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As I get to know how to build this web thing, I will add most of my work. I will start with one of my latest papers, which I just presented in Honolulu

The second paper, which you will find scrolling down below this one until  learn how to do a link, is the very first paper that got me started into the topic of Italian ethnic identities.



Heroes and Villains, Archetypes and Icons in the Perception of History

Lucia Clark.

Harvard University, Cultural Survival, Lega Italiana dei Diritti dell’Uomo

June 2004


During operation Enduring Freedom we saw a new phenomenon: “Embedded Journalism,” the journalist and the cameraman that put the war in our living rooms, giving us an unprecedented view of war.

This unprecedented access to the battlefield was possible thanks to a partnership between the military and the media. Donald Rumsfeld himself admitted that this view would not be complete. “What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we're seeing are slices of the war in Iraq," he said.
Another, more complex phenomenon was taking place: the editors of the news sliced and chose which snippet of war was to be aired. What we saw went through a process of editing in no way dissimilar to any reality show or, at times, a fictionalized documentary. One had only to compare foreign coverage of the first days of the invasion of Iraq. Outside the US, the bloody reality of human tragedy filled pages and pages of magazines and entire sections of television news time. The American public, by contrast, was told of “some regrettable civilian casualties” and shown images where civilian casualties were carefully minimized.  It became clear that the foreign media had a different vision of the players of this war than the vision of American media. What triggers the different perceptions of events?

I speculate that in the perception of history, we tend to see events according to archetypes imbedded in our culture. What, then, were the archetypes used in the American perception? Immediately after 9/11, President Bush set his foreign policy according to a definite set of archetypes. How can we forget his “Axis of Evil? During the State of the Union address of 2002 the President asserted that Iran, Iraq and North Korea jointly constitute "an axis of evil" that threatens world peace. The very words were suggestive of other "Axis powers" (Germany, Italy and Japan) of World War II. The stage was set in a political play in which the enemy is nothing less than the devil, and by contrast the United States assume the role of the righteous. In the view of the events of the previous year, one notices the conspicuous absence of Osama Bin Laden, and whichever country was supposed to harbor him. But Osama and Saddam Hussein had a definite archetypal role, the role of the Evil Villain, which, to be sure, they definitely deserved.

How, then, are the archetypes created?

In “old” countries, where popular cultures are centuries old, the archetypes are woven in the popular history of the people.  In the cultural traditions of my native land, Italy, since Medieval times feast days always included traveling troupes of actors who staged plays appropriate to the occasion such as the Passion of Christ or the Nativity. Secular feasts were celebrated with epic dramas based on well-known folklore: the sagas of Orlando and Charlemagne against the Saracens, or perhaps the stories of local heroes.  These plays served as a way of educating the population in their own traditions. The plays were structured around archetypes taken out of classical and religious traditions: the Hero, the Miles Gloriosus, the Omnipotent but revengeful God, its counterpart the Devil, the Righteous King, etc.

When the actors assume archetypal roles, they are recognized by specific icons, which are not necessarily true to the initial historical event.  In the political turmoil following WWII in Italy, protesters killed during demonstrations became the archetypal sacrificial martyrs “nailed to the wall,” in a political Passion of Christ. If history is seen as drama in which one has to find a logical lesson, the memory of events can take a journey of its own. Italian historian Alessandro Portelli points out that the logic of the actual “Cronaca”, the happening, might not fit into what is perceived as essential. In this case the archetype is placed into a different timeframe from the actual one. This creates a history that reflects the wishes of who recounts it. When the “storyteller” is the ruling class, its historians put forth a version of the facts congruous with its political byline. History, it has been said, is written by the victors.

If icons and archetypes are “embedded” in the popular cultures of “old” countries, which archetypes become “embedded” in American popular culture? And by which process?

Immigrants have brought their own set of cultural icons with them, along with their favorite cooking pots or grape vine cuttings. But as the vines planted in California assumed subtly different characteristics than their parent plants in Sicily or Tuscany, so cultural icons changed into new forms. The conquest of the west, the long wagon trails, the encounters with Native Americans and the incredibly fast rise of new cities created icons and archetypes that quickly fit into the emerging history of the new country. But it was a phenomenon uniquely American that gave those archetypes their distinctive nature: Hollywood and the “movies.” And from Hollywood the icons of the charging cavalry and the cowboys and Indians spread everywhere. In ancient Europe, historical events that where played out in plays or painted in frescoes in the great cathedrals made a sharp distinction between “us,” the viewer, and the icon, the character that transcends history. With the creation of motion pictures, the archetypes and icons became accessible and tailored to an audience that had the power to make them and unmake them simply by buying the ticket-or staying home. The advent of television put yet a new spin in the creation of historical icons. To be sure, television puts history in the middle of our living rooms, but who decides, how events will be presented to us?  Journalist Helen Shaw has written,

The control of the American news media by a handful of owners, wedded to the profit margin, has led to the commoditisation (sic) of news where news is a means of selling advertisement rather than imparting information. 

Despite the commitment in the US Constitution’s First Amendment to both free expression and a free press, the extremes of a deregulated marketplace in the twenty-first century leaves citizens without the knowledge and information needed to participate fully during elections or in a time of national conflict. Freedom of expression is worthless without adequate information, and freedom of the press is limited if the media is largely owned by a few global corporations. with rating depending on profit margins, has intensified.


Therefore the public is fed news that ‘Will sell”. The bottom line is what sells, and what influences political elections. The ratings rule, and the covering of the war in Iraq, with the groundbreaking embedded journalism, is edited and orchestrated like any other show.  Real events have been played on our television screens as works of fiction. It is the media then that creates the archetype and with them creates history? Or is it not history but only events that are orchestrated? We must distinguish here between “Cronaca”, the event, and “Storia”, history, which traditionally needs the perspective of time to take proper form. But global media has robbed us of the time perspective. We are spectators and actors of events that come into our living rooms. Conversely, politicians have to fit into the media of instant communication. To be telegenic and at ease in front of a camera is vital to a political candidate.  We remember Howard Dean’s whoop that in 2004 effectively sealed his run for the Democratic nomination. A politician needs a good script and a good “director”, the campaign manager. We see how the line between show business and politics can be blurred, now more than ever when Hollywood stars win political positions. The Terminator fits the icon of the Hero, and indeed the modern Hero is often a movie star.

It should not surprise, then, if the parodies of our politics as show business come from Hollywood. “Wag the Dog”, a parody set during the Clinton years, is a wickedly funny film that underlines our dependency on the staged perception of history. Only a war staged by a Hollywood director can save a president from scandal:

It's creepy how this material is absurd and convincing at the same time. Levinson, working from a smart, talky script by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, based on the book ``American Hero'' by Larry Beinhart, deconstructs the media blitz that accompanies any modern international crisis. Even when a conflict is real and necessary (the Gulf War, for example), the packaging of them is invariably shallow and unquestioning; like sportswriters, war correspondents abandon any pretense of objectivity and detachment, and cheerfully root for our side.

It is worth noting, however, that the book that inspired “Wag the Dog,” American Hero by Larry Behinhart, is staged during the first Bush administration, and it is the first Gulf War that is orchestrated by a Hollywood director for political reasons. Given our current situation, the coincidences are particularly chilling…. 

Hollywood has given us a new version of the icons and archetypes of old: the Hero, the Villain, the Evil, and the Righteous Saviors. But where fiction ends, and history begins, it’s increasingly difficult to ascertain.



Michael T. Klare, Pacific News Service: Axis of Evil' Crumbles Under ScrutinyJanuary 31, 2002




Story: Pros and Cons of Embedded Journalism, 3/27/03, no author given


Hellen Shaw   The Age of McMedia


Under Publication

Continuity in Ethnic Diversity: the Italian Paradox as Seen in Fascist Italy through its Cinema

Paper written as part of class requirements at Harvard University in Summer 1998


Luigi Barzini opens his foreword to “The Italians” (Barzini 1996:ix) with a quote itself taken from the introduction taken from Goethe’ s “Italian Journey”: “Is there any other country in Europe where the character of the people seem to have been so little affected by political and technological change?”

To open a paper with a quote from a quote could seem awkward, particularly in a venerable University where using primary sources is both expected and facilitated by excellent library facilities.  I wanted, however, to make a point. The complexity of the Italian “character” is very much like quoting a quote within a quote.  One has to go deep into each primary source, and thus discover that each source reveals itself to be totally different: Goethe is different from Auden who is different from Barzini, who, very very obviously, is different from Clark.  Yet, Goethe, Auden and Barzini are all writers and thinkers, and Clark is attempting to understand them.

This is the complexity of the Italian Culture.

The answer to Auden’s question at this point is clear.  However, this answer consists of more questions: Which people is he talking about?  The Sicilian?  The Bolognese?  The Roman?  The Sicilian is certainly different from a Bolognese.  If they both speak the strictest form of their own dialects, they can’t even understand each other.  Yet, they are both Italian.  We are engaged here in a sort of cultural archeology, peeling off strata after strata of this ethnographic mound, the Italian Character.  Each stratum is different from the one above, and the mound is what it is because of this diversity.  Ethnic diversity defines the essence of the Italian character.  It is what unifies Italy.

This paradox has been a constant in Italian history since its legendary beginnings.  Italy’s geographical position, a mountainous narrow strip of land in the center of an Inland Sea, has facilitated a constant influx of diverse people.  Italy’s population has been, and still is, in a constant state of flux, yet Italy has managed to absorb all, to create a mosaic in which each ethnic group, indeed each town, is the smallest workable unit, the pietrina, and each pietrina is part of the whole composition.  Remove one pietrina, and the composition is flawed.

Through Italian History, many have attempted to recreate the mosaic, to create one entity from the existing ethnic plurarity.  The Romans achieved it through military power and legislative legitimacy.  They accepted the plurarity they could no longer control and made everybody a Roman Citizen.  The Christian Churches, in supplanting several different politheistic religions with their belief in one intransigent God, who tolerated no other, certainly achieved some form of spiritual unity, albeit segmented.  Yet, the Italian Paradox surfaced again within the Catholic Church, where it created a proliferation of Saints that resembled in a suspiciously close way the pagan “false” Gods they supplanted.  Both Rome and the Church expanded that unity well beyond the Italian boundaries. 

Philosophers, writers and artists worked on the cultural mosaic trough the ages, giving it dimention and purpose, color and texture.  The many colors created a whole, polichromic harmony.  The mosaic becomes a cultural identity, a progression of ideas that is Italy’s strongest unifying element.

Several leaders tried to recreate a uniform, monoethnic Italian State, and all failed, defeated, as Barzini points out, by the Italians themselves, who saw themselves more as distinct ethnic groups than as Italians. (Barzini 1996:155).  It was only when there was a common foreign enemy that ethnic identity became secondary to national need.  During the Risorgimento, completed in 1870 when Rome became the capital of an unified Italy, the impetus for liberty toward foreign oppression briefly did unify the many ethnic groups..  However, if a Sicilian fought-and died- alongside a Tuscan and a Roman, each one of them mantained its own ethnic agenda and beliefs.  They all died for Italy, but their vision of who an Italian should be remained profoundly different.

The last of these leaders was Benito Mussolini.  It is difficult to analyze (and that has been done ad nauseam already) what motivated him.  “The gap between the flamboyant representations, the fiery speeches, and the plain and ugly facts widened dangerously …Truth for him also was what he wanted to believe”( Barzini 1996:148-49).  What Franco achieved in Spain, Mussolini turned into an unmitigated disaster in Italy.  While Franco proved to be a dictator, yes, but also a stateman, Mussolini proved to be an ethnic entrepeneur,(as the term is used by Maybury-Lewis,1997:119) and a great believer of illusions.  As Barzini says, he believed his own propaganda.

Mussolini went back to the thread of continuity in Italian history, its Roman beginnings.  Old cities became dotted with parodies of Roman monuments, and new cities rose, replicas of provincial forums.

He saw an element of continuity in that newest of media, the cinema, a new version of the old Italian way of educating the masses with the frescos and the stained glasses of the Cathedrals.  Cinema became the newest Italian poular art form.  While villagers of old learned the Gospel from the frescoes in their Church, modern Italians sat in the village square in the warm summer evenings, to watch newsreels and films.

Mussolini attempted to propose itself as the latest link of a long chain of Italian leaders who were patrons of the Arts.  He quickly saw the benefits of the cinema, and moved to control it and use it a s a subtle propaganda tool. 

His purpose was clear: Italy could be moved toward a Fascist unity only by discarding ethnic differences and assuming a uniform borghese identity.  He cleverly tapped that yearning toward urban borghesismo that one sees in many ethnic minorities (Bringa, 1995:59).  For this reason films carefully avoided dialects: Roman period films and modern films are acted in pure Italian, even when the action occurs in small marginal villages as in the film Ossessione.  “Pure” Italian is commonly understood to be Tuscan spoken by a Roman.

A notable exception is 1860, an exquisite film, Mussolini’s Queen in his ethnic chess game.  The film is a wonderful essay on Italy’s ethnic diversity momentarily unified under the leadership of Garibaldi during the Risorgimento.  It is clear that Mussolini wants to be seen as the heir of Garibaldi.  The dialects serve to illustrate the ethnic and political differences that must be resolved to achieve unity.

Mussolini did not achieve unity. Instead, he plunged the country in utter ruin.  The process of this run toward catastrophe can be understood only by going back to Italian history.

 History and the Myths

When Aeneas landed in Italy, legend says, he found a number of small kingdoms.  He promptly established an alliance with one of them by marrying the king’s  daughter Lavinia, and establishing a city of the same name.(Montanelli, 1969:7).  Aeneas was himself, of course, a foreigner, who escaped the destruction of Troy.  Like the American immigrant in the U.S, he exemplifies the typical ancestor of Italic peoples: someone who landed in Italy from distant parts, who mingled with the local people, while managing to hang on to his own ethnic traditions and identity.  The marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia symbolizes a fusion of both peoples’ traditions.  Aeneas brings his family Gods with him, including his divine mother Aphrodite, who under the name of Venere assumes a local identity and goes on to become Rome’s Patron Goddess.

This legend gives the kernel of truth in Italy’s ethnic plurality.  Early Rome was in fact an Etruscan city (Montanelli, 1969:24).  The Etruscan nation came to centro-northen Italy from possibly Asia Minor, where Troy used to flourish.  They were a people of warriors and merchants, and were organized in a confederation of 12 states.  Their cities were impregnable and tended to be self-supporting.  Rome starts therefore as a city of complex and diverse culture.

The connection between the myth of Aeneas and the Etruscans seems to me clear.  If Aeneas might be seen as the legendary quintessential Etruscan, Odysseus, again under the romanized name Ulysses, can be seen as the quintessential Greek, who wanders through southern Italian coasts and Sicily, and creates a satellite Greek culture, Magna Grecia.

Rome will eventually expand over all of the Mediterranean and pragmatically will solve its own plurality problem with a legislative solution: Everyone, Spaniards, Tracians, Gauls was granted Roman Citizenship. This solution worked well for a time except among the Israelites, who would not compromise on their own identity.

This solution has been essentially retained in Italy today: the country is divided in 20 administrative regions, each with his own capoluogo, or provincial capital city. 

The Capoluoghi tend to be the same city-states that flourished during the Middle Ages.  In Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, Veneto and Lombardia, where most neighboring towns were independent states, this is clearly not possible.  The long history of political independence has strengthened the ethnic identity of each region, indeed of each town. 

The reality of this pluralism is difficult to understand by outsiders that see Italians as one people.  The many films on ancient Rome produced either in Hollywood or London depict Romans modeling togas, posing on couches eating grapes and figs, driving chariots in form fitting armors and ponderously declaiming their speeches with a British accent.  Federico Fellini understood the nature of Roman Ethnicity and gave us a wonderful portrait of it in Satyricon, where the guests at Trimalchion’s banquet behave, speak, and look like the average villager of one of the many towns in central Italy.  They hurl indiscriminately obscenities and objects at one another, wipe their greasy fingers on their gaudy garments, and dance in a grossly erotic yet clumsy way, like any villager would do, sans benefit of choreography.  And they roll and revel in their own dialects.

The fall of the Roman Empire saw the fragmentation of Italy along two fronts: Northern Italy developed independent small potentates who remained well in contact with the rest of Europe, and the old Magna Grecia, that came under the influence of the Arab culture beginning in the 5th century.  A notable exception is Venice that kept a strong position both in the north and along the coast of Dalmatia, down to the Byzantine Empire.

What unity the sprawling Roman Empire could not longer provide was to be found in the Christian Churches, which gained predominance just as the Roman Empire crumbled.

Languages and Dialects

The last unifying element of Rome, Latin, gradually became the official language of the Catholic Church.  This transition marks the shift in secular Italy to the protoitalian languages.  Just previous to Dante’s use of Volgare, vernacular Tuscan, in the Divina Commedia, the emergence of local versions of Volgare by the school of Sicily and other Umbre and Tuscan Schools marks the emergence of Italian Dialects.

A word should be said about dialects, simply because language has been used to identify and sometimes destroy ethnic identities. (See the various prohibitions to speak native languages imposed by the dominant cultures, Native being either Celtic or Native American).

The distinction between dialects, inflections and “Language” (i.e. pure Italian) in Italy is a microcosm of its entire ethnic complexity.  Every Italian speaks “Language”, albeit with a local inflection.  I am told I have a distinct Roman inflection, even when I speak English.  In ideal culture the higher level of education, the closer the inflection is supposed to come to Language.  In real culture, inflections tend to remain strong.

Each Italian speaks, in addition to Italian, French, English or whatever foreign language s/he knows, his/her own dialect, except where parents belong to two different Ethnic groups, in which case locality prevails.  In my case, my father was Umbro-Roman and my mother Bolognese, but we lived in or near Rome so we spoke Language with a Roman inflection.  No Italian, under any circumstance, will speak another person’s dialect, unless in jest, which is perceived to be quite insulting.  For example, we spent our summers in Umbria, in Castelviscardo, near Orvieto, my father’s ancestral home.  While it was inevitable to acquire some local inflection, we were careful not to include in our speech those idiomatic expressions used in the local dialect.  The local people, who in most cases, in that small endogamous community, were related to us, would have perceived that as offensive.  By contrast The Duke of Montevecchio, last scion of the Renaissance war leader who founded Castelviscardo, spoke dialect with his workers and Language-with a strong Umbro inflection- with us.  He still lived in the town’s castle, and was chief of the local agricultural cooperative.

When I read of Anthropologists speaking local dialects I always wonder how the local people receive them.  I have reduced my friends and family in a state of helpless mirth with my attempts to speak English with a British accent.  I wonder if Anthropologists wouldn’t do better to stick to the official language.  In Italy at least, to speak another people’s dialect implies that that person doesn’t know proper Italian.  

 Language, the Cinema and Borghesismo

The issue of language versus dialect becomes a vital one when we consider that totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, attempt to eliminate the ethnic identities in order to forge the ideal citizen, dedicated to the state and the political cause.  As we have seen, Mussolini attempted to create a Fascist nation by tapping into the borghesismo present in the Italian Culture.  We have also seen that he saw Cinema as the latest tool of mass education and indoctrination.  He quickly moved to control it. (Dalle Vacche,1992:24).  To be in the movies was very fashionable.  Again we see a continuity in the involvement of influential Italians in any form of art: influential Roman had been patrons of artists and writers.  Horace, who loved to write about the simple things of his hometown, from time to time had to write odes to Mecenates.  After all, Mecenates paid the bills.  And the Involvement of the Medici Family and of Julius ll in the Arts during the Renaissance is well known.

Most Italian nobility quickly became involved in the new art form.  Some were true artists, like Luchino Visconti and Prince Antonio De Curtis, known by the nome d’arte of Toto’.  Toto’ was a prince of Naples and his post-war films tapped into his rich linguistic patrimony of Neapolitan humor, particularly in the many films he made with Peppino De Filippo.  In his pre-war films Toto’ is clearly discouraged from using his dialect.  In Animali Pazzi  he recurs to Vaudeville and even Burlesque tricks of the trade, like suggestive body gestures and facial expressions, in addition to filmatic tricks of fast-forwarding and rewinding sequences.  There is, however, one of the first uses of double shooting, in which Toto’ appears twice in the same frames, at one point in the classic virtuosism of mirror imaging.  The technical bravura always present in Italian Art continues in the Cinema.  The plot is predictable and the setting couldn’t be more borghese, minor nobility dabbling in improbable jobs, (a mental hospital for animals).  Everyone is of course speaking faultless Italian.  

 Cinema and Moral Messages

If Animali Pazzi is a harmless escapist comedy, films like Ossessione, a Visconti unauthorized remake of “The Postman Always rings Twice”, do try to convey moral messages.  The setting is in a small village in the Pianura Padana, where the local dialect has a haunting quality.  In Ossessione however everybody speaks proper Italian.  A young woman has escaped poverty and degradation by marrying a well meaning, honest but hopelessly dull older Hosteria keeper.  Here strolls in a young, attractive drifter, and the sexual attraction between the two is inevitable.  This mutual passion overcomes their better judgment and they plot and execute the husband’s murder.  Crime does not pay and when the couple attempts to escape in the dead man’s decrepit truck , in an act of divine revenge the truck capsizes and the woman dies.  The drifter is found alive, the plot is discovered and justice prevails.  The message is clear if simple: moral depravation is contemptible and will be punished.  Even the woman’s desperate past is seen as a sign of additional turpitude.  This message fitted well with Mussolini’s vision of his society.  After the Concordato with the Vatican he had the blessing and political support of the Catholic Church.  The keystone of a moral society would be the woman, keeper of the family and of its honor.  Modesty is a necessary virtue.  In the love scenes of Ossessione, seen with 90’s eyes, one wonders how the lovers consume their adulterous affair since even in bed they keep most of their clothes on.  But for the 40’s Italy the message was clear as it was presented.  Indeed, any sort of nudity would have shocked the audience and weakened the message.  

 Women, Morality and Fascism

A woman, therefore, is expected to be a living banner to her husband’s honor and respectability.  She produces large families, lavishes care upon her children, and  keeps the hearth, the focolare, burning and bubbling with soup.  Ossessione’s adulterer’s complains about cooking all day for her husband’s hosteria  sound natural enough to us, but in 1942 they were nothing short of scandalous.

If Ossessione depicts doomed people in a doomed classic triangle, the societal premises of 1860 are idyllic.  The two protagonists, Carmine and Gesuzza, are newlyweds very obviously devoted to each other. While Carmine bravely accepts their necessary separation for the good of the Cause, Gesuzza solves the problem in her own way: “Vengo alla guerra con te”, “I come to war with you”.  She comes to the front with him where she serenely peels hardboiled eggs for him.  His duty is to fight the war, and her duty is to feed him.  After the final battle, she wanders in the field looking for Carmine, and stops to assist a dying patriot in his final moments.  He calls her Mamma, and she becomes every soldier’s mother, eternally young as Mary is in the Pieta’ with her dead Jesus, the mother that sends her son to war and to die.

The vision of the perfect Italian woman is consolidated: a woman who is ready for any sacrifice, a woman who is devoted to her children, to her husband, and also to his cause, and his job, and his beliefs.  This vision is particularly poignant if one considers the terrible hardships that Italian women had to endure in the name of Fascism during the war and the fratricide civil war after the armistice in 1943.  My own mother considered herself lucky, at times, if she could pick dandelions to put some sort of food on the table.  After all, none of us died.  

 The Quest in the Tower of Babel

Carmine is sent on a mission: he has to convey the message that Sicily is desperate to a Sicilian general in Turin.  His mission is the archetypal Quest; his Holy Grail the Italian Unity.  During his quest he encounters the mythical beasts he will have to conquer to achieve his goal.  These beasts are the differences in outlooks and languages in everyone he encounters.  How, from these ideas so diverse, expressed in languages he hardly understands, can Italy be unified?

The indifferent French official in Civitavecchia dismisses him as less than human because he does not understand him.  During his train journey to Turin he encounters a Roman priest, a Florentine, and a Lombardo.  Each of them has a different vision of what Italy should be: an enlarged Papal state, a Republic, a Kingdom, but not under Victor Emmanuel.  Blasetti here is allowed to use regional dialects to underline Carmine’s struggle.  In the cacophony of this Tower of  Babel Carmine tries to find the unifying tread, the Ariadne’s lead that will take him, and indeed all of Italy, out of the labyrinth: “Ma lui ci crede in Garibaldi?” “But does he believe in Garibaldi?”  Garibaldi becomes the Savior, and Mussolini is his disciple. (Dalle Vacche 1992:101).  The film becomes a visual comizio, a series of political speeches still popular in Italy in which the politicians address the crowds in Arringae worthy of Roman orators.  The Italian ethnic groups, the Romans, the Florentines, the Lombardi, come together at sunrise to board the ship that will take them to Sicily.  The earlier cacophony becomes a symphony in which all the dialects come together to express the same ideals, as mothers tuck in some food in their sons’ pockets, and fathers take their sons to die with them.

In Sicily, these men present a peculiar image indeed: this is an army without uniforms, and if their speech tell us where they come from, their modes of dress tell us their station in life.  This diverse group of men, teachers and shepherd, students and priests, are indeed an army.  Blasetti tells us that their uniform is their blood. 

They landed in a Sicily that was an occupied land, but they all die in a free Italy, as Italian Citizens.  Dulcis est Pro Patria Mori.  This motto is still legible in many Fascist monuments. 

Carmine and Gesuzza look at the Tricolore, the Italian Flag, and exult: “Guarda, che bella la nostra Bandiera…Abbiamo fatto l’Italia!”  “Look at our flag, how lovely it is… We made Italy!”

 To Make a People

The patriotism of one Italy unified by martyrs’ blood became the official national umbrella after the Risorgimento.  The magnitude of the task of bringing together the many ethnic groups was overwhelming.  “L’Italia e’ fatta, dobbiamo fare gli Italiani” “We made Italy, now we have to make the Italians” was the post-Risorgimento agenda.  Mussolini still found that agenda still formidable and ultimately unachievable. 

All the recent global events have clearly demonstrated that different ethnic groups cannot be unified “from above”, with a political structure forcibly superimposed as a form of national unity.  The notable exception is Franco’s Spain, but how Franco managed to keep all Spaniards together and pass the nation on to the monarchy is the topic of another paper.

Mussolini failed miserably.

Luigi Barzini agonizes over the reasons of the Duce’s failures.  “In the end he lived in a private, imaginary world of his own…The cities he visited had been carefully prepared a long time before his arrival…He did not know that some of …the public works he opened began decaying the following day…It was easy to fool him”. (Barzini 1969:152-53).

Why did he construct a political machinery that would go along with this farce?  Italians have paid heavily for this man’s illusions, as they paid heavily for Caesar’s or Cola di Rienzo’s illusions.  Each time the citizen of Rome, or of small city-states, or of modern Regioni, were promised political unity and greatness.  Each time they went along with the dictator.  Each time they revolted against him.  Each time, it seems, they recognized the political unity a chimera that does not stand, because it does not recognize the reality of their ethnic diversity.  

Ethnic Plurality and Cultural Unity

 Italian unity does exist, but as the mosaic I have described at the beginning of this paper.  What gives the mosaic its chromatic tone is its culture. 

The cultural patrimony in Italy is rich precisely because it accepts all the different ethnic gifts of its artists.  Keeping my discourse within the boundaries of Cinema, De Filippo speaks of Naples, Fellini speaks of Rimini, the city of his birth, and of Rome, the city of his heart.  Bertolucci and Visconti  speak of the North, and Vertmuller makes a wickedly accurate portrait of the interaction between North and South.

Post- Fascist Cinema

The cinema of post-war years focused on the painful reality that Italians had to face after the collapse of Fascism.  The country was bleeding in a bitter civil war that still divided Italy into two distinct ethnic groups, the Fascists and the Partigiani.  Indeed, probably the Allies prolonged the war by refusing an alliance with the Partigiani, who were for the greatest part Communists. 

Filmakers like De Sica and Rossellini spared themselves and the country no painful truths.  What they depicted was the agonizing, often brutal attempt to survive another day.  This merciless self-analysis resulted in the Neorealism.  Ladri di Biciclette and Sciuscia’ describe the struggle of the average, dispossessed person for whom the theft of his bicycle means total starvation.  The Neapolitan children that eke out a living by shining shoes for the Americans (hence Sciuscia’: shoe-shine) becomes the new heroes of a torn Italy.  Their ethnicity is exalted and transformed into the symbol of Italy’s rebirth. 

Post war films will continue to focus on ethnicity, and to celebrate it.  I have spoken of Toto’ and De Filippo, who go on to make a loving portrait of a Naples that is far from perfect, but whose faults are forgiven. 

Each of those 20 regions that with the advent of the Republic are recognized as the foundation of Italy’s structure will produce its own artists.  Those artists create a portrait of a people that cry and laugh, love and hate, lose, and survive the loss. Sophia Loren in La Ciociara (Two Women in English, but the Italian title defines her as a woman of Ciociaria, a locality east of Rome) does just that: the mother who helplessly cries over her violated child goes on to rebuild her daughter’s life.  Their tragedy becomes the cornerstone, the very strength of their future.

 Italy looks Back at Fascism

It will be some years before Italian filmakers will attempt to analyze the Fascist era.  Their aim was to understand how such a disaster could have happened.  Perhaps, Mussolini’s attempt to erase Italy’s ethnic identity had the result of rob the country of its inner strength.  For all his rhetoric on Roman virility he succeeded in emasculating the people.  Several filmakers looked back on Fascism.  All of them looked at it through their own lenses, bringing into their search their own inner vision and experiences.

In the film 1900, Bernardo Bertolucci traces the life of two boys born on the same day in the new century.  One is the illegitimate son of a field worker, the other the privileged son of the landowners. 

In this film the traditional ethnic definition of a people belonging to the same place does not hold.  The two children, born in the same few square kilometers, in the same day, could not be more different.  Through the film there is a constant redefinition of ethnicity in the conflict of wealth and privilege versus serfdom.  The emergence of a peasant movement that rebels against feudal landlords creates a class identity that results in the Communist movement. 

On their part the landlords seek to consolidate their power and privileges by adhering to the Law and Order agenda of the emerging Fascist movement.  Their meeting takes place in a Church, and they recreate themselves as the new Crusaders.  Their fight against the dispossessed peasants becomes a holy war.

Bertolucci sees his characters in a monochromatic way.  Olmo, the young peasant, is noble and strong.  Alfredo, his privileged friend, is weak and corrupted. 

Attila, the fascist overseer, becomes a dark caricature of Fascism: the ethnic entrepreneur who will resort to any turpitude, from crushing a kitten with his own head to battering a child to death, in order to consolidate his position.

Fellini and De Sica are older than Bertolucci and bring in their films their personal memories of the Fascist era. 

In the Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, De Sica follows the beginning of the discrimination against the Italian Jews following the fascists “racial laws” down to its tragic conclusion.

In theory, no ethnic group could be better defined that the Jewish one.  Jewish identity has remained strong during all the centuries of the Diaspora.  Yet, what we see in the beginning of the film is the willingness of Giorgio’s father to adapt to the Italian mainstream, to maintain his own confortable borghesia.  After all, he is Italian!

But for the Fascists, he isn’t an Italian at all.  He is a Jew.  His attempt to conform, to accept restriction after restriction, are pathetic and heartbreaking.  In his struggle to fade in the Italian woodwork he feels contempt and resentment against the Finzi-Contini, who have used their walled garden as a defense bastion against the madness outside.

Inside their garden they are self contained, they know who they are and who they are not.  Micol tells Malante “Lei e’ troppo Lombardo”.”You are to much of a Lombard”  He is different, gentile and from Milan.

Giorgio sees clearly how fast his society is crumbling.  When the director of the library asks him to leave, saying what will become the refrain of the average Italian, “ho famiglia”, Giorgio replies “yes, all of Italy has a family”.  At the inevitable end Giorgio’s father and Micol go to their death.  Yet, to the very last instant, he sees himself as a citizen of Ferrara.  He is sent to his death because he is a Jew, but he tells Micol “At least we are together, we people from Ferrara” 

Is he wrong? Is Micol right, who has always been well aware that being Jewish would eventually bring her to her death?

They are both right.  Their identity is complex, multifaceted.  In the mosaic of Ferrara, the removal of its Jewish pietrine will indeed leave a void.

Amarcord is Fellini’s filmatic memoir.  It is suffused with bittersweet longing for things past, and with gentle humor.  The small community of Rimini is fairly homogeneous, and deeply rooted in its own traditions and rhythms of the seasons.  The coming of spring is celebrated with the Burning of the Strega,  a figure that symbolizes all that is bad, in a ritual reminiscent of the Beltane fires of pre-Roman Gallia Cisalpina.  The only forestieri, out of town people, are the teachers, who are traditionally assigned to posts all over Italy, in the old effort to homogenize the population. 

Fellini sketches vignettes of his fascist memories: The Roman salute in the street during the evening passeggiata, the hilarious frantic running pace during the fascist parade, the wickedly funny caricature of Hitler in the professor of Greek in the Liceo, to whom the student repeatedly makes a raspberry.

Mussolini becomes a disembodied head, a literal “head of state”, only good for fulfilling a lovestruck boy’s daydream marriage to his girl.

The reality of Fascist repression slaps the viewer in the face when Aurelio is interrogated in the middle of the night and forced to drink a liter of castor oil.  Torture aims to humiliate, to break one’s spirit. 

The generation of post war Italians, to which I belong, is perhaps coming close to finding the answers they seek.  Our drama is the classic return of Greek Tragedy: the children will pay for their fathers’ sins.  All of our parents had famiglia, their children, us.  We seek to understand what happened to our fathers.  We carry the burden.


Italy has always been a land of profound ethnic diversity.  The Risorgimento’s well meaning effort to make one People, and the Fascist struggle to eradicate ethnic identities, have both failed.  Only Italy’s strong and rich cultural patrimony has given a unifying nuance to the mosaic that is the Italian people.

Ethnic identity is a fluid, intangible entity.  We have seen through the Italian Cinema how ethnicity has shifted and changed with the times.  Recently, the Italian ethnic differences have crystallized in a new political movement, the Lega Lombarda, whose agenda is to split Italy along the lines of the Etruscan north and the Magna Grecia of the south, thus bringing the Italian ethnic journey to a full circle.  




Luigi Barzini:             The Italians  1964  Simon and Shusler 1996

Indro Montanelli        Storia di Roma  1969  Rizzoli Supersaggi 1988

Angela Dalle Vacche  The Body in the Mirrow  Princeton 1992

Tone Bringa                Being Muslin the Bosnian Way  Princeton 1995

David Maybury          Indigenous People, Ethnic Groups, and the State  Allyn and Bacon 1997

Luciano De Crescenzo La Domenica del Villaggio  Mondadori 1987




Luchino Visconti        Ossessione                              `1942

Bernardo Bertolucci   1900                                        1975

Alessandro Blasetti    1860                                        1933

Federico Fellini          Amarcord                                1974

                                    Satyricon                                1969

Vittorio De Sica         Sciuscia’                                 1946

                                    Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini 1970

                                    La Ciociara                             1961

                                    Ladri di Biciclette                  1948

Bragaglia                    Animali Pazzi                         1938