A Tale of Two Tonys, Exiting Tormented
By MAUREEN DOWD
They’re both going out, not with a bang, but with a bing.
As they go dark, the two Tonys are bitter, paranoid and worn down by their enemies and scheming erstwhile allies. They both live in a bleak universe of half-truths, compromises and betrayals, a world changed utterly by the violence they set in motion. They were both brought low by high-stakes mistakes.
Tony Blair fears the feral beast. Tony Soprano is the feral beast.
The two Tonys found that their skin was never thick enough. And they stumbled into trouble with their Juniors, Junior Bush and Junior Soprano. Before he steps down in two weeks, Tony Blair decided to let loose with one of those self-pitying Tony Soprano-style rants that drove Dr. Melfi to terminate him. Call it No. 10 Downer Street.
“The fear of missing out means today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack,” Mr. Blair said in a speech at Reuters in London. “In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.”
The British Tony actually begins his speech — “Reflections on the Future of Democracy and the Media, or Why Don’t You Love Me?” — with the word “whacking,” as in: “This is not my response to the latest whacking from bits of the media.”
Of course it is, at least partly. Talk about hoist on your own press. When Tony Blair announced last month that he would step down, the press that once doted on him devoured him. The commentary was a frenzy of complaints about the slick Blair spin machine that had manipulated the media and turned British discourse to “rot.”
The movie, “The Queen,” recounted the young prime minister’s triumph when he helped spin Diana’s posthumous image as “The People’s Princess” and cajoled the hidebound royals into listening and responding to the feral press beast that was tearing the monarchy’s reputation to bits.
But when the beast (as Evelyn Waugh slyly called his British newspaper in “Scoop”) turned on Mr. Blair over various scandals, most importantly his unholy alliance with W. on Iraq, he grew disillusioned, the lion tamer mauled by his own lion.
“The final consequence of all of this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media,” Mr. Blair said. “Things, people, issues, stories, are all black and white. Life’s usual gray is almost entirely absent. ‘Some good, some bad’; ‘some things going right, some going wrong’: these are concepts alien to today’s reporting.”
I worry more about the press when it’s reverent rather than irreverent, when it’s a tame lapdog, as it was in the buildup to Iraq, than when it’s a feral beast. And I worry about politicians like W. and Blair being black and white rather than gray, as they were in building their hysterical, phony case against Saddam. We would have been well-served back then if Mr. Blair had explained to the jejune Junior that there’s some good, some bad, and some gray in the world, and that sometimes it’s smarter to squeeze tyrants, rather than Shock-and-Awe them.
On his first visit to Baghdad Monday, Gordon Brown vowed never to repeat his partner’s mistake of politicizing intelligence to go to war. We’ll have to wait to see if David Chase, the Garbo of goombahs now pursued by a feral beast of disappointed “Sopranos” fans, is feeling as paranoid and thin-skinned as the two Tonys, and as deeply surprised by the consequences of his actions.
Mr. Chase, an apocalyptic tease, gave us a gimmicky and unsatisfying film-school-style blackout for an end to his mob saga, a stunt one notch above “It was all a dream.” It was the TV equivalent of one of those design-your-own-mug places.
Even though I loved the first few years of “The Sopranos,” Mr. Chase always struck me as passive-aggressive. The more fans obsessed on his show, the longer his hiatuses would grow and the slower his narrative velocity moved. His ending was equally perverse, throwing the ball contemptuously back at his fans after manipulating them and teasing them for an hour with red herrings — and a ginger cat.
After references in three shows to Yeats’s “The Second Coming” — the last allusion to the rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem by A.J. at the diner table in the final scene — the least Mr. Chase could have dished up was some “mere anarchy.”
Surely, after eight years with this family, we deserved some revelation better than “Life goes on. ... Or not.”
The only revelation was that Mr. Chase and James Gandolfini are keeping their options open for a Sopranos movie. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic and a Sopranos aficionado who liked the might-or-might-not ending, tells me I made too much of the foreshadowing of the Yeats poem.
“It’s overused to express unhappiness,” he said. “If you’re at a restaurant and you want linguine and they only have manicotti, we’re slouching toward Bethlehem.”