Paola Bonifazio and Damiano Garofalo: “Popular Culture Challenging the Establishment”

November 9th, Istituto Italiano di Cultura at Montreal

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Prof. Paola Bonifazio

“Tutti pazzi per i fumetti, ovvero dove comincia la storia del fotoromanzo italiano”

Where does the story of Italian fotoromanzo start? This is the question that open professor Paola Bonifazio’s contribution to “The Long 1950s”. And the answer is one interesting reading of this genre as a product of transmediality, of a process that moves content from cinema and television to the print pages of these journals. Fotoromanzo, born in 1940s, had a great success of public but was deeply criticized by the politic establishment, that underestimated the importance of this medium because of its content, mostly focused on melodramatic love-stories. On the contrary, professor Bonifazio proposes to look at this genre from a different perspective, one that would acknowledge its importance for female readers and its capacity to shift power relations from producers to the public, who participated actively. Moreover, fotoromanzo represents an interesting example of the Italian process of modernization and a transmedia dimension that involves both its aesthetics and its production. This is why, she argues, “fotoromanzo was not killed by television or cinema, but found a new space of interaction with these media in which fotoromanzo constituted an innovative case of convergence culture.”

Listen to professor Paola’s Bonifazio presentation here.

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Prof. Damiano Garofalo

“Pubblici, consumi e trasformazioni culturali nell’Italia degli anni cinquanta.”

Since television was born, its public was born with it. Therefore, it is astonishing to notice how the history of Italian television has not studied the conformation and the reactions of Italians to the arrival of this new media in 1954. Professor Damiano Garofalo’s research tries to fill this gap and offers an analysis of this public from the bottom, instead of looking at it in a top-down direction. Professor Garofalo reads popular journals published in those years and diaries of people that looked at those screens for the first time. The results tell a different story from the one usually handed down by the Francoforte School. According to professor Garofalo, the control of the media on its public, and consequently of politic parties that controlled RAI on Italians, must be scaled down or, at least, its boundaries must be traced taking into account the agency of these spectators. Journals like the Communist Vie Nuove and the Christian Democrat Famiglia Cristiana, report protests of spectators that explicitly expressed their disapproval for what programs showed or, better, for what politicians and the establishment allowed to be shown. Critiques from the left, more concerned with ideology, differ from those from the right, more concerned with dogmatic or moralistic issues. However, professor Garofalo argues that television constituted an instrument of social construction and built a cultural space in which communication was the symbol of a new sense of community. If intellectuals of that period were not able to “go to the people”, the people itself took on the challenge of ” going to the television.”

Listen to professor Damiano Garofalo’s presentation here.

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November 10th, Wendy Patrick Room, Wilson Hall, McGill University

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Prof. Paola Bonifazio       

“Hall of Shame: Italian Fotoromanzo in a Global and Gendered Perspective”

In the lecture given to the McGill public, professor Bonifazio adds examples and quotations from several titles of fotoromanzi to support her thesis. Fotoramanzo had a transnational dimension thanks to the migration of producers in countries like Argentina and USA. In Italy as abroad, especially in Spanish speaking countries, fotoromanzo worked also as an instrument to build a sense of community and to foster the integration of immigrants. Moreover, the transmedia character of this genre can be studied also in relation to its representation of women and melodramas taken from well-known cinematic masterpieces like Il grido. Fotoromanzo gave readers a different representation of the female gender, where femininity is both framed into banal stereotypes and given a prominent role that in Italian cinema never became a relevant perspective on reality.

Listen to professor Paola Bonifazio’s presentation here.

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Prof. Damiano Garofalo

“Rethinking Early Italian Television History from Below”

As mentioned above, one of the most interesting aspects of professor Garofalo’s research is its approach “from below,” against the usual vision top-down. In his contribution, he offers a wide list of comments and critiques that Italians gave at the birth of RAI, the Italian television. If we do not take into account the relevance of the public in regards to television, then we would miss much of its influence on Italian society. Understanding the gap between, in Stuart Hall’s words, coding and decoding would help historians to describe more appropriately the relationship between television and its pragmatic effect on Italian history. In other words, we have to go through cultural proofs of this decoding in order to frame it and have a clearer idea of the habitus (in Bourdieu’s definition of this term) of the Italian public. This is what professor Garofalo does and asks the public to do: we read readers of Vie Nuove and Famiglia Cristiana who complain about this new object called television. Words that surprise us, words that open a new field of studies that will tell much about the story of this media in our country.

Listen to professor Damiano Garofalo’s presentation here.

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