Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sopranos Pinball in Italy

On Saturday morning, I sit through a presentation by Jonas Ridderstraale, the bald and black-leather-wristbanded author of a "bestseller" called "Funky Business." He's here to talk about revitalizing the corporation, but he waxes sociological too, especially when he proclaims that the citizens of the Republic of Britney Spears now matter more as a market to most companies than do the citizens of, say, Belgium. Because you see, nation states no longer have a sense of themselves, and instead, people tend to group themselves into tribes. It's meant to be deep, but it's just a twenty dollar makeover of Ned Beatty's climactic speech at the end of Network, a film made in 1976.

A short while after this, I find that I must leave this place, this Fair of Ideas. So I walk across the street to the shopping mall with the pyramid on top of it. Shop & Play.

What I discover inside is lane after lane of stores so tacky and fake-fur-encrusted they would make the merchants of Manhattan's 14th Street blush. I look for a little something for Adinah, but the toy shop is filled with chinzy plastic action figures and cartoon characters I don't even recognize, so I flee. I have lust for an ice cream, but all I can find is an American Frozen Yogurt kiosk. I get a small cup of strawberry.

And I play pinball. The arcade has four games, so I try each, pick my favorite and have been amusing it for a few minutes before I realize what I am doing. I am playing a Sopranos pinball game in Italy.

It's pretty fun, although I'm not sure how any regulator could have ever thought it was an appropriate machine for children or adolescents. There's a plastic stripper figure who slides up and down a pole, there's a dot-matrix graphic of a guy getting beaten to death, and one object of the game is to advance from the rank of Soldier to Good Earner to Boss. I get to Acting Capo. And I smack the stripper target hard enough to get the backglass to flash the words "Totale Bing!" But the best part of it is the old man voice who keeps yelling something which sounds like, "Bambi la Gada!"

How odd it must be for some of the Italian teens milling around me to play this game and see a cliche of Italy filtered through an array of Hollywood bells and whistles. Do they recognize anything of their culture or their country or themselves in this contraption? Maybe it's just entertainment for them. But I think that if they do play Sopranos pinball in Italy (because not too many kids under thirty do play the game anywhere anymore), they will at least recognize that this mechanical cartoon of the Mafia and pasta is supposed to be somehow Italian. Some of them might even be self-possessed enough to say, 'Yo, that is not how you get to be an Acting Capo.'

So please, don't tell me people don't know who they are anymore. To that I say, 'Bambi La Gada!!'

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