Transcript: Ron Pruessen on Sopranos in the West Wing | May 29, 2004

Ron Pruessen stands at a podium, talking to an audience. He is clean-shaven, in his fifties, has short gray hair, and is wearing a black shirt.
There is a sign on the podium that reads “University of Toronto. Munk Centre for International Studies At Trinity College,” and a pole with the Canadian flag by its side.
In front of the audience a projection shows a photo of the White House, with a title that reads “Sopranos in the West Wing.”

Ron says LIKE LYNN
SPIEGEL AND BAMBI HAGGINS, I
WILL TAKE OFF FROM THE PREMISE
THAT TELEVISION IS REVEALING
AND SUGGESTIVE.
THAT A CAREFUL READING, VIEWING
CAN YIELD SENSITIVITY TO
CHARACTERISTICS AND DYNAMICS
THAT MIGHT OTHERWISE BE EASILY
MISSED OR INSUFFICIENTLY
APPRECIATED.
AND I THINK BOTH OF THE PAPERS
THIS MORNING HAVE, HAVE
DEMONSTRATED THAT VERY WELL.
UNLIKE LYNN AND BAMBI HOWEVER,
I AM HERE AS A RANK AMATEUR.
I HAVE SPENT MOST OF MY
SCHOLARLY AND TEACHING CAREER
STUDYING AMERICAN FOREIGN
POLICY AND TEACHING
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS.
AND WHILE I REGULARLY TALK
ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE IN THE
CLASSROOM BOTH HISTORICALLY AND
WITH RESPECT TO CONTEMPORARY
DEVELOPMENTS, I'VE RARELY DONE
MORE THAN MAKE OCCASIONAL
REFERENCES IN MY WRITING.
SO FOR THE NEXT 20 MINUTES OR
SO, THINK OF YOURSELVES AS
TUNED INTO SOMETHING LIKE A
COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION
CHANNEL.
[Audience laughing]
THE REMOTE BY
THE WAY AS USUAL IS NOWHERE IN
SIGHT.
[Audience laughs]
SHORT OF
WALKING OUT OF THE ROOM YOU
CAN'T CHANGE CHANNELS.
[Audience laughs]

A caption appears on screen. It reads “Ron Pruessen. University of Toronto. Sopranos in the West Wing, Television Clues Concerning American Behaviour in the International Area. Windows and Mirrors: American Popular Culture, University of Toronto, March 19, 2004.”

Ron continues LET ME SAY
THAT I DO THINK I BRING SOME --
POTENTIALLY
USEFUL THINGS TO THE TABLE.
ON ONE HAND MY EXPERIENCE IN
THE REALM OF POLITICS AND
FOREIGN POLICY IS RELEVANT IN
ANY EFFORT TO READ POPULAR
CULTURE --
WITH RESPECT
TO THE INSIGHTS IT MIGHT OFFER
INTO BOTH HISTORY AND
CONTEPORARY AFFAIRS.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I HAVE A
REAL AND GROWING INTEREST IN
THE REALM OF POPULAR CULTURE.
PARTIALLY PERHAPS BECAUSE I'M A
CHILD OF THE 1960S, BUT
PARTIALLY BECAUSE I'M ALSO
FRANKLY, A GOOD HISTORIAN, AND
I DON'T BELIEVE ITS WISE TO
COMPARTMENTALIZE YOUR FIELD OF
VISION WHEN IT COMES TO
RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS.
IF I'M LOOKING AT FOR EXAMPLE
DEPARTMENT OF STATE ARCHIVES OR
THE PAPERS OF A PRESIDENT, ONE
OF THE THINGS I'M LOOKING FOR
IS INSIGHT INTO BEHAVIOUR, WITH
SOME EMPHASIS ON THINGS LIKE

The projection shows a black slate with a bulleted list that reads “Behaviours, Conceptualizations, Values, Inclinations, Priorities.”

Ron continues CONCEPTUALIZATIONS AND SELF-
PERCEPTIONS, VALUES,
INCLINATIONS, PRIORITIES.
HOW DO PEOPLE BEHAVE?
WHY DO THEY BEHAVE THAT WAY?
HOW DO THEY SEE THEMSELVES IN
THEIR BEHAVIOUR?
AND SO FORTH.
YOU DON'T NEED ME TO TELL YOU,
THOUGH YOU MAY NEED TO KNOW
THAT THIS NON-SPECIALIST KNOWS
THIS, THE POPULAR CULTURE CAN
REVEAL A GREAT DEAL ABOUT
THINGS LIKE VALUES,
INCLINATIONS, PRIORITIES, IN
BOTH LEADERS AND THE SOCIETIES
THEY LEAD, THE SOCIETIES THAT
IN FACT GENERATE THEIR
LEADERSHIP.
I'M IMPRESSED FOR INSTANCE BY
THE WAY POPULAR CULTURE CAN BE
USEFUL IN FLUSHING OUT THE
NATURE OF WHAT IS SOMETIMES
CALLED THE SOCIAL IMAGINARY.
IF I CAN SLIP INTO UNIVERSITY
OF CHICAGO MODE INTO THE JARGON
OF THE JOURNAL PUBLIC CULTURE
AND THE CENTRE FOR TRANS,
TRANS-CULTURAL STUDIES FOR
INSTANCE FOR JUST A MOMENT
HERE, BECAUSE THE JARGON DRIVES
ME CRAZY IN SHORT ORDER.
I POINT TO THE WORK OF PEOPLE
LIKE CORNELIUS CASTORIADIS AND
CHARLES TAYLOR.
THE SOCIAL IMAGINARY FOR THEM
IS SEEN AS THE MEANS BY WHICH
INDIVIDUALS UNDERSTAND THEIR
IDENTITIES AND THEIR PLACE IN
THE WORLD.
THE WAY A GIVEN PEOPLE IMAGINE
OR CONSTRUCT THEIR COLLECTIVE,
SOCIAL LIFE.
THIS UNDERSTANDING OR
CONSTRUCTION IS EMBEDDED IN AND
OBSERVABLE THROUGH EVERY DAY,
LIFE.
AS WELL AS
HIGH ART, LAW, THEOLOGY,
PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY AND SO
FORTH, STORIES, MYTHS, IMAGES,
MODES OF ADDRESS AND SO FORTH.
WHAT SOME CALL
THE HABITUS OF A POPULATION,
CAN ALSO BE SEMOTICALLY
REVEALING.
AT SOME POINT, AT MANY POINTS
INDEED, SUCH AN APPROACH, AN
APPROACH BRINGS US AND SHOULD
BRING US TO POPULAR CULTURE.
I THINK THE EMPHASIS AMONG THE
THEORISTS HAS OFTEN BEEN ON THE
WAY IN WHICH SOCIAL IMAGINARIES
CHANGE.
THE SOMETIMES DRAMATIC MOMENTS
IN WHICH THE HABITUS BRINGS AN
ENTIRELY NEW SOCIAL IMAGINARY
INTO BEING, OR REVEALS THAT A
NEW ONE HAS COME INTO BEING.
CASTORIADIS, HOVERMOSS,
MENTIONED BY LYNN IN FACT ARE,
ARE CERTAINLY EXAMPLES OF THIS.
AS IMPORTANT AS THESE
TRANSFORMATIVE MOMENTS MAY BE
HOWEVER, I ALSO FIND IT
INTERESTING WITH RESPECT TO THE
UNITED STATES IN MY CASE, TO
LOOK AT THE TIMES AND THE MEANS
THROUGH WHICH THE SOCIAL
IMAGINARY IS REINFORCED, RE-
ENACTED, RE-AFFIRMED.
POPULAR CULTURE IS OF NO SMALL
IMPORTANCE IN THIS RESPECT AND
TELEVISION I WOULD ARGUE IS
ESPECIALLY REVEALING HERE.
GIVEN THINGS LIKE THE TRULY,
MASSIVE AUDIENCES INVOLVED AND
THE CLEAR PROCESS OF CHOICE
OFTEN PRESENT.
TELEVISION CAN BE OF
CONSIDERABLE IMPORTANCE IN THE
REINFORCEMENT PROCESS AND CAN
GIVE US CLUES CONCERNING WHAT
MIGHT BE CALLED THE SOCIAL RE-
IMAGINARY.
THOUGH I'M TEMPTED TO USE THE
TERM RERUN HERE, GIVEN THE
TELEVISION THEME.
WHAT I'VE BECOME INTERESTED IN
THEN, IS READING AMERICAN
TELEVISION WITH AN EYE TO
DISCERNING THINGS LIKE VALUES,
INCLINATIONS AND PRIORITIES,
PARTICULARLY FOR THE MOMENT,
THOSE RELEVANT TO AMERICAN
BEHAVIOUR IN THE GLOBAL ARENA.
I WANT TO ZERO IN ON TWO SERIES
AS I DO THIS, “THE SOPRANOS.”
AND “WEST WING.”
THERE ARE TWO REASONS FOR MY
CHOICE HERE.
I'M CHOOSING TWO PROGRAMS
BECAUSE I HAVE TO CHOOSE IN
ORDER TO GET EVEN A LITTLE BIT
BEYOND THE SHALLOWEST KIND OF
EXPLORATION.
I'M CHOOSING THESE TWO
PARTICULAR PROGRAMS BECAUSE I
THINK THEY ARE ESPECIALLY
REVEALING.
FOR ME THEY OFFER MANY INSIGHTS
INTO THE COMPLEXITY OF AMERICAN
BEHAVIOUR.
NOT JUST BECAUSE BOTH OF THESE,
ENORMOUSLY POPULAR AND LONG
RUNNING PROGRAMS REPRESENT
DIFFERENT POINTS ON A
HYPOTHETICAL SPECTRUM OF
CHARACTERISTICS AND IMPULSES,
THOUGH I THINK THAT IS TRUE,
BUT BECAUSE RANGE AND
COMPLEXITY IS ALSO EVIDENT
WITHIN EACH OF THEM.
WE DON'T ROUTINELY ASSOCIATE
COMPLEXITY WITH TELEVISION, DO
WE?
ASSUMING OFTEN FOR GOOD REASON
THAT IT DOESN'T DO NUANCE VERY
WELL.
AND IN FACT I SHALL, I SHOULD
TELL YOU THAT I STARTED DOWN
WHAT BECAME THE ROAD TOWARDS
THIS PAPER ABOUT A YEAR AND A
HALF AGO, NOT KNOWING IT WAS
LEADING HERE, AND PRETTY MUCH
ASSUMED THEN THAT THE STORY I
WANTED TO TELL WOULD BE A VERY
SIMPLE ONE.
I STARTED IN FACT TO WRITE AN
OP ED PIECE.
A SHORT, PIECE THAT WAS MEANT
TO BE A HALF-FUN, HALF-SERIOUS
RIFF ON WHAT I SAW AS OVER THE
TOP U.S. RESPONSES TO 911.
I CALLED MY FIRST DRAFT GEORGE
W. SOPRANO.

The projection changes to a photo of George W. Bush and a photo of Tony Soprano from the series “The Sopranos.”

Ron continues I DID HAVE FUN.
I PLAYED AROUND WITH WAYS IN
WHICH THE ROOTS OF THE BUSH AND
SOPRANO FAMILY TREES SEEMED TO
GET TANGLED TOGETHER SOMEWHERE
BETWEEN THE WASHINGTON BELTWAY
AND NEW JERSEY.
BOTH W. AND TONY FOR INSTANCE,
SURROUNDED BY THEIR RESPECTIVE
LIEUTENANTS AND RETAINERS,
EVIDENCE A TENDENCY TO RESPOND
TO DANGER AND OR, PERCEIVE
THREATS WITH KICK-ASS,
TOUGHNESS.
BOTH HAVE MINDSETS ROOTED IN
OLD-FASHIONED CODES, CALLING
FOR RUTHLESS RETRIBUTION
AGAINST THOSE WHO DO HARM TO
THE FAMILY OR THE NATION, TO
HONOUR OR INTERESTS.
MY NOTES FOR THAT OP ED PIECE
REMIND ME THAT I HAD ALL KINDS
OF OTHER LINKS IN MIND AS WELL.
IT WAS THE CENTRALITY OF A
FAMILY BUSINESS FOR INSTANCE,
GARBAGE, DRUGS, BARS AND CARS
ON ONE HAND, POLITICS, OIL AND
GAS ON THE OTHER.
I WAS ALSO STRUCK BY THE
CURIOUS PARALLEL LIVES OF KEY
WOMEN AT EITHER END OF THE NEW
YORK, D.C. CORRIDOR.

The projection changes to a photo of Carmella Soprano, and a photo of Laura Bush.

Ron continues CARMELLA AND LAURA FOR
INSTANCE, EACH FIRMLY PLANTED
IN SOMETHING LIKE 1950S STYLE
WIFEDOM.
[Audience laughs]

The projection changes to a photo of Livia Soprano, and a photo of Barbara Bush.

Ron continues LIVIA AND
BARBARA ON THE OTHER HAND, TWO,
TOUGH, COOKIE MOTHERS,
NONETHELESS CONSTRAINED BY A
LACK OF UP FRONT POWER.
FUN ASIDE, I ALSO THOUGHT I HAD
A CENTRAL ANALYTICAL POINT.
ONE, WHICH SAID THAT THE MASS
AUDIENCE APPEAL OF “THE
SOPRANOS” --
LINKED UP WITH
A LONG HISTORY OF ADMIRATION
FOR TOUGH GUYS IN AMERICAN
POPULAR CULTURE.
CAGNEY, BOGART --
JOHN WAYNE,
MARSHALL DILLON, IN THE EARLY
DAYS OF TELEVISION, CLINT
EASTWOOD, STALLONE, BRUCE
WILLIS.
LONG BEFORE THE APPEARANCE OF
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER OF ALL
THINGS, I WAS RUMINATING ON THE
WAY THE POST 911 PERSONA OF
GEORGE W. BUSH, SHOWED HOW THAT
CULTURAL PREDISPOSITION COULD
TAKE ON A REAL LIFE FORM AND
APPEAL IN THE POLITICAL ARENA.
ALMOST IMMEDIATELY THOUGH, I
REALIZED I WASN'T REALLY HAPPY
WITH MY GEORGE W. SOPRANO
PIECE.
AMONG OTHER THINGS I FELT I
WASN'T REALLY BEING FAIR TO
TONY.
[Audience laughing]
FOR GOOD OR
ILL LET ME CONFESS, IT DID
REALLY BOTHER ME TO OPT FOR
CARICATURE WHEN IT CAME TO
BUSH.
I GUESS I WOULD HAVE BEEN
WILLING TO CONSIDER THE
POSSIBILITY THAT I WAS OVER-
SIMPLIFYING, BUT IT CAN BE
TRICKY TO FIGURE OUT JUST WHAT
IT MEANS TO OVER-SIMPLIFY THE
SIMPLE.
[Audience laughs]
THE MORE I
THOUGHT ABOUT IT, I ALSO
CONCLUDED THAT I WAS BEING
UNFAIR TO AMERICANS, NOT THEIR
PRESIDENT, NECESSARILY.
AS A TRANSPLANTED AMERICAN I
HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH THE NOTION
OF CRITICIZING THE BEHAVIOUR OF
THE UNITED STATES.
I DO IT A LOT.
BUT I USUALLY PLACE GREAT STORE
ON THE NEED FOR BALANCE, AND
WITH BALANCE IN MIND ON THE
VALUE OF DELINEATING SHADINGS
AND COUNTER-VEILING INFLUENCES
OR CHARACTERISTICS.
I'D INCLUDED SOMETHING OF A
THROW AWAY LINE IN THE FINAL
DRAFT OF GEORGE W. SOPRANO FOR
EXAMPLE, WHICH SAID THAT I
HOPED THE POPULARITY OF “WEST
WING” HELD OUT THE PROMISE OF
AN EVENTUAL SWING OF THE
PENDULUM, AWAY FROM POPULAR
SUPPORT FOR PURE, KICK-ASS
AGRESSIVENESS.
IT WAS THAT THOUGHT THAT NAGGED
AT ME AT THE TIME AND OVER
TIME, ENOUGH SO AS TO LEAD ME
TO WRITE THIS PARTICULAR PAPER,
WITH A LENGTH GREAT ENOUGH TO
ALLOW ME TO DELINEATE SHADINGS
AND COUNTER-VEILING INFLUENCES
OR CHARACTERISTICS.

The projection shows a photo of Josiah Bartlet in the series “The West Wing.”

Ron continues WHAT DOES THE GREAT, POPULARITY
OF BOTH “THE SOPRANOS” AND
“WEST WING” SAY ABOUT AMERICAN
BEHAVIOUR, ABOUT AMERICAN
IMPULSES, ABOUT THE AMERICAN
CHARACTER?
PARTICULARLY, WITH RESPECT TO
THE AMERICAN BEHAVIOUR IN THE
INTERNATIONAL, ARENA.
HAVING SUGGESTED A FEW OF THE
THOUGHTS PROMPTED BY “THE
SOPRANOS,” LET ME GIVE “WEST
WING” A LITTLE OF ITS OWN
FOCUSED ATTENTION FOR A MOMENT.
JOSIAH BARTLET'S WHITE HOUSE OF
COURSE, AND THE FAIRLY, TINY,
BELTWAY INSIDE THE TERRAIN TROD
BY KEY ADMINISTRATION LEADERS
WHO POPULATE THE SERIES, SEEM A
WORLD AWAY FROM TONY SOPRANO'S
NEW JERSEY.
NOT SURPRISINGLY AS A RESULT,
EVEN DISCOUNTING THE FACT THAT
“WEST WING” HAS EXPLICITLY
POLITICAL CONTENT, THE MESSAGES
AND IMAGES RELEVANT TO AMERICAN
VALUES, IMPULSES AND BEHAVIOUR
ARE PROFOUNDLY DIFFERENT.
JOSIAH BARTLET HIMSELF, IS A
PRESIDENT WITH STRIKING
CHARISMA AND APPEAL.
HE HAS FLAWS, MORE ABOUT THOSE
LATER, BUT THEY'RE USUALLY
QUITE HUMAN FLAWS THAT MAKE HIM
SYMPATHETIC AS WELL AS
IMPRESSIVE.
HE'S AN INTELLECTUAL LEADER AS
WELL AS A POLITICAL ONE.
A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER, HE SHOULD
BE RIPE FOR DATING, PERHAPS.
[Audience laughs]
WITH SERIOUS,
RELIGIOUS, COME PHILOSOPHICAL
PREOCCUPATIONS, AND A
FREQUENTLY, PLAYFUL SENSE OF
HUMOUR.
IT'S THE RANGE OF HIS WEIGHTY
THOUGHTS, AND HIS SENSE OF
HUMOUR BY THE WAY THAT ALLOW US
TO FORGIVE HIM THE FACT THAT
HIS NOBEL IS IN ECONOMICS.
HE'S A PRAGMATIC LIBERAL,
ALTHOUGH THE “L” WORD DOESN'T
REALLY GET USED VERY MUCH WITH
AN ABILITY TO MIX IDEALISTIC,
SOCIAL WELFARE CONCERNS,
ELOQUENCE, SHREWD POLITICAL
STRATEGIZING AND A READINESS TO
COMPROMISE.
WHILE HE CAN SPEAK
PASSIONATELY, HE KNOWS THE
MEANING OF RESTRAINT.
IT'S COMMON TO JOKE ABOUT
MARTIN SHEEN'S ABILITY TO WIN A
REAL WORLD ELECTION.
BUT HE'S ALSO SURROUNDED BY
HIGHLY, CAPABLE AND ADMIRABLE
CHARACTERS.

The projection shows five photos with different character of the series.

Ron continues OF COURSE THAT MIGHT SIMPLY
GIVE PEOPLE ANOTHER REASON TO
VOTE FOR HIM IN PREFERENCE TO
REAL WORLD CANDIDATES.
IT'S HARD NOT TO LIKE PEOPLE
LIKE LEO MCGARRY, TOBY ZIEGLER,
CJ CRAIG, JOSH LYMAN AND
CHARLIE YOUNG FOR INSTANCE.
THEY'RE ALL SMART, IDEALISTIC
AND WITTY.
IF THEIR IMPULSES SOMETIMES GET
THE BETTER OF THEM, THEIR
COMRADES IN ARMS AND THEIR
PRESIDENT USUALLY GET THINGS
BACK ON TRACK AFTER ONE OR TWO
EPISODES.
IT'S NO SMALL THING THAT “WEST
WING” HAS ALSO INCORPORATED AN
IMPRESSIVE NUMBER OF STRONG,
AND HIGHLY CAPABLE FEMALE
CHARACTERS.
ASIDE FROM PRESS SECRETARY CJ
CRAIG, FOR INSTANCE, THERE'S
DONNA MOSS, JOSS', JOSH'S
ASSISTANT OR PERHAPS HIS
HANDLER, MANAGER.
A FEMALE, NATIONAL SECURITY
ADVISOR WHO DOES SEEM TO BE
DISAPPEARING THIS YEAR, AND
PERHAPS MOST, IMPORTANTLY,
FIRST LADY ABIGAIL BARTLET.
NONE OF THESE CHARACTERS IS
DEPICTED AS EITHER A TOY OR A
POWERLESS, SELL-OUT OR EVIL.
WHICH IS THE
MORE USUAL CHOICE OF OPTIONS ON
“THE SOPRANOS.”

Ron drinks water from a cup on the podium.

Ron continues GIVEN THE
DRAMATIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN
“THE SOPRANOS” AND “WEST WING.”
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO
SUGGEST THAT THE GREAT
POPULARITY OF BOTH PROGRAMS,
TELLS US SOMETHING ABOUT
AMERICAN VALUES AND IMPULSES
AND AMONG OTHER THINGS ABOUT
AMERICAN BEHAVIOUR ABROAD, THAT
EMERGES FROM THOSE VALUES AND
IMPULSES?
I WANT TO SUGGEST TWO ANSWERS
TO THAT QUESTION.
ONE OBVIOUS, ONE LESS, OBVIOUS,
ONE RELEVANT, THE OTHER FOR ME,
MORE IMPORTANT.
THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS THAT NOT
ALL AMERICANS ARE ALIKE, AND
THAT NOT ALL AMERICAN LEADERS
ARE ALIKE, WHATEVER RALPH NADER
MAY BE SAYING RIGHT NOW.
THESE TWO DIFFERENT PROGRAMS
COULD BE SEEN AS REPRESENTING
DIFFERENT STRAINS IN THE
COUNTRY THAT IS NOT UNCOMMONLY
REFERRED TO THESE DAYS FOR
INSTANCE AS THE 50-50 NATION.
AND THE DIFFERENT POLITICAL
VALUES OR PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS
THAT GENERATE SHIFTS IN
POLITICAL LEADERSHIP AND
BEHAVIOUR OVER TIME.
ENVISION A SEESAW OF SORTS BACK
AND FORTH HERE, FOR INSTANCE.

The projection shows again the photos of George W. Bush and Tony Soprano.

Ron continues ON ONE HAND, BACK TO GEORGE W.
SOPRANO FOR THE REASONS I
MENTIONED A FEW MINUTES AGO.
ON THE OTHER HAND HOWEVER,
SOMETHING THAT A CHARACTER WHO
MIGHT BE CALLED JOSIAH CLINTON,

The projection shows a photo of Bill Clinton and a photo of Josiah Bartlet.

Ron continues REPRESENTATIVE OF CLINTON'S
ELOQUENCE AND PREFERENCE FOR
PRAGMATIC, YET IDEALISTIC
MODERATION, AND I AM TALKING
ABOUT HIS PUBLIC RATHER THAN
HIS PRIVATE LIFE HERE.
[Audience laughs]
THOUGH THE
LINE BETWEEN THE TWO CERTAINLY
TENDED TO DISAPPEAR TOWARDS THE
END.
ON ONE HAND TO CONTINUE THE
SEESAW, A CHARACTER WHO MIGHT
BE KNOWN AS PAULIE WALNUTS
REAGAN --
[Audience laughing]

The projection shows a photo of Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri from “The Sopranos,” and a photo of Ronald Reagan.

Ron continues REPRESENTATIVE
OF THE AGGRESSIVE, AND COWBOY-
LIKE REAGAN OF BOTH EVIL EMPIRE
AND “DEATH VALLEY” DAYS.
ON THE OTHER HAND, A JOSH
CARTER

The projection shows a photo of Josh Lyman from “The West Wing,” and a photo of Jimmy Carter.

Ron continues REPRESENTATIVE OF THE
PENSIVE, SOFT-SPOKEN,
SOUTHERNER WHO MIGHT NOT HAVE
BEEN QUITE KICK-ASS ENOUGH TO
PULL OF A SUCCESSFUL MILITARY
RESCUE OF THE AMERICAN HOSTAGES
IN TEHRAN.

The projection shows a photo of Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero from “The Sopranos,” and a photo of John F. Kennedy.

Ron continues ON ONE HAND A CHARACTER THAT WE
MIGHT CALL BIG PUSSY KENNEDY,
REPRESENTATIVE OF KENNEDY'S
TASTES FOR MACHO VIGOR, AS
OPPOSED TO A CJ ROOSEVELT,

The projection shows a photo of C.J. Cregg from “The West Wing” and a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ron continues REPRESENTING FRANKLIN
ROOSEVELT'S FAMED, NEW DEAL AND
SOCIAL WELFARE REFORMS, AND IS
OFTEN MEASURED SOME SAY, OVERLY
MEASURED RESPONSES TO BOTH
INTERNATIONAL CRISIS AND
OPPORTUNITIES.
WHY WOULD ANYONE IMAGINE AFTER
ALL THAT A VAST POPULATION
WOULD BE THOROUGLY HOMOGENEOUS
IN ITS PERCEPTIONS AND SELF-
PERCEPTIONS, EVEN AT ANY GIVEN
MOMENT MUCH LESS OVER TIME?
A SECOND LESS OBVIOUS AND LESS,
TRADITIONAL BUT TO ME, MORE
INTERESTING EXPLANATION FOR THE
RELEVANCE OF BOTH “THE
SOPRANOS” AND “WEST WING,”
WOULD ARGUE THAT DIFFERENT
STRAINS OF VALUES,
INCLINATIONS, AND BEHAVIOUR DO
NOT ONLY EXIST BETWEEN
DIFFERENT GROUPS OF AMERICANS
OR DIFFERENT MOMENTS IN TIME,
BUT WITHIN MANY AMERICANS.
BOTH AVERAGE AMERICANS AND
THEIR LEADERS I WOULD ARGUE,
ARE REGULARLY TORN OR
CONFLICTED IN THEIR IMPULSES.
NOT JUST SQUARED OFF AGAINST
THEIR POLAR OPPOSITES.
THIS IS SOMETHING THAT MAKES
DEALING WITH THEIR LESS,
ATTRACTIVE IMPULSES THAT MUCH
HARDER AS A RESULT.
THERE IS A SINGLE-MINDED,
SIMPLE-MINDED, TENER TO THE
SECOND BUSH ADMINISTRATION THAT
CAN UNDERSTANDABLY HIDE THIS
TORN AND CONFLICTED QUALITY OF
THE AMERICAN CHARACTER AND
AMERICAN BEHAVIOUR.
SOME OF US DID TEND TO SEE
COLIN POWELL AS THE EMBODIMENT
OF AMBIVALENCE IN A SECOND BUSH
ERA FOR QUITE A
WHILE, I SUPPOSE.
BUT IN MANY RESPECTS, POWELL IS
EVOLVING INTO A NEW KIND OF
INVISIBLE MAN. BUT I WOULD
SAY THAT THE BUSH TEAM WOULD BE
THE EXCEPTION IN ITS SINGLE-
MINDEDNESS.

The projection shows a photo of Josiah Bartlet, Tony Soprano, and Bill Clinton

Ron continues CLINTON AFTER ALL COULD BE BOTH
PRAGMATIC AS WELL AS ARROGANT.
THE PRIVATE LIFE ASSUMPTION
THAT YOU COULD GET AWAY WITH
ALMOST ANYTHING HAD ITS
COUNTER-PART IN POST COLD WAR
TRIUMPHALISM, DEPICTING THE
UNITED STATES IN CLINTON'S
WORDS AS THE INDISPENSABLE,
NATION.

The projection shows a photo of Toby Ziegler from “The West Wing,” Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri form “The Sopranos,” and Ronald Reagan.

Ron continues REAGAN ON THE OTHER HAND, COULD
BE THANKFULLY, MORE THAN A
HOLLYWOOD COWBOY RIDING HERD ON
A GLOBAL RANGE, AS HE
DEMONSTRATED FOR INSTANCE IN A
SERIES OF PRODUCTIVE AND
IMPORTANT SUMMITS WITH THE LAST
LEADERS OF THE SOVIET UNION.
AND SO FORTH, THROUGH THE
SEESAW CYCLE I MENTIONED
EARLIER, ONE LAST EXAMPLE.
FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT COULD REVEAL
ARISTOCRATIC SUPERCILIOUSNESS,
AS WELL AS SUBTLETY, A FUNCTION
OF BOTH PERSONALITY AND A
PAMPERED, CHILDHOOD, PERHAPS.
AND HE COULD REGULARLY TILT
TOWARD BOTH MINIMALIST SOCIAL
WELFARE REFORMS AND THE
CONCEPTULIZATION OF AN
INTERNATIONAL ROLE FOR THE
UNITED STATES THAT WOULD BE SO
GRAND SCALE AS TO BE
HISTORICALLY UNIQUE IN GREAT
POWER HISTORY.
FOR INSTANCE IN ITS REACH
TOWARD PLAYING MAJOR ROLES IN
BOTH, EUROPE AND ASIA AS WELL
AS THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE.
TWO MORE POINTS AS I HEAD TO A
CONCLUSION HERE.
FIRST, I WOULD NOT WANT TO
CONCLUDE MY REMARKS TODAY
WITHOUT MENTIONING THAT I SEE
THE PRESENCE OF CONFLICTED
IMPULSES AND VALUES AS A REAL
STRENGTH OF BOTH “THE SOPRANOS.”
AND “WEST WING.”
ONE OF THE WAYS IN WHICH, THESE
SERIES FOR ME, ENCOURAGES
SENSITIVITY TO THE COMPLEXITY
OF AMERICAN, VALUES AND
CHARACTERISTICS.
IN A THOROUGHLY TYPICAL FASHION
TO BE SURE, ISN'T THIS
COMPLEXITY ONE OF THE KEYS TO
THE ENORMOUS APPEAL OF, SORRY,
IN A THOROUGHLY A-POLITICAL
FASHION, ISN'T THIS COMPLEXITY
ONE OF THE KEYS TO THE ENORMOUS
APPEAL OF TONY AND THE OTHER
DENIZENS OF “THE SOPRANOS”?
ON ONE HAND, THERE IS THE OFTEN
OVER THE TOP AND VIOLENT,
ASSERTIVENESS, WHICH PERHAPS
OFFERS AMERICANS A SENSE OF
VICARIOUS STRENGTH AND POWER IN
DEALING WITH A GRITTY,
SOMETIMES, UGLY WORLD AND A
SOCIETY AT HOME THAT OFFERS
THEM, AT LEAST MANY OF THEM
LESS THAN THE AMERICAN DREAM.
ON THE OTHER HAND THERE IS THE
VULNERABILITY OF OFTEN TORTURED
SOULS AND A RAFT OF CHARACTERS
WITH BUMBLING, EVEN COMIC,
HUMAN FRAILTIES.
TONY'S PSYCHIATRIST AFTER ALL
IS A CENTRAL FIGURE IN THE
SERIES, PRESENT TO HELP HIM
WORK THROUGH SORT OF, HIS
ANXIETY ATTACKS, HIS GUILT
RIDDEN VISIONS OF TALKING FISH,
HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE
MOTHER FROM HELL AND SO FORTH.
“WEST WING” AVOIDS TALKING
FISH, BUT IT TOO OFFERS
CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS THAT
CAN BE ROUNDED AND COMPLEX.
ON ONE HAND, JOSIAH BARTLET HAS
CHARISMA, STRONG SOCIAL WELFARE
INSTINCTS, PRAGMATISM AND
INTELLIGENT, GOOD HUMOUR.
ON THE OTHER
HAND, HE WAS DISHONEST TO BOTH
VOTERS AND INTIMATES ALIKE
ABOUT AN ISSUE AS SIGNIFICANT
AS HIS HEALTH.
HE APPROVED AN ASSASSINATION OF
THE MIDDLE EASTERN LEADER, AND
IN A RECENT EPISODE CAME WITHIN
A HAIR'S BREADTH OF TRIGGERING
A BOMBING RAID ON IRAN.
IT COULD BE ARGUED THAT THESE
CONTRARY IMPULSES MAKE BARTLET
MORE HUMAN, KEEP HIM FROM
BECOMING AN UNBELIEVABLE,
HEROIC, PURELY HEROIC
CARICATURE.
THEY ALSO CERTAINLY MAKE HIM
MORE REVEALING REPRESENTATIVE
OF THE CONFLICTED IMPULSES OF
THE POPULATION HE, HE LEADS.
BY THE WAY, HE ALSO RUNS AN
ADMINISTRATION IN WHICH WOMEN
ARE HIGHLY VISIBLE AND
ATTRACTIVE, BUT LACKING IN
TRULY POWERFUL POWER.
CJ IS A PRESS SECRETARY, WHO
MORE REGULARLY COMMUNICATES
POLICY THAN SHAPES IT.
TOBY'S ASSISTANT DONNA, AND
FIRST LADY ABBEY, ARE FEISTY
CHARACTERS TO BE SURE, BUT
THEIR EXERCISE OF POWER CARRIES
ECHOES OF 1950S LIKE
TELEVISION, WITH THEM BEING
AKIN TO THE WISE MOTHERS WHO
WERE FORCED TO USE CLEVERNESS
RATHER THAN AUTHORITY TO AT
LEAST SOMETIMES CONTROL THEIR
HUSBANDS AND CHILDREN.
LASTLY, IT'S IMPORTANT I THINK
TO RECOGNIZE THAT THE PRESENCE
OF CONFLICTED IMPULSES AND
VALUES DOES NOT RESULT IN SOME
HAMBURGER MIXTURE, IN WHICH ALL
OF THE ACTORS AND AT ALL TIMES
AND WITH RESPECT TO ALL OF
THEIR ACTIONS ARE ESSENTIALLY
THE SAME.
HARDLY.
AMBIVALENCE TENDS TO WORK
ITSELF OUT, WITHOUT RESULTING
IN PARALYSIS.
AND THE SCALES DO COME DOWN ON
SOMETHING LIKE ONE SIDE OR
ANOTHER.
MORE OFTEN THAN NOT FOR
EXAMPLE, I WOULD ARGUE THAT A
CONFLICTED CLINTON WOULD OPT
FOR PRAGMATIC ACTION RATHER
THAN CRUSADING ZEAL.
MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, KENNEDY
WOULD OPT FOR SHOOT FROM THE
MOUTH RHETORIC AND VISION THAT
MADE RESTRAINT MUCH MORE
DIFFICULT AND SO FORTH.
NONETHELESS, IT DOES NO GOOD TO
IGNORE THE COUNTER-POINT OF
IMPULSES THAT BEATS BELOWS THE
SURFACE OF ULTIMATE ACTION.
RECOGNIZING THE PRESENCE OF
TENSIONS AND AMBIVALENCE IS
VITAL TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF
COMPLEX BEHAVIOUR IN
PSYCHOLOGY, ALL THE MORE SO IF
THERE IS A DESIRE TO DELINEATE
MECHANISMS FOR ALTERING OR EVEN
CHECKING THAT BEHAVIOUR.
THANK YOU.

[Audience applauding]

Watch: Ron Pruessen on Sopranos in the West Wing