But not this kind: "Body of Evidence: Tony Soprano's Corporeal Battle." "Episode Five, or When Does a Narrative Become What It Is?" "Carmela Soprano as Emma Bovary: European Culture, Taste, and Class in 'The Sopranos."'
Nearly a year after the smash series' finale left fans guessing what it all meant, dozens of scholars gathered at Fordham University Friday to parse what "The Sopranos" had to say about topics ranging from gender roles to the justice system, race relations to health care. The conference, which is open to the public, spans four days and 60 research presentations. It's expected to draw an audience of hundreds of researchers and fans.
But this weekend's symposium, which drew researchers from as far as Australia, appears to be the biggest academic airing of Sopranos-ophy yet.
"One of the deepest issues in the academic world is the relationship between fiction and reality," said Fordham communication and media studies chairman Paul Levinson, who organized the conference with colleagues at Fordham, Suffolk County Community College and Brunel University in London. As a fictional lens on the true-life phenomenon of organized crime, Levinson says, "'The Sopranos' typifies that fascinating intersection."
Their session mingled with headier intellectual fare, such as discussions linking "The Sopranos" with Yeats, playwright Tom Stoppard and novelist and short story writer Flannery O'Connor. Other researchers delved into the show's dream sequences, use of silence and approach to epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the source and nature of knowledge. The postmodern French philosopher Michel Foucault was invoked at least three times Friday - before 10 a.m.
Some observers sniff at the idea that the small-screen misadventures of a suburban Mafia don deserve academic attention. Candace de Russy, a State University of New York trustee who writes a blog on education issues for the conservative National Review, suggested the "Sopranos" conference smacked of "what the Bard called ... 'three-piled hyperboles."'
To Ohio State University English professor Sean O'Sullivan, complex series such as "The Sopranos" are modern-day mirrors of 19th-century serial novels - a "Pickwick Papers" for the cable generation, perhaps.
O'Sullivan was scheduled to discuss the narrative structure of "The Sopranos," as was Ilaria Bisteghi, a recent graduate of Italy's University of Bologna who wrote her senior thesis on the show. It "demonstrates that television has arrived at its top level of maturity and understanding of what you can do with it," she said.
By Jennifer Peltz