I’m studying in Milano, which, I’ve found, is essentially the American equivalent of New York bustle mating with Hollywood hustle. It’s the communications capital of the Italy. Needless to say, once I got here, I went straight for the throat —
I wanted to know the difference.
So begins the first of a 3-part (so far) rant on what I’ve learned so far about Italian Television, Italian Journalism and, my personal favorite, Women in the Media.
— What did it used to look like? —
Television in Italy was born in 1954, at the creation of its first public network, Rai Uno. They call the period between 1954 and 1975 (essentially, before the tidalwave of American influence sloshed in) “PaleoTV.” Everything after, everything now, they call “NeoTV.”
PaleoTV consisted of less than 10 channels, all dedicated to a specific cause: News. Shopping. Food. History. Nothing was ever a hybrid of two things; nothing ever crossed over.
NeoTV is much like American TV — every new show is a hybrid of seven other shows that came before it. Per esempio, you add Judge Judy plus Jerry Springer, you get Forum.
You & The Screen
In PaleoTV, the relationship between viewer and broadcaster was “paternal,” pupil to teacher — shows sought only to give you straight facts and enlighten you about the world, allowing you to learn and form your own opinion.
In NeoTV, you and the TV are friends. You talk about other peoples’ lives via reality TV show or celebrity gossip. You’re not sure whether what they’re telling you is true, but hey, it’s funny.
The palinsesto, the TV schedule, of PaleoTV was fixed — from 8am to 10pm, for example — and networks were often off the air when they expected children to be doing their homework in the afternoon, or when families are likely eating dinner together or sleeping at night.
NeoTV’s palinsesto, much like America’s, is 24/7. Period.
PaleoTV had the beloved Carosello: 10 minutes of straight commercials, 2-3 minutes each, at 8:30pm on Rai Uno, every night. They were usually for products anyone could buy, like household items, and would tell you the price, where exactly to buy them and a short tutorial of how to use it. They had a saying: “Dopo Carosello, tutto a letto!” — After Carosello, everyone to bed!
NeoTV’s commercials… well, you get the idea. And here in Italia, there is no FCC screening public television commercials before they go on the air. Everything made can be published by the network. In the event that the public makes enough noise towards something inappropriate, a “jury” of producers and lawyers can review the commercial and decide then if they think it should continue airing. Italian media believes the content should be regulated by the content makers, even if it is after any damage is done.
— So… What the hell happened? —
After World War II, Italy was in shambles, and there was an exchange of sorts between Italy and America. I’ve heard two different accounts, one from an Italian teacher and one from an Italian student:
One says that the Italian government needed aid, and the US said, “We’ll lend you a bunch of money, if you promise to turn it around and use it to buy all of our awful sitcoms.” Italy agreed.
The other says that Italian’s notorious (Seriously. The man has former prostitutes in his Parliament. He redefines the word “notorious.”) Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owned a private TV station and was desperate to fund his strange “Milano 2” alternate-city utopian project, so he bought a ton of American media and went on a dubbing rampage to boost TV (and, therefore, advertiser) appeal.
— But how Americanized is Italian TV, really? —
If your eyes glaze over during True Blood and you’re wondering what the hell happened to:
Step by Step, Family Matters, One Tree Hill, Charmed, Friends, Will & Grace, ER, Roswell, Star Trek, The Bold & The Beautiful (known only as “Beautiful” here), 7th Heaven, Ally McBeal, BayWatch, Party of 5 & Walker Texas Ranger, among hundreds…
They’re living out their retirement in Italy.
If you’re cursing awful Italian Wi-Fi to high heavens & feening for your usual dose of:
Gossip Girl, Lost, Desperate Housewives, NipTuck, Arrested Development, The L Word, The Practice, CSI: Any City…
You need only to turn to Rai Due or Italia 1.
But I’ve heard numerous times, from my teacher and from my texts, that Italy cites this wave of American media as, basically, the beginning of the end of traditional Italian values.
They say we’re what drove millions of farmers off of the fields and into sprawling metropolitan cities in the 1960’s.
They say we’re what chisled away at Italy’s morals of family, cuisine, simplicity, taking your time, the preservation of your region’s dialect and millenia-old traditions.
They say we’re what caused it’s replacement: Italy’s newfound obsession with celebrity gossip, murder & crime, English, pop music, luxury, glamour.
— To Be Determined —
I asked my teacher, “How do Italians feel about this? Does anyone still feel like they owe us something for helping them after WWII? Do they feel threatened or resentful at Americans for shoving out their media culture?”
She paused for a long, long time. Then she simply said, “No. I don’t think so. I think they feel okay.”
I don’t exactly buy it.
If you think us Americans are a proud people, you have not had a normal conversation with the right Italian.
How would we feel, knowing our media and therefore, essentially, our way of thinking and living, was being overshadowed by or is already diluted by a strange culture on the other side of the planet?
How would we feel knowing that, while the home we know now wouldn’t be the same without foreign aid, we’re losing the culture we sought to salvage in the first place because of a debt?
A better question: How do Italians really feel?