Several prominent gay media organizations say that Sunday night’s death of gay mobster Vito Spatafore on “The Sopranos” was, sadly, an honest reflection of the way things still work in too many real-life cultures.
Joe Gannascoli’s Vito, torn between rejection in the amoral action world he loved and acceptance in a quiet world that suffocated him, had been working on a death wish for several episodes.
So sure enough, a few minutes before 10 on Sunday night, he was reduced to 200 pounds of well-tenderized hamburger meat in a cheap motel room.
This surprised no one. There was a better chance of Paulie Walnuts winning a MacArthur Genius Grant than Vito living through the current “Sopranos” season.
But the fact he was killed basically for being gay did not disturb several gay organizations, because of the sympathetic way the show framed his circumstances.
“This was a complex commentary on the struggle that so many people face in living openly and honestly,” said Damon Romine, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. “This was a story that laid bare the ugliness of prejudice and bigotry of so many characters on the show.”
Vito’s death was “true to the show,” said Matt Farber, president of Wilderness Media and founder of MTV Logo. “In many facets of America today, people are still not accepted for who they naturally are. Being killed for it, obviously, is an extreme – though a few people have been.”
Farber, who describes himself as a “huge “Sopranos’ fan,” said he loved the whole Vito story line – being outed, fleeing to a small town and then missing The Life too much to stay away, even though he knew going back could kill him.
“It did a good job of showing how sad it is for many gay people, how there’s such self-loathing,” said Farber. “The saddest scene was when he called to say goodbye to his boyfriend in New Hampshire.”
Some fans on “Sopranos” message boards, which lighted up Monday over Vito, didn’t see that scene quite the same.
“When he called Johnny Cakes, I said to myself, “If they continue a long-distance relationship I will puke,”‘ wrote one poster on the Sopranoland board.
Many posters folded Vito’s case into the continuing debate over the quality of this whole “Sopranos” year.
“The best episode of the season,” wrote one. “But it stood out so much because it was the best of a very bad lot.”
GLAAD’s Romine saw Vito’s story in a more positive light.
“This was an interesting study of how gay characters can be integrated into a story,” he said. “With Vito, we saw how well cable delivers multidimensional gay characters. Broadcast networks have yet to fully realize this potential.”
“Vito wasn’t a good guy,” said Farber. “In the context of the show, I was glad he was killed – not because he was gay, but because he was an (expletive).”