molto bello
December 15, 2009 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Milanese businesswomen Lorella Zanardo made a short documentary critiquing the sexist depictions of women on Italian television. That documentary - Il corpo delle donne (Women's Bodies) - is available to watch online (with subtitles) here.
posted by stinkycheese (27 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Italian television looks to take tits and ass to new heights.
posted by chunking express at 3:16 PM on December 15, 2009

Italian TV is somehow worse than Mexican TV, by which I mean it's completely awesome. I would be rather upset at the portrayal and ... really, the word is use of women, but always thought it was just an accepted cultural difference, accepted by both sexes. This definitely gives me pause.
posted by letitrain at 3:17 PM on December 15, 2009

My only question is how she managed to make it a short documentary. Sexism on Italian TV is more like... it's like writing a chemistry paper on the uses of oxygen.
posted by GuyZero at 3:32 PM on December 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

When I was in Italy on honeymoon back in 2007 the first thing I noticed about Italian TV was that there was always a woman in a bikini somewhere on the screen.
posted by PenDevil at 3:36 PM on December 15, 2009

Sadly, one of the standout memories of my trip to Venice as a teenager was the softcore porn on TV RAI? after midnight.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:37 PM on December 15, 2009

Well, this sure went in the crapper quickly.


I have this suspicion that what's on television bears such little resemblance to people's real lives that it's not even capable of creating bad role models. But then, I don't actually own a TV.
posted by Slothrup at 3:37 PM on December 15, 2009

I have this suspicion that what's on television bears such little resemblance to people's real lives that it's not even capable of creating bad role models. But then, I don't actually own a TV.

Apparently, you also don't own a hyperlink navigator, or a set of externally-valid suspicions.

The impact of years of brainwashing is plain to see: recent research demonstrated that the most popular ambition among female teenagers is to become a velina (basically a showgirl). Young women and girls are consistently taught that their bodies, rather than their abilities and their knowledge, are the key to success. At the same time, the sexism portrayed on TV reinforces chauvinistic ideas among the culturally weakest parts of the population. Researchers who study female body objectification need only look to Italy to witness the sad consequences of this phenomenon.
posted by Errant at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

The dehumanization and objectification of course affects women much more so than men. But at least the women can say they are putting on a show, playing along. Men, on the other hand, are presumed to be so stupid as to be taking the whole thing seriously. Authenticity in a game this trite is more a curse than a blessing, I would say.

I am not pulling the classic "men are the real victims here" derail, merely calling attention to an interesting nuance of the situation.
posted by idiopath at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2009

I have this suspicion that what's on television bears such little resemblance to people's real lives that it's not even capable of creating bad role models.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for me personally, even though I know intellectually that the women on t.v. are exceptionally beautiful, that they spend ridiculous amounts of money on personal trainers and makeup artists and clothes that fit them perfectly, that even that isn't enough as they are airbrushed and photoshopped on magazine covers, even though I know that beauty isn't everything and I lead a wonderful interesting life... I still feel a little worthless every time I turn on the t.v.

I can only imagine how much worse it would be in Italy, when in addition to ridiculous beauty standards you also have such demeaning standards of behavior that permeate the culture. To have the head politician in your country actively encourage it.

And Slothrup, I don't know if your intention was to be cute or flip, but after watching that documentary your comment felt like a slap in the face. Just so you know.
posted by shaun uh at 3:50 PM on December 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Very interesting FPP. One thing that leapt out at me from the linked NYT article was this:

(It is worth noting here that Mr. Berlusconi owns the leading private television networks.)
posted by bearwife at 4:08 PM on December 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

[few comments removed - I know you think your "but is she hot?" comments are the height of comedy. I assure you they are not. Please go straight ot metatalk or try again. thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:14 PM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here is an interesting article on Berlusconi and the veline.

In the 1980s and 90s, the veline—a term that came to mean young girls with no talent except the desire to be on television—redefined popular culture. Before Berlusconi and the veline, Italian television, dominated by the twin orthodoxies of Catholicism and Communism, looked monochromatically clerical and dogmatic: heavyset men, smoking cigarettes, with lots of hair coming out of their ears and noses. In a country that proscribed private national television networks, Berlusconi tricked the system by assembling in the early 80s a patchwork of local stations that all, at slightly staggered times, broadcast the same thing. There were few situations on Berlusconi television in which a hostess was not cheerfully hovering nearby. His wife, Veronica Lario, whom he met in 1980, when she was 23 and he was a 43-year-old married man with two children, was a velina.
posted by joedan at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

American popular culture is hardly guiltless here. Is there anything more demeaning than the average hip hop video -- I mean, aside from the lyrics? (And I'm not saying "demeaning to women" because these things diminish the humanity of both sexes.)
posted by Faze at 4:36 PM on December 15, 2009

Great post but so sad. When I lived there in the 80's I really enjoyed the idea that they hadn't had a "sexual revolution". You had to ask a girl's parents for permission to date. Without permission you could get a really solid ass kicking. It was pretty damn romantic getting slapped or getting an ear pulled for looking at someone's sister. Even though tv was pretty porny back then, girls were given respect.

Unless, of course, she was from a place where girls "put out".
posted by snsranch at 5:15 PM on December 15, 2009

even though I know intellectually that the women on t.v. are exceptionally beautiful,

In the documentary the narration makes a clear reference to the women seeing each other only through the eyes of men, and this kind of objectification is easy to understand intellectually, but it was pretty striking with the series of images being shown along with the talk... Not having the experience personally, it seemed more crappy than I'd have thought.

My brain started up some kind of argument about the unavoidable nature of this state of affairs, the dynamics of aesthetics, the role of ... but beyond all the potential mitigations of it, and the possible ways to explain it (away)... Well, I'm glad I watched it.
posted by ServSci at 5:18 PM on December 15, 2009

I applaud the effort to make this video; I'm sick of the fake body parts and idealised image for both women and men, women in particular.

The lip injections, botox, implants -- it's all too much and completely unnecessary. Take a look at a site such as Awful Plastic Surgery to be truly horrified (I find the oversized, wannabe Angelina Jolie lips worse than breast implants).

It's bad enough when constantly shoved in our faces by Hollywood, but Italian TV reduces women to a state lower than the pejorative term 'bimbo', and it's shameful.
posted by bwg at 5:31 PM on December 15, 2009

I am really affected by the video and angry on behalf of my sex, and my species.

Idiopath makes a good point - what does all this say about not just the use of women but of men who are shown treating women like dolls and objects. Men who are aged, making vapid comments, poking, prodding, directing semi clothed women, whilst fully dressed and de-sexualised themselves. As the documentary mentions, 60% of programming is run by women. Women are also pimping out women, and they are, as Idiopath alludes, backhandedly short-selling men for being just as shallow and brainless [although their bodies are clearly not molested/able]. The patriarchal script seems so fucking insecure, desperate to imprint. Guys: like tits! Don't be gay! Gals: want to be this! Don't think!

I think this grotesque sexualisation is a fairly logical succession in a heavily patriarchal culture - first enacted through religion [the madonna], now with secular whoredom. It doesn't surprise me that this is the direction taken after the demise of Catholicism. I would have been interested to see the results of the survey shown in the doc of 'would you like your daughter to be in a nude calendar?'
posted by honey-barbara at 7:14 PM on December 15, 2009

Around 13:30: Do the faces we are talking about allow to build relationships? ... The human face brings a message: total vulnerability. That is why we change it, hide it, embellish it or modify it.

Some of yesterday's Fresh Air interview ties in nicely with this video and several comments here:

Mr. FORD: ... Today, you know, fashion is not - our beauty standard today is harder. It's beautiful but it's off-putting. It's like, don't touch me, I'm hard.

It's so interesting how female form, less male form, mirrors where we are culturally, aesthetically, as well as - for example, right now everything is pumped up. Cars look like someone took an air pump and pumped them up. They look engorged. Lips pumped up, breasts pumped up, everything is pumped up. And it's also kind of off-putting. It's sexual but in such a hard way that it's, for me, not sexual at all. Whereas the 1970s, breasts were smaller. People were not wearing bras. Farrah Fawcett's sexuality and sensuality was a very touchable sexuality. She was kissable. She was friendly.

And that was what I brought back in the '90s with some of my early collections for Gucci that we hadn't seen in a while. And I think that right now we're in a very hard moment and off-putting. I mean, look at shoes today - women's shoes. They couldn't possibly get any higher and meaner and sharper. But then again, you go and watch most films today, they're violent and we're living in a world that is, at the moment, quite hard.

GROSS: I love when you say breasts were smaller in the '70s. I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: They were.

GROSS: But...

Mr. FORD: I don't understand all these breasts right now, and they don't look like breasts. They look like someone's taken a grapefruit half and inserted it under your skin. I mean it's - it doesn't even bear any resemblance to what a natural breast looks like. But we're starting to think that this is what women should like. And young girls are looking at these breasts and thinking, oh, I need to go have my breasts done because they've lost touch with what a real breast actually looks like. I find it fascinating, I find it disturbing. I mean, you could consider it more fascinating because we're becoming post-human.

Ok, I won't quote the whole thing; there is a lot in that interview that I found interesting. I found this bit especially interesting though, as it ties in with the post, and as coming from a fashion designer (I don't know anything about him, though, maybe he doesn't fit the stereotypes?).
posted by Someday Bum at 9:05 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

if anyone has seen Pane e Tulipani (bread and tulips), this reminded me of the way the husband treats his wife... (and how awesome she is, especially in the face of the treatment she gets.)

She was victim of the soaps for years... then she escapes from that world... but when she comes back, upon hearing word (lies) that her youngest son has started using pot, because she is not there, then she goes back to the soaps... but she GETS OUTTA there. And she is strong. and you should watch it, specially if you speak italian(or can read subtitles), and you need to see a real woman, with real strength, after this.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2009

Pretty depressing. Italian television definitely belongs in hell. I don't know if their variety shows are a symptom or a cause of societal dysfunction, but the dysfunction is plainly there:

* Italy has a dismal record in terms of female employment, ranking second to bottom of all European Union countries, according to a report by EU statistics bureau Eurostat.

* While women on average make up 27.6% of judges in the highest courts of European countries, in Italy, they number just 4.8%.

* The most worrying figure was the level of female representation in local municipal councils, where women made up just 2.2% of councillors compared to a European average of 24.5%. The only country with a worse record in this sector was Azerbaijan.

Not that Italy is alone. Serbia's Pink TV very closely follows the same model of plastic-women-gyrating-all-day-long (nsfw) and is, not surprisingly, the most popular station in the country. It would be fascinating to see if there's correlation between gender inequality and the type of television programming in various countries. I wouldn't be surprised to see a link between the number of gyrating women per hour on TV vs. female wages in comparison to male wages.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:56 AM on December 16, 2009

The sad part is that if you consider Italy fifty years ago, you get great cinema, literature, one of the intellectual centers of the continet, a thriving economy that produces everything from cars to luxury items (esp. clothing) and a country that has a say in European affairs.

Fast forward to today and the leader of the country is a man who has to repeatedly legislate his untouchability and can't handle the demands of his role (with his last reelection causing plaatsvervangende schaamte similar to Bush04), the economy and the industry need shock treatments that could make Frankenstein's monster wake up, the country's political and intellectual influence has withered, its cinema has flopped and its literature has to contend with a tv system that's a parade of bodies.

Man, I'd be so angry if I was an Italian.
posted by ersatz at 2:03 AM on December 16, 2009

> Man, I'd be so angry if I was an Italian.

I am, and I am.
posted by _dario at 6:17 AM on December 16, 2009

American popular culture is hardly guiltless here. Is there anything more demeaning than the average hip hop video -- I mean, aside from the lyrics? (And I'm not saying "demeaning to women" because these things diminish the humanity of both sexes.)
posted by Faze at 4:36 PM on December 15

yeah modern hip hop videos invented misogyny, genius
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:17 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

American popular culture is hardly guiltless here.

So what's your point? This Italian woman has made a film about how sexist Italian TV is, and it's an interesting thing to watch and discuss.

Other people have made films about how sexist US TV is, and about how sexist US rap videos are, and how sexist US dolls are, and those are interesting things to watch and discuss.

It's not like noticing the sexism on Italian TV is going to keep us from noticing the sexism on US TV.

In unrelated confusion, I don't get the subtitle of this post. "Molto bello"--what man is beautiful here? Shirley not Berlusconi.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've long since accepted that on Metafilter, regardless of what a post is actually about, USians will inevitably chime in to talk about their fair country and how the issue under discussion relates to it.

As to molto bello, I guess that's just my crappy Italian, sorry. I intended no masculine reference; should that be molto bella?
posted by stinkycheese at 4:56 AM on December 17, 2009

I intended no masculine reference; should that be molto bella?

"Molto bella" is correct. Although, I have to say, I did raise an eyebrow at the post title basically saying "She's hot". If you meant to refer to the documentary as beautiful, then the masculine is fine.
posted by Errant at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2009

Full disclosure: I don't speak Italian, and the post title is usually the last thing I consider in these matters. Additionally - and I may be alone in this - when I'm just about to post, I often imagine there's some other hypothetical person about to post the same links first, so I get a little panicky.

My thinking was simply a sarcastic "how beautiful" or "very beautiful". I looked this up on a translator and that's all there was to it.

In retrospect, maybe "crossing veline" would have been a better choice?
posted by stinkycheese at 3:52 PM on December 17, 2009

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