After Wednesday’s article, promoting Episode 23 in our Summer Series, which featured Fascist Italy’s disgraceful invasion of Ethiopia, I had several people write to me saying they’d watched the film linked to at the end and found it really interesting. Well done to them!
Plus there was one stupid person whose point, I think, was how dare I mention Italian imperialist escapades when I don’t give equal attention to the British empire and what my countrymen got up to.
Duh… I’m promoting a series on Italian history, in Italian, for people learning Italian, on a website that has the sole purpose of helping them do that. How, pray, might me focusing on the many sins of the British empire add to that?
Incidentally, any one who actually knows me would regard it as a stupid question also because I was a revolutionary communist back in the day, so retain some fondness for disruption and iconoclasm.
Italians who encounter me socially will often enquire – by way of a conversation starter – how I like the British royal family, the new king, the latest shiny-faced baby, or the pretty, clothes-horse princess.
To which I will usually reply, to furrowed brows, that I think Italians made the right decision to become a republic, back in 1946. Italians tend to forget the history they learned at school right after the test, and anyway, were just trying to be pleasant. So my response doesn’t move things in the right direction.
I try again, adding that we Brits should have done what the Russians did with their monarchy after the 1917 revolution, and be done with the lot of them.
Which more or less kills the conversation.
Talking about forgetting the history people were forced to learn at school, while the early episodes of this year’s Summer Series – the Risorgimento and the triumphant if belated founding of the Italian state – will have been dinned into even the thickest twelve-year-old skull, the subsequent imperialist adventures, WWI, the fascist period, and WWII (we’re getting there) are forgotten with semi-official blessing, or barely taught at all.
For then came the heroic partisans, the ahead-of-their-time ditching of the anachronistic monarchy (hence the polite questions about how I feel about Charles III), and the wonderful boom years – all marvellous boosts to Italy’s self image, and all to come in next year’s Summer Series, along with the less-than-flattering parts, of course.
Taboos. Every place has them, and I daresay they serve a social purpose, to some extent. But whereas the Germans, post WWII, embraced the shameful parts of their history (and by no means was that all of it – Germany was the first place to introduce a state pension, apparently), the British, French, Italians, Spanish, Americans, and so on either hold on to their historical myths (the sun never set on the Britsh empire, etc.) or gloss over the darkest episodes of their national past (fascist Italy and Spain, the French and other occupied countries handing over their jews for extermination by the Nazis, everyone’s racist and exploitative colonies…)
So don’t expect to have much of a conversation with an Italian about fascism and Mussolini, that’s all. Even mentioning the period is the social equivalent of pointing out that someone has dandruff on their shoulders.
But if you VISIT Italy, look around you. Look at the buildings, notice the architecture from the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, admire the iconic posters hanging on the walls of bars, ask when the big industrial brands got started (maybe canning food for invading armies, or providing vehicles, or doing the logistics some place in Africa).
Note that not all of the Italy’s successes were in the boom years of the ‘fifies. Those missing decades left their mark, too. The evidence is there to be seen, for anyone with eyes and the nouse to use them.
Which brings me back to today’s Summer Series episode, on the propaganda of the fascist regime. Naturally, your country, and mine, don’t indulge in propaganda. We live in modern democracies, right? We wouldn’t recognise propaganda if we tripped over it. The very word sounds foreign – so unfamiliar – don’t you think?
Reading about Mussolini’s promotion of himself and his regime, though, brought to mind modern images of Putin riding horses with his shirt off, but also my favourite movie, Top Gun (the first one), as well as the endless crap we were taught as small children, about how lucky we were to be born British, and how we should “do our duty to God and to the Queen”.
Così. Read and listen, then reflect. ALL states do this to some extent, even nice places like Sweden. Once you start to understand why and how it’s done, you’ll notice propaganda even where you live, I’m sure. Next time you see your country’s flag on TV, for instance, ask yourself why it’s there. Who benefits?
Oh, by the way, the ‘Italian Hollywood’.
As I mentioned in passing above, movie-making was cutting-edge tech in the period we’re learning about. So an important propaganda tool. It still is.
Top Gun, for instance, was made with the enthusiastic cooperation of the US Navy, and apparently had a hugely positive effect on their recruitment stats, in what was otherwise a rather difficult decade. See? None of us are immune.
Check out the link at the end of today’s article, to the Cinecittà website. Cinecittà, near Rome, got its start back then, as a lot of well-known Italian companies did. Read all about that in our article, as I daresay they don’t boast about it.
For those of you with time to kill, the Cinecittà website hosts a Youtube video, a glossy ad (for themselves, obviously). Scroll down their homepage to where it says PLAY.
Click that to see the video, which is in Italian, but has subtitles in English. The translation is good, but not word for word, so it makes a nice exercise to listen to the Italian while reading the English.
Give it a go! https://cinecittastudios.it/
N.b. The previous twenty-three episodes in this series can be found on our History page, along with the ninety Summer Series articles from previous years. Scroll right down to the end to find the latest ones.
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