Yesterday news came that David Chase had told someone that at the end of The Sopranos, Tony doesn't die. Said "news" was published by Vox, the internet's leading site for men who aspire to be Authoritative Men Who Explain Things. Late yesterday David Chase issued a statement insisting he'd been misunderstood.
It all turned into a heartwarming lesson on the Nature of Truth. We're happy to explain it to you here.
What the hell happened?
Early in the day Vox published a long shaggy piece called "Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?" by an academic called Martha P. Nochimson, who I guess writes a lot about movies. The article answers the question, quoting Chase as saying Tony isn't dead—more on that later—and then continues for 4,500 words after it sort-of profiling the guy in meandering, repetitive fashion.
So the article categorically stated that in Chase's opinion, Tony was not dead?
Actually, Vox did one better. The website printed said statement in giant red and white letters on a black background in the middle of the piece. The writer said she asked Chase if Tony was dead, and this is what happened:
Then the site tweeted the piece around packaged as a piece in which David Chase answered the question.
— Vox (@voxdotcom) August 28, 2014
I think it's pretty clear Vox wanted people to believe it had gotten some amazing scoop with this story and that they were pretty comfortable with packaging it as coming straight from the horse's mouth.
What exactly did David Chase's statement about this say?
A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying, 'Tony Soprano is not dead,' is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true. As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, 'Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.' To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.
Surely Vox's editors simply elegantly acknowledged their mistake and moved on. Everyone screws up sometimes.
Well... it seems instead that at least one of their editors, Matt Yglesias, had some kind of live-tweeted epistemological crisis.
It's not up to David Chase whether Tony is alive or dead.
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 28, 2014
Which was funny because earlier in the day, he'd tweeted this:
David Chase wants you to stop asking if Tony Soprano died, so now he’s going to tell you: http://t.co/kQI0FPgeI6
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 27, 2014
Yglesias was apparently unwilling to throw himself on the funeral pyre personally, however. Vox assigned one of its writers, Todd Van Der Werff, to write the quick rebuttal. Van der Werff was reduced to arguing that there was so much other text in the piece that in fact Nochimson had presented the answer as qualified. Although, as he admitted, Vox itself had not done the same thing. He added this anemic defense of how Vox sold this story:
The story, of course, has been boiled down — even by us — to the one sentence where Chase finally answers Nochimson point blank, despite the presence of an entire piece discussing Chase's background, his influences, and our lack of comfort with ambiguity in storytelling. This makes sense, because we're in the news business, and what's newsworthy here is Chase appearing to confirm something many have long suspected.
What is the moral of this story?
In the "news" business outside the halls of Vox dot com, "appearing to confirm" is not actually the same as confirming. It's a little cheap to package the story in one way and then claim that's the "news" way to do it when it was, really, just a giant, embarrassing mistake. Which would be made less giant and embarrassing if they simply admitted it.
For my money the problem here is that Vox was very excited they would get to explain the end of the Sopranos in this quick and dirty way. If said explanation came at the expense of deeper understanding, well... so be it.
But wait, what are you saying, is Tony dead?
Tony Soprano, being a fictional character, can be neither alive nor dead. Instead, in an awful cliché which is awful because it is sort of true, he "lives" in the imagination of the people who watch him. A "dead" character can continue to "live" in this way no matter what happens to him within the frame of a story.
And in any event the ambiguous nature of a story was a recurring theme in the Sopranos. When Tony sat in his therapist's chair he discovered there were stories he'd been telling himself for years, about his mother, that weren't true. (He wasn't as good at being critical about the stories he told himself about himself.) When Carmela goes and tells her story to a Jewish therapist she discovers that her apprehension of her own reality is wrong, too. Also this was a show in which fish talked in the voices of the dead sometimes. It was meant to be ambiguous. It's okay to leave it there.
[Image via Getty.]