January 10, 1999: Sopranos airs its first episode, creating an inertia of interest in New Jersey that would create an entire genre of entertainment that no one, except for the people of New Jersey, could have imagined.
See, there’s two types of people: those that are from New Jersey, and those that wish they were from New Jersey. Before the Sopranos, we Jerseyans knew how interesting, authentic, and alive our state and its inhabitants are. The problem was, we were primarily only known as “The armpit of America” to everyone else. If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you’ve endured the tired standards – we don’t have our own football team, we’re just an industrial wasteland with some highways running through, the poorly imitated “Joisey” accent (always puzzling as no one from NJ has ever pronounced it that way),and a few other dismissals that made us the laughing stock of the 50 states. We got no respect; Tony Soprano came along and bailed us out.
When the Sopranos hit the scene and became one of the most acclaimed series of all-time, it was the ultimate acquittal for New Jersey. Funny thing is, didn’t mask who we are and what we’re about, it didn’t de-bunk any myths or stereotypes; it didn’t even prove any of the out of state-naysayers wrong and avenge us from their jokes. What it did do was give us the last laugh as people who had nothing but bad things to say about Jersey suddenly wanted to try on our accent, dress a little flashier, go to the Pork Store, and had to come to grips with the fact that their lives were just “ordinary” in comparison to Tony’s New Jersey.
Flash forward fourteen years and they’re still at it; the rest of the world can’t get enough of our swagger. There’s more reality shows about NJ than any other place in the world; you can debate all you want about whether it’s positive or negative attention, but at the end of the day, that statistic stands alone in terms of what a socially relevant powerhouse we are. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve never had a shortage of scandal, drama, and real-life characters that helped keep the rest of America & sometimes the world tuned in along the way either, thanks to Gov. Christie, “Tanning Mom”, and Snooki for that.
One of the problems with NJ being as controversial as it is, especially in its entertainment content, is that this always generates criticism, sometimes in the form of self-loathing. However, anyone who tries to deny the fact that Jersey-based television shows have been hugely beneficial to the state in terms of interest, tourism, business, and general likeability, needs to do their research. People need to stop whining and own it. We’re New Jersey. We’re unpredictable, unapologetic, legendary, mysterious, traditional, diverse, complicated, and oddly beautiful. Just like Tony Soprano.
Be thankful for The Sopranos, dammit. The alternative reality was ending up to be the perpetual dumping grounds, literally and figuratively, of America for the rest of our lives.