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Remembering the power of Tony Soprano

Updated: July 19, 2013 3:26PM

James Gandolfini’s death was a loss to everyone who loved “The Sopranos.” I wrote this column in 2001 when the show and Gandolfini were becoming cultural icons.

Would you ever think a fat, bald murderer who walks around the house in his boxers and drinks milk from the carton could ever be sexy? Would you ever think a brutal man with anger management issues and a mama complex could inspire lust? Have you seen Tony Soprano?

Tony is the opposite of everything women say they want. They say they want a man who is faithful. Tony hangs out in a strip joint and does more than look. They say they want a man who’s gentle. Tony beats, kicks, stabs and shoots anyone in his way. They say they want a man who’s sensitive. Tony? Sensitive? Like a baseball bat.

Yet he’s the first real sex symbol of the millennium. What does that say?

What is his appeal? Some readers mentioned his “teddy bear” charm, “his smile” and his “pleasantly rumpled face.” Some liked the “bad-boy thug” and thought danger was “a turn-on.”

Kara says, “Tony is the kind of guy every woman — if she would admit it — wants to be with. He’s strong, powerful, rich, totally in control. Other men cower before him. He calls all the shots. You know if you’re with a man like Tony, you will be taken care of.”

Bernard Beck, professor of sociology at Northwestern University who specializes in popular culture, agrees.

“He’s the antithesis of what women want, with one exception, and that is power. That’s still pretty high on their list. They admire the ability to get things done.

“Not only Tony, but virtually all of the gangster heroes over the last 70 years of movies have been unpredictably attractive, starting with James Cagney in the ’30s right up ’til today.”

Beck says the writers make Tony’s brutality more palatable by letting it build. His temper might explode in a second, but it’s against someone we’ve been set up to despise over many episodes. By the time Tony’s fuse is lit, we’re ready.

“You justify outbreaks of violence by having long periods where the protagonist has had to endure, so the violence, when it comes, is long overdue.”

And, of course, Tony is just a sexual fantasy, emphasis on fantasy. Nobody’s bringing him home to mama.

“As a fantasy,” Beck says, “women know they don’t have to spend any real time with him. Women can be attracted without paying the price of being near him.”

Does Tony represent a huge step backward in the forward motion of feminism? Beck is not worried. “There’s no point in being alarmed at every fantasy. We’ve learned from several decades of feminism that every quirky, guilty pleasure is not the end of the world.”

Who’s the sexiest man on TV or the movies? Who’s the sexiest woman? Send your thoughts, along with your questions, problems and rants to

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