that a good teacher is one who can be taught. He sees himself as exploring what the drama teaches us about psychology and psychotherapy. Its creators are almost all gifted writers and actors who have had extensive personal experience with psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and he respects them as serious students of human nature.
Psychoanalysts will appreciate the reflections of a wise, perceptive clinician on the conflicts of the characters. Tony is seen as torn by the tension between his divergent selves. He is a brutal thug and a faithless husband, but at the same time he loves his wife and hopes for his children to live the American dream. He splits his contradictory selves to avoid anxiety.
Gabbard points out that this type of splitting is common among charismatic leaders and that some degree of splitting of incompatible selves is present in all of us. Tony tries to hide his criminal self from his children, but he is doomed to fail because the necessary degree of deception is unsustainable. Although Tony is antisocial he is not considered a psychopath because he suffers. In his initial dream of birds flying away from his pool, he reveals his fear of loss of love and abandonment; this is convincingly interpreted by Dr. Melfi. In some sense Tony is Everyman, at the same time tragic and comic.
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