When thinking about BGS themes in pop culture, I immediately thought of HBO’s hit series The Sopranos. For those who aren’t familiar, the show centers around Tony Soprano, an Italian-American mobster, and the problems he encounters while heading a criminal organization. While the mafia generally caries a serious negative connotation, the show looks at the notorious crime family from a different angle. Many theories we have looked at concerning business ethics can be applied to Tony’s less than ethical profession.
The Sopranos is a critically acclaimed show that ran from 1999-2007. The show has won 21 Emmy Awards throughout its six seasons. The show does a tremendous job of portraying mafia life and looking at the ethical reasoning of those involved in the family.
While a lot of the show details the life of a seemingly normal New Jersey family, the show also deals with the effects Tony’s career choice has on his wife, kids, and own morality. The main theme of the show is Tony’s ethical dilemma and the suppressed guilt he feels for his life choices and the crimes that he commits. Characters in the show deal with the stresses of mafia life in different ways. Some gamble, some abuse alcohol and drugs, and others turn to adultery. While Tony dables in all of these vices, he doesn’t have a particular escape. Instead, he is subject to sudden onset panic attacks, which cause him to pass out (often times in dangerous situations). This medical condition prompts him to pursue therapy.
A lot of the show is dedicated to the relationship between Tony and his therapist, Dr. Melfi. Treating a known felon creates some additional ethical issues for Dr. Melfi, yet she insists on helping Tony with the goal of uncovering the roots of his panic attacks, and understanding the stress that caused Tony to develop his unique medical condition. Dr. Melfi looks closely at his upbringing, but spends a lot of time looking at how Tony, a man who loves his family above all else, is capable of extortion, assault, and even murder.
Throughout the series, it is interesting to see how Tony copes with his immoral actions, and the rationale he creates to ease his mind. For most of the series, he stands by the mentality that what he does is simply business, and “the business of business is business”. This mentality is very similar to Friedman’s shareholder theory. In Tony’s eyes, his job is to make a living for his family, and he shouldn’t be concerned with the ethics of his profession. I believe that there are white collar criminals who believe in a similar idea.
In this clip Dr. Melfi discovers that Tony’s rationale for his actions, is mainly rooted in his Italian-American heritage. He argues that as immigrants, Italian-Americans were subject to prejudice and without access to education and a fair chance had to earn money any way they could. This lifestyle has been passed down generation to generation as a source of pride. Tony also believes that the actions committed by the crime families are no worse than actions of “legal” businessmen, who are just as corrupt.
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The Sopranos is a fantastic series that is both entertaining and thought provoking. While in some ways the show is an action packed gangster thriller, the show really makes the audience think about what motivations are important in life and shows the extremes some people go to in search of the “good life”. If you haven’t seen the show before, I highly recommend you try watching it. You won’t be disappointed.