TV Club

Week 7: A.J. Slouches Towards Bethlehem

Dear Jeff and Brian,

After reading Jeff’s entry this morning, I came downstairs to breakfast, cleared my throat, and addressed my son, Will.

“I just learned what it is that Tony Soprano did to Coco. He curbed him.”

“It’s curb stomped, Dad.”

“Or curbed, for short,” I said a bit defensively. “I’d never heard of it before. How do you know about curb stomping?”

Pause. Will has never seen American History X.

“I have a video game that lets you curb stomp a guy,” he said.


“You have a—what’s that game rated?”


“And how did you acquire an M-rated video game that lets you curb stomp a guy?”

“You gave it to me, Dad. For my birthday. Gears of War.”


“You got him what?”


This was the voice of my late wife, Marjorie, with whom I quarrel on a regular basis, usually on matters related to child-rearing. You’d be surprised how many of these arguments she wins. This time I fought her to a draw by reassuring her that I’d recently told Will he couldn’t see a certain movie because it was too violent.

“This is a wild guess,” I concluded, “but I don’t think our 14-year-old son is going to end up a sociopath.”


“No thanks to you.”

Later I went online and discovered that Gears of War also lets you chainsaw your enemy to death. I decided that Marjorie didn’t need to know that (you can do that when the argument takes place entirely in your head) and resolved to be more vigilant in the future. For the record, Marjorie is OK with my letting Will watch The Sopranos.

The question before the house is whether Tony Soprano is a sociopath, as the annoying Dr. Eliot Kupferberg (Peter Bogdanovich) tells Dr. Jennifer Melfi. If he is, then research suggests Tony’s psychotherapy does society more harm than good, because (at least according to Kupferberg) sociopaths use psychotherapy to polish their con. Sociopaths in psychotherapy, Kupferberg says, have a higher rate of recidivism than sociopaths who aren’t in psychotherapy. Ergo, Melfi should stop treating Tony.


Yes, Tony is a sociopath. I quote that unimpeachable source, Psychology Today, which defines Antisocial Personality Disorder (i.e., sociopath-ness) thusly:

The disorder involves a history of chronic antisocial behavior that begins before the age of 15 and continues into adulthood. The disorder is manifested by a pattern of irresponsible and antisocial behavior as indicated by academic failure, poor job performance, illegal activities, recklessness, and impulsive behavior. Symptoms may include dysphoria, an inability to tolerate boredom, feeling victimized, and a diminished capacity for intimacy.


Except for “poor job performance,” which is irrelevant in Tony’s line of work, this fits Tony like a glove. Note especially “diminished capacity for intimacy.” According to this definition, you can be a sociopath and have some limited capacity for love, and I think that well describes a man whose first impulse, when he discovers that his son tried to kill himself, is to yell at him. (Only afterward does Tony cradle his son and call him “my little boy.”) Psychology Today would appear to disagree with Dr. Kupferberg’s pessimism about the efficacy of psychotherapy; it “may” be helpful to a sociopath, though admittedly the prognosis is poor. Has Tony benefited from his psychotherapy? (Or “terapy,” as he calls it.) It seems to have helped with the anxiety attacks, and he’s a shade more self-aware. On the other hand, the terapy hasn’t exactly curbed his destructive behavior. Even among wiseguys, Tony is a little on the impulsive side. Hence last night’s curbing. How great was it, incidentally, when Tony, during terapy with A.J. and Carmela, looked down and saw one of Coco’s bloody molars lodged inside his pants cuff?


I agree that Yeats’ “The Second Coming” was a boldly obvious choice to send A.J. (who otherwise finds English class dull) to the bottom of the swimming pool with a plastic bag over his head. For rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, I nominate A.J. himself. At the very least, the choice is geographically appropriate.

The boy’s obsession with the Middle East is growing, and when he showed Meadow that it was Al Jazeera he was looking at online (and not Internet porn), I think Terry Winter was hinting that A.J. will find his way to the two Arab gangsters, who, we learned last night, are indeed connected to terrorist activities. But I’m not inclined to go deep on “The Second Coming.” I think the main reason the poem was used is because it provided a brilliant setup for Carmela’s punch line, which gave me the biggest belly laugh I’d had in a long time. “What kind of poem is that to teach a college student?” she asked A.J.’s therapist indignantly. Her clueless riposte echoed that hilarious scene in Annie Hall when little Alvy Singer (who will grow up to be Woody Allen) is taken to the doctor by his mother:

Doctor: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Mom: Tell Dr. Flicker.
Alvy is silent.
Mom: It’s something he read.
Doctor: Something he read, huh?
Alvy (head down): The universe is expanding.
Doctor: The universe is expanding?
Alvy: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.
Mom: What is that your business?