Thursday 17 December 2009

when the ducks go

One of the great TV series of the Noughties - some say the greatest series ever - opened with a man in New Jersey having panic attacks because a family of ducks had stopped visiting his pool.

It was one of the few moments in The Sopranos when the natural world got a look in. Other than that, the series was driven by an unquenchable human appetite for food, drink, drugs, cash, violence, food, and more food.

There was never any sense where this food came from. The closest viewers came to seeing a supply chain was a lorry full of frozen turkeys. The lifestyle led by the Soprano family - the spacious McMansion, the wife's limitless soft-pastel wardrobe - offered an eerily kitsch contrast to the raw violence that paid for it.

The Sopranos is not the first drama to use wild ducks as a metaphor for a denatured society. In Ibsen's Wild Duck, nature has been confined and sentimentalised in a loft. In the 86 episodes of The Sopranos, it is markedly absent. Very few animals feature at all. In one episode, Tony's nephew is so high that he falls asleep on top of his girlfriend's small dog and suffocates it.

Whatever time of day it is, it is always night-time at the Bada Bing strip-club. The outdoors scenes usually take place on golf courses. The yacht is really only another bedroom location for Tony. When two fairly tough characters find themselves lost in the woods on a freezing night (in the acclaimed Pine Barrens episode) they have no idea how to survive.

The series depicts a self-enclosed cycle of consumption and exploitation that's graphic testament to what Ted Hughes once called 'the flight from nature'. That mix of entitlement and disregard, so vivid in The Sopranos, has led to Copenhagen.

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