NEW JERSEY AND THE SOPRANOS: PERFECT TOGETHER?
Faculty Analysis (1)
Faculty Analysis (2)
August 15th 2001
With HBO's announcement that The Sopranos' fourth season shows will not air until 2002, frustrated fans have had to settle for the reruns that began last Sunday. The delayed resumption of the popular mob family saga set in northern New Jersey will hit especially hard in The Sopranos' home state.
A recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind found that half of adult TV viewers in the Garden State report watching the show at least occasionally this year, as compared to only a third of viewers in other states. New Jersey fans are also more faithful, with 25% reporting they watch most episodes. Only 11% of viewers elsewhere watch this frequently.
In both New Jersey and the nation, those tuned in to The Sopranos are more likely to be men. Around the country, 40% of men and 26% of women say they have watched the show since January. In Tony Soprano's home state, where more people watch the program, 57% of men and 42% of women report having seen it this year.
The award-winning program's spotlight on the Garden State is a mixed blessing. Nationally, those who have watched the program are somewhat more likely than non-viewers to think New Jersey has more crime, dishonest politicians, and pollution than other states, and that it has higher taxes and is a worse place to live than other states. Although the large majority of respondents think New Jersey is the same as other states or have no opinion on these issues, Sopranos viewers are consistently more likely than non-viewers to have negative opinions of New Jersey. But Sopranos viewers are also more likely than non-viewers to have traveled to New Jersey. Bruce Larson, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University, cautioned that "It's not clear if the more negative view of New Jersey among Sopranos' viewers around the country results from watching the show, or whether the show just reinforces pre-existing opinions."
Larson also noted that only a third of all the national respondents even know that the show is set in New Jersey. Among those who have watched the show, only 26% think the show is "pretty much telling the truth about the people and events it depicts," whereas 62% think the Sopranos is "just a story." 12 percent were unsure. But those who do know where the Sopranos live are also more inclined to have more negative views of New Jersey, and they are a bit more ready to accept its plot line as the truth.
Tony Soprano's New Jersey neighbors exhibit their own brand of perverse chauvinism about these matters. Almost two-thirds of New Jerseyans know that the Sopranos live in their state. Residents who watch the program mirror the opinions of viewers elsewhere, in being more likely to perceive the state as having more crime and dishonest politicians than other states. But New Jersey viewers are even more likely than nonviewers to believe the state is a better place to live than other states. Over half chose this option, and only about one in ten thought New Jersey was a worse place to live.
Along with some commentators' praise for its dramatic qualities, The Sopranos, like many other current TV series, has also been criticized for having too much violence, sexual explicitness, and offensive language. It has also been accused of glorifying organized crime, and civil rights groups have complained about its portrayal of Italian-Americans. Viewers of the show, both in New Jersey and elsewhere, are divided in their opinions. The show's language was a concern for four in ten viewers nationally and nearly six in ten in New Jersey. In contrast, two-thirds of viewers nationally, and three-quarters of those in New Jersey, do not believe the show portrays Italian-Americans in a negative way. Majorities of both groups also disagree that the show glorifies organized crime.
Still, Professor William Roberts, an academic associate of the poll and author of several books on modern Italian history commented that "the show's inflated image of organized crime casts a shadow over both the state and its Italian-American community."
The Sopranos draws viewers from every demographic group in the country. However, residents of the east and west coasts, liberals, college graduates, and Democrats figure particularly heavily in its audience.
Fairleigh Dickinson Professor, Dr. Bruce Larson can be reached at (973) 443-8727
Dr. Peter Woolley can be reached at 973-443-8725.
Dr. William Roberts can be reached at 201-692-7173.
Radio actuality line: 201-692-2846.
Do you know what state in the country The Sopranos is supposed to take place in?