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Meno male che Silvio c’è
June 5, 2011 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Thank God Silvio Exists! A beautiful blond woman, standing in a grocery store beside a pile of bananas, sings, “There’s a big dream that lives in all of us.” A throng of women belt out the chorus together under a cloudless sky: “Menomale che Silvio c’è”— “Thank God there’s Silvio.” Other women in various settings pick up the tune: a young mother in a pediatrician’s office, surrounded by nurses; a brunette in a beauty parlor, dressed for work in a camisole that barely covers her breasts. To American eyes, the ad looks like a parody, or perhaps some new kind of musical pornography that’s just about to erupt into carnality. (from a New Yorker blog post)

The blog post presents some additional context to Ariel Levy's piece on Silvio Berlusconi:

BASTA BUNGA BUNGA Berlusconi is the Italy’s waning Hugh Hefner, reviled and admired for his hedonism—except that he’s supposed to be running the country.

The blog post also links to a subtitled version of the documentary "Il Corpo delle Donne", or "Women' Bodies":

This project took off as a matter of urgency. It all started with the observation that women--real women--are an endangered species on (Italian) television, one that is being replaced by a grotesque, vulgar and humiliating representation. We sensed the enormity of this loss: the erasure of women's identity is happening right before our eyes, but without a proper reaction, not even from women themselves.
posted by KokuRyu (43 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
That first link is a clip from the excellent documentary Videocracy. I saw it a couple years ago at a film festival and found it rather disturbing in the implications. Part of it is about how Berlusconi controls the political climate through his control of the media. But part is also how the kind of vapid "reality TV" and celebrity worship that his media cultivate really dumbs down culture as a whole. The film interviews women whose only aspirations in life appear to be to become one of the girls on TV quiz shows whose only job is to look slightly slutty and do a little dance before the commercial breaks. And they figure getting that job will lead to marrying a famous soccer player that that will set them for life.

I've described the campaign ad shown in that link above - with the women rapturously singing their devotion to Berlusconi - to many people, and I don't think anyone has quite believed me that it's real.
posted by dnash at 6:02 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know a lot of those North Korean propaganda videos, when the women talk it often sounds like they are in the throws of sexual ecstacy while discussing the greatness of dear leader. here's an example (with some funny fake subtitles)
posted by delmoi at 6:03 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


“They—La Repubblica and so on—pretend that Berlusconi’s television is against women. Television is not against women! Look at Canale 5,” one of the networks controlled by Mediaset. “You start in the morning, the first program has an anchorwoman,” Confalonieri said. “ ‘Striscia la Notizia,’ there is a woman.” In fact, there are usually two women on “Striscia la Notizia,” a popular program whose name translates as “The News Slithers.” The women—called veline, which means “slips of paper”—spend the program posed on top of a counter, while male anchors sit behind it discussing current events. Sometimes the veline crawl around on the floor wearing G-strings.

what
posted by Avenger at 6:04 PM on June 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


wow, they weren't kidding.
posted by duende at 6:12 PM on June 5, 2011


"Veline" - yeah, that's the word I was looking for when I wrote my comment above but couldn't remember. It's like - imagine if, on "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek was constantly accompanied by two bikini-clad women, and whenever it was time to go to commercial they did a little pole dancing.
posted by dnash at 6:20 PM on June 5, 2011


Imho, with the exception of few, usually very dissonant programs, most of generalistic tv is closer to what is shown in Idiocracy (movie) than anything else. Just take a look at the video "il corpo delle donne" linked above: that's prime time generalistic television, not satellite specialized feeds. The overall idea is that of conveying a light, care free, "we are having so much fun" experience. It's pure make-believe, of course.

Behind the scene there is little ruthless competition for appearing on TV - you either are in, or out of the system and the audience has little or no voice, so you either comply or be replaced in a second. And the audience really has no say on what goes on. That is supposed to keep people on their toes, and it works apparently.

Yet what keeps the system flooded, for instance, with "nice looking" inexpensive women is the fact that many believe that once you've "made it" in the system, you will be set for life or you'll have a fair chance at least surviving. And the fact that there are so many, countless "nice looking" women is pretty much overlooked, while it should suggest that the demand is almost none, when compared with the immense offer, so the price one could realistically ask for is very, very low.
posted by elpapacito at 6:26 PM on June 5, 2011


And the program in which Veline are shown usually runs at 20:00-20:30.
posted by elpapacito at 6:28 PM on June 5, 2011


Ugh, aspect ratio fail.
posted by ryanrs at 6:45 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Panem et Circenses.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:50 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoa. That show is the video equivalent of ingesting lead paint chips.

He could take some tips from wowowee in the Phillipines.
posted by benzenedream at 6:52 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of it is about how Berlusconi controls the political climate through his control of the media. But part is also how the kind of vapid "reality TV" and celebrity worship that his media cultivate really dumbs down culture as a whole.

I'm always suspicious of this line of argument. Society has always had things like this, from public hanging to the Grand Guiginol to bear-baiting. A few reality shows and 'vapid' (what's with that word? something about it bugs me) celebrity worship aren't going to cause the collapse of civilization.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:08 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, gag!

Society has always had things like this...

Can we not attempt to rise above it?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:29 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Society has always had things like this...

Can we not attempt to rise above it?


Well, yeah. But the 'rise above it' coexists with the 'vapid trash'. To use Metafilter as an example, high-minded foreign policy and morals discussions co-exist with people talking about how awesome Bulletstorm, Carmadeggdon, and John Carpenter movies are.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:31 PM on June 5, 2011


I resent the implication that John Carpenter movies are "vapid trash."

Also, I have a feeling a big part of the "dragging the culture down" is the seething sexism that Silvio not only embodies but apparently attempts to spread far and wide throughout his kingdom.
posted by koeselitz at 7:42 PM on June 5, 2011


I think what Lovecraft is trying to say is that vapid trash such as programs featuring Veline is not dumbing down culture. However, many Italian women seem to be saying that prime-time TV programs that feature Veline are harming the status of women in Italian society.

It reminds me a lot like Japan, which also used to feature these types of TV shows, up until about 15 years ago. Japanese women have to struggle to participate meaningfully in society, which is worse than a shame.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Buona Domenica,” which is on the air now, features young women in tight dresses being prodded into a clear shower stall to get soaked in front of a live audience. On one episode, the host explains to a guest, “I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for all Italian men—you get the shower.” On most episodes of “Libero,” a woman is trapped under a Perspex table, like a caged animal. If your only information about female people came from Berlusconi’s channels, you would likely conclude that they exist specifically to be sexually humiliated in public. On “Scherzi a Parte,” a woman in her underpants hangs from a meat hook alongside hundreds of hams as a man in a butcher’s costume stamps a sell-by date on her behind.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Could we have one with beefcake singing the praises of Sarah Palin? I'll bet the NRA would chip in.
posted by warbaby at 8:23 PM on June 5, 2011


So he hired some more prostitutes, basically.

Meh.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:33 PM on June 5, 2011


Here's how Berlusconi really treats women.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS MAN RUNS A FUCKING COUNTRY?!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:42 PM on June 5, 2011


PostIronyIsNotaMyth – that's not real footage, but a clip from a spoof documentary about Berlusconi from a few years ago. (Not that that makes Berlusconi an okay guy or anything, but.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


warbaby, I'm picturing the result as a sexy version of this.
posted by maryr at 8:51 PM on June 5, 2011


Haha, wow! I am glad you corrected me. Do you have any more info on the spoof doc?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:56 PM on June 5, 2011


The only thing I know about Italian TV is the Inspector Montalbano and La Piovra series, both of which I rather like. The local PBS channel runs "MHz Worldwide" on its third digital channel and they show these as part of their "International Mystery" show. Of course, the stuff that makes it to PBS is not a reflection of a nation's normal TV.
posted by 445supermag at 9:04 PM on June 5, 2011


You can see the whole videocracy movie at: http://www.fandor.com/films/videocracy. It's quite a movie.
posted by danaronson at 9:06 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


PostIronyIsNotaMyth: “Haha, wow! I am glad you corrected me. Do you have any more info on the spoof doc?”

The spoof documentary is called "Bye Bye Berlusconi!" It is unfortunately not very far from reality, I believe.
posted by koeselitz at 9:10 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Buona Domenica,” which is on the air now, features young women in tight dresses being prodded into a clear shower stall to get soaked in front of a live audience. On one episode, the host explains to a guest, “I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for all Italian men—you get the shower.” On most episodes of “Libero,” a woman is trapped under a Perspex table, like a caged animal. If your only information about female people came from Berlusconi’s channels, you would likely conclude that they exist specifically to be sexually humiliated in public. On “Scherzi a Parte,” a woman in her underpants hangs from a meat hook alongside hundreds of hams as a man in a butcher’s costume stamps a sell-by date on her behind.

alright the more i read the article the more horrified i get

But part of the reason people like him and Putin are popular is because part of every man would like to be him. If he wasn't real and ruining the country, he'd be David Duchovney in Californication. A loathsome, sexist wretch, sure... but you wouldn't trade lives with him, or live vicariously through him?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:11 PM on June 5, 2011


I wouldn't.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:14 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm.

Ninety-five per cent of Italian men have never operated a washing machine. Until 1981, a “crime of honor”—killing your wife for being unfaithful or your sister for having premarital sex—could be treated as a lesser offense than other murders; as late as 2007, a man in Palermo was sentenced to just two days in jail for murdering his wife after their children testified that she had been disrespectful to him. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, Italy ranks seventy-fourth in women’s rights, between the Dominican Republic and Gambia. Women constitute a smaller percentage of the workforce in Italy than in any other country in the European Union, apart from Malta, and those who work make barely half as much as their male counterparts. Emma Bonino, a Radical Party leader, told me, “When I was Minister of European Affairs, in 2007, I had to prepare a report on the status of women in Italy. The data came in, and I remember that I rejected it twice, saying to my staff, ‘That’s impossible: it cannot be so bad.’ ”

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/06/06/110606fa_fact_levy#ixzz1OTF7TwB0

posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:21 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even the cooking shows are unbelievably sexist.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 11:00 PM on June 5, 2011


Why does the American media never do this kind of reporting on the Murdoch empire? Do they not think it's interesting that the media empire that brought you Glenn Beck also brought the world nekkid titties on Page 3 of Britain's tabloids?

Celebrating 40 years of Page 3.

Deliver some of *that* shit to your homeschooled kids, why don'tcha?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:25 AM on June 6, 2011


Lovecraft in Brooklyn: But part of the reason people like him and Putin are popular is because part of every man would like to be him.

I like how blatantly you display not merely your own sexist attitudes, but your belief that they generalise to the populace...
posted by Dysk at 1:31 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Ariel Levy piece in the New Yorker is really excellent, thanks for posting it. I actually think it would make a good "Feminism 101" article, in a way- some people have trouble understanding patriarchy as an abstract concept, but Berlusconi's sexism is so extreme, and his influence so great, that he provides one of the best simple, concrete examples of what patriarchy is and how it works that you could find, and the Levy article provided an excellent illustration of all of this.

I've followed Berlusconi's career with horrified fascination for a while. He's so utterly over-the-top horrible in every way that he kind of defies description. If he were a fictional character, he'd only work in a very broad satire- he'd just be too unbelievable otherwise, or so one would have thought before he came to power. He's like some sort of unholy cross between George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Hugh Hefner, and Kim Jong-Il. I remember during the Bush years taking a slight (very slight) degree of comfort in knowing that at least we Americans didn't have the absolute worst democratically elected leader in the world. (Needless to say, Bush and Berlusconi apparently really hit it off well when they met, and were filled with praise for each other afterwards.) I can just imagine how I would feel if I were Italian.
posted by a louis wain cat at 2:23 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I found a copy of Videocracy at the ICA bookshop last week. I look forward to watching it.
posted by acb at 2:24 AM on June 6, 2011


If he wasn't real and ruining the country, he'd be David Duchovney in Californication.
Or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Californication.

Why does the American media never do this kind of reporting on the Murdoch empire? Do they not think it's interesting that the media empire that brought you Glenn Beck also brought the world nekkid titties on Page 3 of Britain's tabloids?
We already know the same Murdoch empire also brings you Glee, TV's most gay-friendly show... actually, with Fox, CBS, Disney(ABC), Universal(NBC) and TimeWarner(HBO) selling shows to each others' channels, nobody's going to make a big deal about each others' media holdings.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:44 AM on June 6, 2011


I can just imagine how I would feel if I were Italian.

After the recent elections saw Berlusca's party take a massive hit, I'd venture to say "cautiously, tenuously and somewhat incredulously hopeful"?

More immediately important is next weekend's referendum, where confusingly voters must vote "Yes" to block nuclear power, block privatization of public water, and most importantly to repeal the infamous clause allowing the PM to avoid going to trial while in office.
posted by romakimmy at 3:31 AM on June 6, 2011


Society has always had things like this, from public hanging to the Grand Guiginol to bear-baiting. A few reality shows and 'vapid' (what's with that word? something about it bugs me) celebrity worship aren't going to cause the collapse of civilization.

I see your point, Lovecraft In Brooklyn. We didn't dream up sensationalization in a laboratory in the past twenty years or anything.

I think the counterargument runs: TV has swallowed our discourse whole. Sure, there was bad stuff in the past. But what's the modern-day equivalent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates? Sarah Palin's Alaska? It's not just that, in a reality-TV era, you have to define your policies in a sloganeering manner-- it's that sloganeering alone entirely displaces rational argumentation.

I'm drawing on what Neil Postman wrote in the 1980s, depicted in comic book form here, addressed in a little more detail around here in his book "Amusing Ourselves to Death."
posted by ibmcginty at 3:56 AM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


The women—called veline, which means “slips of paper”—spend the program posed on top of a counter, while male anchors sit behind it discussing current events. Sometimes the veline crawl around on the floor wearing G-strings.

what


It sounds absolutely ridiculous at first, but--speaking as a gay man who really couldn't care less about getting to see scantily clad women--as you're exposed to it, your frame of reference changes very quickly...it seems more normal. I (an American) was studying in Italy the year of the infamous Super Bowl with Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction; when I heard about it (a week later, I think?) it took me a good minute or so to realize that it was out of the ordinary, much less "controversial."
posted by psoas at 4:40 AM on June 6, 2011


Dang, I gotta get me one of them I-talian TVs!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:21 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What cracks me up, and by cracks me up I mean makes me cry, is that the awful representation of women on Italian TV has nothing to do with Berlusconi. He a manifestation of the disgusting sexism that is choking Italian society, not the other way around.

Italian TV has been shockingly degrading to women for decades. This is nothing new. This is nothing special. You won't see anything on Mediaset, Berlusconi's channels, that you wouldn't see on RAI, the government controlled channels. That you wouldn't read in magazines, see in advertisements, find in movies, songs, real fucking life. Italy is a patriarchal cesspool and, let me tell you, women notice. Women notice, women feel shame and anger and disgust, but we are - or are made to feel, if nothing else - powerless to do anything about it.

Well no, I lied. I very selfishly did something about it. I left.
posted by lydhre at 8:20 AM on June 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've followed Berlusconi's career with horrified fascination for a while. He's so utterly over-the-top horrible in every way that he kind of defies description...


Me too, louis wain cat.

I don't want to break a butterfly on a wheel with a Mussolini-godwin- not exactly - but there is a line - murmured with witheringly deadpan sarcasm - that resonates with me when I think about Berlusconi's reign:

"The ones who say we Italians are the greatest he-men on earth, oh yeah..."

It comes from the stunning fever dream musical opening montage to the 1975 Italian movie Seven Beauties. Lina Wertmüller (also Italian) was the first woman ever to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for Seven Beauties - her black comedy masterpiece about WW2.

The (subtitled) opening credit sequence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXHn7Fn97Ss

(Unless wiki/imdb is out of date, Wertmüller is still alive - aged 84!)


[I cannot recommend the film - or the opening montage - highly enough. If people like Silvio Berlusconi can shake your faith in Italy - artists like Lina Wertmüller can restore it].
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


From my little time in Italy I think "menomale" – literally "not so bad" – isn't quite "Thank God" in the religiously tinged and optimistic sense that many Americans would hear it, it's more like "thank goodness" or "thank heaven" with a kind of fatalistic well-that-could-have-been-worse "phew!" mixed in there. An expression not so much of gratitude as of relief... very Italian.
posted by nicwolff at 11:11 AM on June 6, 2011


"I asked if I could meet with Berlusconi. Ventura thought for a moment and replied, “Would you consider having plastic surgery first?” It wasn’t so that I could look like a velina, he explained; he would feel better about arranging the meeting if I had my face messed up, because then there would be a better chance of the Presidente keeping his hands to himself."
posted by doctornemo at 12:33 PM on June 6, 2011


Well , first a couple of linguistic observations:

1. veline, which means “slips of paper”: actually it refers to government-issue press handouts, the slips of paper which are mass-produced by press officers to hand out to journalists. Carta velina is the flimsy paper once used for making multiple copies in typewriters.

2. “Striscia la Notizia,” a popular program whose name translates as “The News Slithers”: in fact. it doesn't. The "striscia" (strip) is the daily slot always at the same hour (a horizontal strip across the Monday-to-Sunday schedule) in a TV programming schedule, so Striscia la Notizia is "the daily news slot" (in an ironic sort of way).

Having said that (/rant), many contributors upthread have rightly pointed out (or implied) the pernicious effect of TV on Italian society. It was beautifully espressed by a blog post on La Repubblica daily a coupla weeks ago. Please forgive the self-linking, but it's only for the sake of the translation which I offer to save you from the horrors of google-translate: the original is not mine and I lay no claim to it, merely admiration for the blogger. It is just so perfect an answer to all our non-Italian friends who are constantly asking us, who live here, to explain how a party like Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà can possibly be re-elected, command a majority, and run the country into the ground while nobody raises a finger to stop them. Blogger Luxemburg (rosa) explains why television has taught a way to discuss and to compare views in which the content doesn’t count, where you simply have to repeat a phrase, always the same one, ever louder in volume, until you have exhausted your opponent.em>


posted by aqsakal at 7:40 AM on June 8, 2011


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