Sunday, 5 July 2009

For f...'s sake, leave us alone!!

Advertising of any kind, of any commodity is always addressed to those who should get it. In the 1950s and 1960s, male bread-winner families were the target; long-time consumption commodities kept industries going and helped the post-war economic boom to grow undisturbed for a while. Men, mostly, were those being exploited outside the household and earning the income, while women inside were the ones busy working for the daily reproduction of their men's labour power; commodity-marketing thus accomodated the division of labour by asking men to make their women happy but running ... in the end, it was not that difficult to do it ... a blender, a new dishwasher and everything was fine.

Despite its obvious gender bias, an advertisement like the one above looks almost cute and innocent compared to the level of sexism that has been reached nowadays. The latter is true especially in Dwarf-land, brought recently to renewed international attention thanks to its prime minister's regular use of public money to visit prostitutes, to host lolita-like private parties in his villas with promises of short TV appearances and, especially, to spend a one-night-stand with young women looking to start up their own enterprises.
Thus, more than anything, the Dwarf Era in Italy has amounted to a dramatic increase of sexism and disrespect for women, which is not only testified by an incredibly widespread soubrette-culture, for which young women's primary aspiration is to become a velina in one of the Dwarf's TV. More than this, the Dwarf's sexist era is progressively marked by a widespread wave of extreme violence, sexual abuses and rapes against women, the nature and role of which are publicly depicted as sexual satisfaction of men appetites. The increasing sexism of the advertising campaigns that can be seen on the walls of the streets are a very eloquent sign of this anti-feminist surge.

"We have the most famous sterns of Italy", is stated in the image on the left, where stern (poppa) in Italian also has the meaning of boob. Thus we see a regiment of young female bums entering the new ferry that promises to sweeten the holidays of all those going from Naples to Catania with a nice stock of young pretty girls.
Female sterns-boobs are used by the same company in the image below, and the advertising strategy does not fail to reassert how sexy it could be to go from Campania to Sicily, which are personified by their respective boobs-volcanos.

Travelling around the country, it is completely normal to run into huge posters - hung up on the most crowded streets of the cities - in which not only women's bodies are used to sell all sorts of commodities, but in which the sexual message becomes increasingly starker.
"Trust me! I will give it to you for free" comes out of the voluptuous woman's mouth in block capitals in the image below ... yet, it is not her sexual services, but the glasses' frame (la montatura) that will be given gratis to the lucky customers - as the undertitle clarifies - though 'montatura', in Italian language, is both the glasses' frame and the sexual position of riding.

It could be thought that what all these double-meaning, schlock-taste advertisements produce is just a smarmy smile on people's face, a bit of arousal to keep up the daily routine. However, instead of innocent excitement, today in Italy there is a daily count of violence and rapes against women. A dramatic growth of male brutality that is certainly not discouraged by an every day platitude that women are nothing but sexual objects waiting for their consumption... even with the brute force. In the image below, for example, a quasi-rape scene is used to promote a new clothes-brand. Yet, the company does not seem to be happy merely to use the image of brutally taking off woman's clothes for this commercial purpose. It aims to do it by also employing the evergreen stereotype of the black raper. The potential rapers, in fact, are blackmen, seemingly police, just to add a fashionable flavour of harsh racism to extreme sexism.

The list of sexist-advertising could go on indefinitely, perhaps even risking to fetishise this miserable southern-European culture as a red-blooded paradise.
Instead of always self-portraying themselves as latin lovers, super-machos and virile horses, Italian men would be better off realising that what the sexy advertising speaks of is their sexual impotence, pathetic insecurity and clumsy incapability of getting laid without a bit of brutality.
It is not by chance that instead of the blender for devoted house-wives, today's marketing strategists sell Italian repressed mummy-boys what they think they cannot easily get for free: thus companies sell them a quick glimpse into the décolleté of a perfect-fake breast, the sexual fantasy of a naked-female-army willing to excite them during terrible trips on rotten non-functioning ferries, the forbidden dream of playing the stereotype of the well-endowed black man trying to abuse a pretty white women.

Fortunately enough, it seems to me that more and more often Italian women (but also many men) are denouncing such barbarism and making it visible in all its shame.
Here is a short list of my Italian girl-friends who fight everyday against sexism and violence. Go, girls, go!


  1. Was talking to Alberto today about Italian self-perception and the way in which the rest of Europe as well buys into the idea that whatever the Italians do (pass racist laws, permit the kinds of sexism you're talking about it, etc.), it's ok, because they don't do it viciously (i.e. Italian fascism was somehow a nicer kind than what those nasty Germans did). It's summed up well by - of all things - this Eddie Izzard clip, I think!:

  2. IT: the point about the racial laws is that the Germans told us to do it, see. It fits in perfectly with the infantilisation of the Italian public that MAPPS is talking about - I've long held the belief that the sexism in much of our advertising is more an adjunct to mammismo, the cult of the mother, than the overtly violent, macho, locker-room variety of, say, the Relish ad. And the Berlusconi era is really all about infantilising the voting public, which is consistent with the fact that he makes most of his money through advertising.

    That makes Berlusconi the father figure (Papi!) in a way that none of the Christian Democrats prime ministers of the previous regime ever aspired to or managed to become - you really have to go back to Mussolini to find that idea of political leadership in Italy.

    Anyhow, thanks for the post (and I was still reeling from that ad for L’Unità you posted the other day...). If I could offer a minor criticism, shouldn't we drop the "dwarf" thing? I already don't find it very seemely back home, I think an English speaking audience would appreciate it even less.

  3. The dwarf thing is a bit confusing, it's true. I don't think anyone in Britain (at least) refers to SB in that way. It's also not very PC, is it...?

    From what I've seen/understand of Italy, the wilful self-infantilisation of the population is indeed widespread. It must, in some way, feed into the incredibly late age at which Italians tend to leave their parents' home (well, that and economic factors of course). More pocket money! No kids to worry about that! That sort of thing.

  4. Well, I still live with my mother, so...


    You're right to note that there are economic factors there. When I left home (at the astoundingly young age of 21) Justine and I had to come up with three months rent and three months bond in advance. It's not the kind of scratch you can very easily put together in a country where the casual and part time jobs that would suit a student weren't easy to come by. And effectively within a year I had to give up university.

    But of course there's a lot else embroiled in that. The church historically has portraied us as children, and since we were so late in our transition to modernity the image works in the area of economic development and political institutions as well. Expect the country to be metaphorically treated like the child at the G8 table this coming week.

    Back on topic, though, it would be interesting to compare the current Italian advertising with the older Italian advertising. The Kenwood ad up top fits into a different history of messages about where women fit into society (as in this example, oh so delicious these days to subvert).

  5. it and Giovanni: I agree with your points. Of course, the economic factor plays a big role in the infantilisation of the Italian population. And the fact of being 'almost' forced to stay with mummy and daddy till the age of 40 certainly has a big impact upon people's sexuality. The only way of leaving the family in Italy is still to get married. This means that neo-wives are asked (not necessarily explicitly or consciously) to play the role of the mother. This situation, in my view, leads to two typical phenomena: 1) sexual life becomes increasingly frustrating - because in the end, despite the oedipal complex, men want to keep the fantasy of having sex with mothers but not to realise it; 2) women get bored of having sexual relations with their husbands-sons. So, advertisements are full of sexual invitations, especially addressed to men who would very much like to cheat on their mummy-wives. Not surprisingly, it is quite common for Italian men to pay for sex and/or to have parallel love stories for years, i.e. to stay with the mummy-wife (as Italian men can't really survive without mummy) while having a lover who fulfills the sexual fantasies from time to time. I know that it happens everywhere but in Italy having an affair for many years (10, 15) with the same woman while living with the wife is incredibly widespread.

    ps. on the 'dwarf' issue...actually this is what SB is called in Italy, but you are right. It is not PC and I do not want to reproduce, even unintentionally, Italian discriminatory language

  6. What about (malevolent) gnome? As well as avoiding the discriminatory issue (I think...), it does very accurately get at the moral and aesthetic physiognomy of our Conducator - what's more, if you had the misfortune of seeing the pictures published after his two week stay for plastic surgery in Switzerland (where his surgery was done by an expert in post-car accident reconstructions, très Ballard...) he looked astoundingly like a... gnome.



  8. SO SO true!

    we think it's a shame they stuck us women in the kitchen in the 50s but what is the revolution to speak when they expose women on billboards today? that too these women go to it willingly. i just don't want understand this sort of "liberation"!