Anatomy of the spectacular woman: A cultural history of women in Italy, 1948--1965
McLean-Plunkett, Sarah Caroline
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This cultural history examines the emergence of mass spectacular culture and its impact upon women in post-1945 Italy. Between the years of 1948 and 1965, alongside a breakneck pace of economic development, emerged a new visual primacy on the Italian cultural scene. Outside of a privileged urban minority, the expanded circulation of visual media such as film, illustrated magazines ( rotocalco ) and television created a shared reservoir of experience out of which developed the necessary conditions for a mass spectatorship in Italy. The popularity of these forms encouraged and rose alongside the growth of consumerism. While there was political consensus in this period, it was never as strong as it was in the historic elections of 1948 that effectively brought the Christian Democratic Party into power. In light of the monumental cultural changes that took place in this period, the contours of the ostensible hegemony have warranted further examination. An ideal spectator was posited in the carefully censored production of the visual media of the day. This is especially true of many advertising methods which were aimed to overcome resistance to the products of industrial society. Yet, the reception of these messages could not be controlled. This created both a space for resistance to and a negotiating ideals of Italian femininity and citizenship. Rather than conforming to some imposed coercive message within these new media, women developed new strategies of 'appearing' to represent themselves in this new mediated public space and, as a consequence, Italian women produced incremental change in public perceptions of women's roles within Italian society. The above was complicated by the anxiety evoked within Italian society in response to the great changes taking place, including the decline in the size of the family and attempts to redomesticate women after the Second World War. Within this context, the ideal of women as wife and mother provided society with a convenient means of discussing social change. Very often this was reflected in the polarizations depicted in the media coverage of women's place within Italian society, which seemed to have been an either/or proposition. Women either worked domestically or extradomestically, leaving little or no room for half-way measures or the successful balancing of the two. Additionally, women's extradomestic labor was often posited in the media of the day as undermining the structural integrity of the family. The former supported the accepted practice of firing women when they became married or pregnant, which was in violation of the Italian constitution. While a majority of Italian women did confine themselves to domestic labor, there were also women who participated in politics, such as Angelina Merlin, who emphasized prostitution as a means of highlighting the limits of female citizenship within Italy. There was also the participation of women in beauty contests, many of whom rose to fame, employing images of connubial fulfillment and maternity to offset their status as working mothers and wives in the entertainment industry. In order to further understand women's responses to the transformation of Italian society, the dissertation also examines Italian melodrama of the period, both in popular films and fotoromanzi, which are most succinctly described as serial soap-operas in a comic-book format. Once discarded as low-brow entertainment or women's paraliterature, these popular forms helped buffer the shocks of a modernizing society as well as frame uniquely feminine responses to Italian society's modernization in the period of post-war recovery and economic boom. Sources examined include film, fotoromanzi, investigative reports by popular periodicals, hygiene treatise, the opinion of specialists in the field of social medicine, experts in mental hygiene and criminal anthropology, as well as governmental inquiries.