Sunday, January 22, 2006

An Italian in the States - Part 2 - Television

I don’t like Television much. I probably watch between 1 and 4 hours of TV a week at the most. When I used to live in Italy it wasn't very different, but at least I had good reasons for not watching it.
Have you ever watched Television in Italy? There are 6 major channels. 3 are under the influence of the government (partially socialized RAI1, RAI2 and RAI3), and the other 3 are private (Rete 4, Canale 5 and Italia 1). That's it! Everything else is a bunch of minor local channels. All they air is infomercials or unknown B-movies from the 1970s. Don’t know if it is different today, but in the mid 90’s that’s how it was.
On all (6) channels, and in movie theaters, everything that is foreign is dubbed. Literally! Everything! I don’t think I have ever seen a foreign movie with subtitles in Italy. If I did I probably didn’t like it because I was completely not used to it. I was so used to watch movies with mouths and voices being out of sink that I didn’t even notice it.
When I watched original Italian movies it was actually weird to see mouths and voices perfectly in sink. It wasn’t only me to think it this way either. Consider that several Italian directors (especially from the ‘70s) decided to film movies in English and then have them dubbed in Italian to create the… Hollywood film effect!
A very popular type of television is the “variety show”. Usually these are talk/game/comedy shows with guests in living room type of setting. Hosts and guests are plopped on sofas or chairs talking about miscellaneous subjects. These shows can be up to 3 or 4 hours long, especially during Saturday afternoons. Each section of these shows is usually separated by some kind of modern dance. Usually the dancers are pretty girls in skimpy clothes.
You would immediately notice this aspect if you watched Italian TV. It’s very obvious. Not surprising in a country where a porn-star (Ilona Staller, AKA “Cicciolina”) created a “love party” and made it to parliament from 1987 to 1992.
As a generalization Italians have a very different relationship with television nudity. What in the States would be considered “edgy” (or outright “R” or “NC-17”) in Italy is considered pretty much normal. This is evident everywhere. It’s normal, for example, for billboards on public streets to depict images that could be straight out a Victoria Secret catalog.
This is the common Monday to Saturday Italian television panorama. Sundays are different. On Sundays there is only one subject on TV and radio: soccer. Almost every show on TV is either a soccer game, a soccer talk-show, interviews with soccer players or soccer fans, a recap of the Sunday’s soccer games and events, soccer forecast, and so on and so forth. Usually this extends to Mondays as well. Pure hell for people not interested in soccer such as myself.
Another interesting aspect of the Italian TV is the people in it. As a classic example one of the most famous show hosts is “Pippo Baudo”. Born in 1937 he has been around since the ‘60s. How many faces in American TV have you seen on the small screen for 46 years and still going strong on very popular prime-time TV shows targeted to people of all ages? Pippo is just one major example, but there are many others. Male television personalities have a job and they stick around forever. They disappear only when they retire for old age, get permanently ill, go to prison or die. There is no space for new faces and is almost impossible for new people to make it in the television industry unless an old-timer retires leaving one spot open for the second in line, and creating a void at the bottom of the pile.
For women this is a little different, and fresh pretty faces are always welcome.
The result of this strange combination of facts is a lot of television with a bunch of old man acting like young men and pretty girls in skimpy clothes. An odd scenario if you think about it. This unfortunately trickles down all the way to some of the Italian cinema. There is a whole line of silly movies (that never make it out of the boundaries of Italy) where men in their 60’s act like high-school kids going after women in their 20’s. Strange.

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