EERIE COINCIDENCE: Several TV and entertainment columns were agitated by this past weekend’s episode of The Sopranos, which featured Uncle Jr. – institutionalized since he tried to kill Tony at the end of season five – and fellow inmate Carter Chong, a violent young Asian man who seemed to evoke Cho Seung-hui, the young man who killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech last week.
In a New York Daily News story, an HBO spokeswoman acknowledged that it was “an unfortunate coincidence that the character in question was a young Asian man," but made sure to mention that the episode was filmed months ago. "Also, the coincidence is superficial since our story line had nothing to do with campus violence or guns."
“Played by Ken Leung, Chong had trouble making friends, academic-pressure issues, and a seething desire for violent revenge,” wrote New York magazine’ website, “making him a perfect protégé for the institutionalized mobster and an uncomfortable ringer for Cho Seung-hui.” The magazine also noted that posters on the Television Without Pity website were clearly disturbed by the “astoundingly awful coincidence,” including one viewer who lost a family member in the massacre and found the episode hard to watch.
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“I don't know if television writers are unusually prescient when it comes to violence,” wrote Ellen Gray in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “or if the medium's just so varied that every real-life tragedy seems to have a corresponding bit of fiction on the schedule, but events like those at Virginia Tech last week generally are followed by some scrambling on the part of TV execs to avoid inadvertent links to the news.”
Gray noted that Fox had pulled an episode of Bones that dealt with death on a college campus, and recalled the Buffy episode that was pulled in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, despite the fact that it involved the town’s mayor turning into a huge serpent, not a pair of maladjusted teens with too little impulse control and too much access to credit to buy guns. One gets the impression that either HBO is made of sterner stuff, or that the unfolding of the last nine Sopranos episodes is going to happen no matter what kind of overlap it accidentally makes with the headlines.
“Maybe if Asian males weren't still something of a rarity on television,” writes Gray, "Lost and Heroes being two notable exceptions - this one popping up at this particular time would have been less distracting.”