Anatomy of A Scene – “I came in at the end…The best is over.”

“A lot of the best scenes in the show revolve around this conflicted mobster, Tony Soprano (played brilliantly by James Gandolfini), who suffers from both innate anxiety and depression, along with his dysfunctional families who intend to drag him down if he can’t help doing it himself.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cQOej9nuho

‘The Sopranos’ is one of the most highly acclaimed television shows of all-time and is not just a show about a man caught between his real family and his mafia family but also about a certain period in American life. A lot of the best scenes in the show revolve around this conflicted mobster, Tony Soprano (played brilliantly by James Gandolfini), who suffers from both innate anxiety and depression, along with his dysfunctional families who intend to drag him down if he can’t help doing it himself.

There is a particular scene early in the 1st season where we are first getting to know the character of Tony Soprano and what makes him tick. The first scene in his therapist’s office, which would be a recurring motif throughout the show, has Tony trying to pin down the roots of his depression, which is what brought him to Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) in the first place. Tony has no idea what is causing him the blues, pontificating openly that it could be “stress, maybe?” especially as he has recently started to have panic attacks occur out of nowhere.

Dr. Melfi asks him about what could be causing the stress he is feeling? Tony isn’t sure but believes that “it’s good to be at something at the ground floor.” Now, the audience can assume what he is referring to is the La Cosa Nostra or Italian-American mafia, which is on the decline as the show first aired in 1999 and could be on its way out. However, since Dr. Melfi isn’t aware yet who Tony Soprano is and what his life in the mafia like, she assumes he means about life in suburban America in the 1990s, which had a lot of amenities including bigger houses and bigger cars with a more privacy, but for which has left many Americans feel unfulfilled.

“I came in at the end…the best is over.” While Tony may be referring to the historical arc of the Italian mafia and how it’s in irrevocable decline, the show paints it to Melfi and the audience as something deeper yet not as pronounced. Melfi replies, “Many Americans, I think, feel that way”, implying that while the country has gotten materially wealthier and more prosperous to a degree, our family and perhaps spiritual life has been on the decline for quite some time and perhaps has led to a moral decline.

While Tony was inferred to be talking about the mafia and how he is now boss of his Soprano crime family unlike his father who never ‘reached the heights like him’ or wasn’t as successful materially in terms of his life in the suburbs, Tony still feels unfulfilled by his success.

While his father wasn’t as successful in the mafia life, he still passed it down to his son, but in those days, Tony feels as many Americans would relate to that there was more pride and togetherness in their communities among families of different backgrounds. In the atomized suburbs, it’s harder to connect with those in your family or to form as tight of cultural or religious or social bonds with people of your background.

“But in a lot of ways, he had it better. He (Tony’s father) had it better. He had his people. They had their standards. Their pride. Now, today, what do we got?” The scene also demonstrates that this was filmed in 1999, just at the turn to the 21st century, before 9/11 happened, the 2008 financial crisis, the election of Donald Trump as President, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Even on the cusp of 2000, the show demonstrates that not all was rosy in America and there was a sense of dissatisfaction back then with where the country was headed and that the ’best days may be behind us’ in more ways than one.

While the focus is on the decline of mob life in this scene and in the show, which does so consistently over six brilliant seasons, it also highlights a parallel loss of faith and trust in American institutions as well as the rise of greed, malaise, and apathy in our cultural attitudes, and a sense that maybe American decline is our future. While the scene is not overtly political, you have Tony reading the Newark Star-Ledger, a New Jersey daily paper, indicating that “President Clinton warns of Medicare going bust in Year 2000.”

The front-page newspaper headline tells you that even back then in 1999, there were worries about our institutions eroding, the promises meant to be kept at danger of being broken after many decades of effort, and the average middle-aged suburbanite feeling unsatisfied about the prospect of a dimmer future, especially for his or her children. While Tony’s parents were better off because of their closer family and community ties in the big city or the exurbs nearby, he was not able to say the same about his suburban life. Even at a time where his generation were able to still have had a better life materially and perhaps financially than their parents, would their children be worse off in both ways if the decline is to pass, both financially and spiritually?

Twenty-two years later since this scene first aired on HBO, it is interesting to look back at Tony’s anxieties as being prophetic rather than misplaced. Younger Americans of my generation and the generation behind me look at it reasonably and think that Tony Soprano, despite his crimes and misdeeds and his Mafia boss life, may have had one thing right: “I came in at the end, the best is over…” Now, the question remains, how do we deal with it as a country and as a people?

Standing Up to Double Standards

“I am all for having standards to abide and follow as they form the backbone of our laws, rules, and regulations, but what we need to avoid is having two sets of standards, which divides people and aggravates resentments.”

I discussed in a previous article of mine why setting standards around behavior, conduct, and fairness are important. I want to dive further given recent current events of which I could put to a few examples, but for which involve the recent internationally televised and particularly controversial awards show (not naming names here) as well as other prominent examples from politics and business that come to mind in past years on why having two sets of standards can be so deleterious for a society. I am all for having standards to abide and follow as they form the backbone of our laws, rules, and regulations, but what we need to avoid is having two sets of standards, which divides people and aggravates resentments.

We all can agree upon certain norms and standards that are set for us to build trust, reliability, and faith in our institutions and our society. However, when standards are ignored or watered down or not even followed by certain privileged parts of society, that can backfire in several ways including the loss of trust in the standards that were meant for all but are not followed by everyone.

When a few noteworthy individuals, who are looked upon as role models or are put into positions of power and/or influence, when they do not abide by the standards or thwart them openly, it causes others to realize that there are ‘double standards.’ Double standards can happen rarely, occasionally, or often enough that most people will start to realize that the rules set for them are not good enough for everybody and it can cause a ‘domino effect’ when more and more individuals choose to ignore the set standards if they see those with great power, wealth, or influence ignore the standards that they so diligently abide by and follow.

Certainly, there is no excuse to avoid set standards when wealthy and powerful people go out of their way to avoid or ignore them, but it does have effects on people’s faith and trust in those standards when some people because of privilege or background can just ignore or trample all over them. When there are “rules for thee, but not for me” and they are openly flaunted without consequence or punishment, our standards of behavior, conduct, and overall kinship will suffer. On top of that, when standards are diminished, degraded, or abused, that can cascade to our laws, rules, and regulations falling out of favor with more and more people as a result.

The most influential, wealthy, and powerful people in society may not feel they have a moral and a legal obligation to abide by standards but if they choose to ignore or chastise them, there will be negative ripple effects that can come about when others who follow, support, or condone them makes excuses to avoid those standards too and to create their own that are weaker or unenforceable. Double standards involve two sets of standards; often contradictory or competing or negating each other, which can cause unfair practices or inequal application to different groups of people.

If you do not happen to have the chosen background, power, privilege, or wealth to have your own set of standards, you will see the injustice and grievances more clearly when you see the standards not apply to everyone equally even when they still apply to you and your peers. The worst consequences of having two sets of standards with the new set of standards being weak or non-existent or outright morally wrong is when some people act willfully ignorant of the standards that society has fought to uphold, normalize, and spread to everyone equally.

They can end up applauding the 2nd set of standards, ignore the wrongdoing being done, or even condone the action(s) of that individual as being morally upright even when they know in their heart that what that person did is inexcusable. While standards of behavior and conduct can be ignored or demeaned, they never truly go away and while we can choose to forget them or ignore them or mock them, those who uphold these standards will do their best to make sure to point out the ‘double standards’ occurring and how that makes our society worse off as a result.

When you see these ‘double standards’ pop up and there’s nothing you can do about it to change that abuse of the standard, don’t stay quiet about it and do your best to voice your discontent with that ‘double standard’ having reared its ugly head. If you can’t get rid of that ‘double standard’ or hold those of privilege or in power accountable for flaunting their disregard for one set of standards, make sure you do not forget their hypocrisy or their lack of respect for the rules and the laws that keep society functioning.

Standards can change, evolve, and become more just over time, but having two sets of standards will always muddy the proverbial waters and cause discontent, anger, and resentment to brew beneath the surface. Being able to call out the ‘double standards’ when they emerge is crucial to making sure this kind of injustice does not grow or become normalize is very important. If the ‘double standard’ is embraced rather than done away with, the best that can be done is to bring attention to it, try to influence those people who can get rid of it, and then do your best to make sure it never comes back. Once the set ‘standards’ break off into two or more groups or two or more social classes or more backgrounds, it can be hard to put everybody back on the same set of standards in terms of accountability.

People of great power, influence, and wealth are under an extremely heavy lens by the rest of us, which is why they should be ever more careful to strive to be good examples in how they comport themselves even if they never wanted the attention or focus on them. How they act, behave, live, or cause a scene in public can reverberate in how others do the same in their own lives, which may not seem entirely logical but people behave based on the standards that they see around them and when one individual or a group of people betray those strong standards by weakening, abusing, or creating their own lackluster standards for themselves alone, other people will notice and will cause ‘double standards’ to emerge more and more often causing the bonds of societal brotherhood, respect, and love that can hold the society together like a strong glue to slowly weaken, wither, and potentially break off.

The Why of Standards

How do we define standards? What exactly do they mean to our society and the world as a whole? See, the thing about standards is that if they are not observed by everyone to some degree than what would be the point of having them in the first place. Having standards when it comes to behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. helps society to function and for people to live productive and healthy lives. Without having standards or not being beholden to anyone else will create a society of winner-take-all or every man or every woman for themselves, which is not only counterproductive but also self-destructive in the long run.

As defined by Dictionary.com, A ‘standard’ is defined as “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; or an approved model.” It’s a general definition but you can see that creating a standard requires the consent of the society at large. Standards can be difficult or easy to enforce depending on how popular they are but the total absence of standards in different areas of life should be fought against as much as possible. Everybody has different standards but the key to keep in mind is whether a lack of standards or a complete abandonment of standards is making the local community or overall society worse off as a result.

We don’t think about it but basic standards helps create laws, rules, and regulations that keep society running well. When there are no standards in anything whether its’ with business, politics, dress, the environment, etc. then every individual man, woman, and child will suffer in some regard as a result. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lack of standards or standards that are burdensome and counterproductive also cause harm to us as well.

Standards change over time but there are certain ideals and beliefs that I think should stand the test of time. By this I mean that basic manners and politeness should always be observed, presenting yourself well in your outer dress and appearance depending on the setting is crucial, and that you add with basic integrity, decency, and honesty when doing business or leading as a member of your community. Standards over time for these particular areas should not change and should even become stronger so that the next generations do not forget how to act, behave, and be good.

Standards can be relaxed in a number of areas or they can be hardened in other areas depending upon the mood and whims of the larger society but those areas I listed above should be consistent and not be trifled with. When basic manners, integrity, and matters of presenting become optional rather than mandatory, it’s likely that the entire society will feel the ill effects of such an absence of standards rather quickly. Fundamentally, systemic societal issues such as corruption, violence, and poverty, which while they have a wide range of causes are still related to an absence of moral and behavioral standards.

In a free society, standards can most definitely change and be adapted to fit to the times but it has to be with the approval of the majority of those people in that society. Leaving standards to the whims of a few leaders can be cumbersome and even negligent especially if they themselves due not match the standards for which they should follow based on their leadership roles. Standards are best when they are created, managed, and enforced in a democratic fashion and where the majority of people in that society are able to follow those standards.

While we are all individuals, we are all still apart of a collective society and we have to sometimes sacrifice our personal standards when we come up against those standards of the larger society even when we may fundamentally disagree with them. No standard is perfect but if the society has collectively agreed upon those standards, then all of the people must abide by them to the best of their ability. If the standards are to be changed, that should be done over time with the consent of the majority. Even if we don’t like the standards, if no one agrees to them, then they are not standards anymore and society could suffer as a result.

If you don’t like the absence of certain standards or believe that they are too burdensome on you or people that you know, then you need to make the effort and put in the work to change these standards. If you don’t like with how someone is behaving, then you need to make an informed argument as to how that person should behave in a more polite and decent manner. If you see some form of corruption and certain political leaders are letting it slide, then you need to take some responsibility in holding yourself first to a higher standard and then calling out that corruption to get others behind you so that the corruption may end in the future.

Individuals have power in a society with standards but they will fundamentally have less power in a society where there are weak standards or none at all. That is also the case where one sole individual can set standards for everyone else without so much as a protest from others, which is also dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.

While standards such as for behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. may not always be popular to uphold, these standards form the backbone of the collective society. With the absence of any sort of standards comes at the behest of laws, rules, regulations, and principles as well. Standards form the base for a civilized society and in their absence; there is no way that a society of individuals can function at all.

When you read this article, think about your own standards and how they came to be in your thinking. Also, think about how important they are to you. Lastly, think about the current standards of your society and how long it took for them to be formed and implemented as well as how important they also are regardless if you agree with their being in existence or not. Standards are not meant to be popular all the time but they are meant to ensure codes of conduct in various manners of life.

The sheer absence of standards leads to an anarchy of sorts that would render polite society meaningless and turn individuals against each other in a collective free-for-all. Understanding the why of standards will make you more likely to improve and better your own existing ones.

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