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Arrivederci Vito

Arrivederci Vito

Vito

As the Sopranos season finale arrives, an open letter to the character who made "gay mafia" a reality.

"What's the hardest thing about skateboarding?" asked one of Anthony Jr.'s privileged, smart-ass friends, while playing a shooter video game, setting up the punch line: "Telling your parents you're gay."

Dearly departed Vito Spatafore (Joe Gannascoli), this joke occurred in the last act of the episode of The Sopranos in which you, one of Tony's top earners and one of Thin Club's top losers, finally got what your colleagues believed you had coming: an early death. The joke was told after you got whacked, so you didn't hear it. But you should know that it was delivered with classic "whatever" flippancy, an unintentional eulogy for a poor confused guy in a Village People getup. That's you, by the way, Vito, a man whose sexual activities were necessarily limited to down-low construction site blow jobs and dancing up a storm while dressed in a harness in weird, on-TV-only leather bars where men actually spend time dancing instead of groping one another, glowering, and smoking cigars. You were the unwise wise guy born into the wrong generation of organized crime, one that doesn't make who-cares jokes about queerness. They cared a lot, and you paid for it.

Early in the episode a gay son of another character was mentioned, as was his punishment: being disowned. But you were older and you were "made," so you had to die for your sins. And they gave you a meaner death than even the one FBI informant Adriana received. They cornered you, delivered a brutal bludgeoning, and then sodomized you with a pool cue. You were a jerk and a murderer yourself, but viewers got a chance to feel for your plight when you were discovered in that goofy leather bar and your panicked "It's only a joke!" became instantly recognizable to every closeted queer caught in the act of being themselves. So yes, jerk and murderer, but still one of us, and therefore we were rooting for you and your hot volunteer firefighter-short-order cook boyfriend, the motorcycle-riding Morgan Spurlock look-alike "Johnny Cakes." Or maybe we were just rooting for our own chances with the gruff Mr. Cakes.

In any case, we felt a twinge of empathy when you laid your hand on his and said that you'd been lying to people and yourself for too long. We felt uglier twinges when the camera would cut back from you-on-the-lam to friends and family back in New Jersey, talking about you like you were a walking disease. Narrative TV never gets antigay sentiment right: There it's made mildly cartoonish and easily dismissable, or a monstrous caricature that lets everyone who isn't Fred Phelps off the hook. Your show got it all chillingly, disdainfully right. "There's nothing gay about hell"--uttered by one of your well-wishers--is the TV dialogue line of the year.

So rest in peace, murdering, lying Mr. Spatafore. We will miss your weight-loss struggles, your tacky taste in animal hide accessories, and your fledgling excellent taste in antiques. We will always wonder what could have been. We'll miss Tony's ambivalence about having to make a decision about your fate (almost as much as we'll miss his singsong delivery of your secret--"He's a fa-a-a-g!"--to his shrink Dr. Melfi). And we'll really, really miss seeing Johnny Cakes take off his shirt.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Dave White