Italy: Mass Media, «veline» and spaghetti
babelmed - 15/03/2004
One had to see Simona Ventura on stage at the Ariston theatre in Sanremo during the Song Festival which just ended – Sanremo is a key event for Italian television…
Attractive, friendly, intelligent, a woman at the head of an absurd entertainment machine (for which she is not responsible for ), like a captain ready to sink with his ship. She has a preference for Dolce & Gabbana outfits, trashy haut-couture of which she covers her body that she shows without really identifying herself with it: “I won’t be able to skip around on stiletto heels all my life in front of a camera”, she is happy to repeat lucidly, aware that her success does not depend on her looks. She goes even further, she has ambition, she has set her sights on the position of head of channel. A position which no woman has until now occupied in Italy, either in public or private television.
A new type of woman such as this Simona Ventura who is counteracted by an army of “veline” , these pretty girls, beautiful even who ‘adorn’ television programmes of any sort. In the Italian journalistic jargon ‘veline’ is the unofficial governmental memo which suggests the exact manner in which information should be made. By definition these ‘veline’ cannot do anything: they suggest a few dance moves and hum if need be. Silent by contract, when they open their mouths it is to communicate their joy at suddenly realising they have the gift of speech. In short ‘veline’s’ are the persona of the absolute void.
Many surveys reveal that ‘being a veline is the dream of most female Italian adolescents’. Consequently, and despite creating an uproar, the Campania region used public funds to finance a training course to become a ‘veline.’
What is exerting such a fascination upon young Italian girls? Without a doubt: fame, winning lots of money quickly and without much effort, and most importantly getting married; for ‘velines’ get engaged breathtakingly quickly and go as far as marrying footballers. Being beautiful has always been an additional means for women through a torturous course that includes emancipation, in other words paid employment even if it’s just showing oneself; the girls on TV achieve a feat as traditional as can be: a beautiful wedding.
The use they make of their body image doesn’t matter. Scantily dressed, they appear by the side of the TV presenter (of course a man) to give sexual shivers at the most insane hours. Each evening, just before the news broadcast there is a quiz on the Rai channel. The format of the show is similar in various countries. But only in Italy is there « una ragazza scossa » (a shaking-girl) at the clinching moment of the end result, who suddenly appears live in front of families sitting down to their evening meal. Half naked, she starts to shake her body in uncontrolled convulsions throughout which the camera expertly frames the tastiest parts of her body.
By suggesting the abolition of such practices, the president of the Rai channel, Lucia Annunziata, launched a call to decency twice which denounced the act as an extremely demeaning example of the role of women in television. The presenter of the quiz immediately threatened to resign while the president was nicknamed ‘abbess’. And so nothing changed. Nobody paid her any attention as though she were just a moralistic matron or a cantankerous old woman.
This story is one hundred per cent Italian: today when all the taboos and the moral obligations have faded, while Catholicism no longer guides the Italian way of life, Italian television fully reflects the country’s taste for transgression, abandoned principles, a vulgarity which knows no bounds, and the deeply rooted frenzied male chauvinism that prevents any changes to occur ( however underlying ) of which talented women could be the protagonists.
Female journalists, presenters and authors are however quite present. These examples of careers and successes are quite the opposite of ‘velines’. Let us continue with the example of Simona Ventura who praises her difficult apprenticeship of the job, her unique way of putting forward her intelligence and talent.
In fact, a real war is simmering in the corridors of Italian television. A war against women which we can find on all the television screens across the world. Ethics, responsibility, privacy, decency are all trampled for one minute of fame on TV ( we can’t even reach the fifteen minutes Andy Warhol talked about). This modern illness destroys everything, men and women - but women who have an ancestral connection with intimacy and a more developed practice of self representation, find themselves in the firing line of this coconut shy.
The war of the sexes on television is a national sport in Italy. It’s not only about merely humiliating women by reducing them to simple out of context ornamental objects. It always goes much further : as is the case for example of the show “Porta a porta” , the main news show on Rai Uno where beautiful women pose, mutely, amongst political men, powerful men and a few duty psychiatrists and philosophers. It often occurs for the men to seem dismayed when the women quite unexpectedly speak showing that they are quite capable of having unpredictable and nonaligned opinions. Bruno Vespa the presenter, then immediately intervenes to abruptly shut them up. This is the wonderful representation of a country which does not yet possess public conversation between men and women in its DNA. There also exists a more subtle scenario of this battle of the sexes which I would qualify as ‘War of monstrosities’ with its succession of transsexuals, cross-dressers and masks: men, either gay or not who pretend to be women, derision of femininity or declared usurpation of the latter – the whole fueled by the increasing masculine wish of seeing femininity disproportioned, a bit like in Fellini’s films.
The ‘transgender’ is an international trend. In Italy, it is a somewhat local connotation. It is impressive to note that one of the stars of Italian television, loved equally by mothers as by their daughters, is a transvestite, and that this infatuation harmoniously coexists with the usual family rhetoric.
There is a lot of confusion within Italian society of which television is a tragic reflection. Fortunately there is Simona Ventura. Bia Sarasini