I’m preparing my paper for SIS on televisual nostalgia and the famous female body, using the TV series Milleluci as my case study. The series is hosted by Mina alongside Raffaella Carrà, along with special guests across the eight episodes that celebrate a different light entertainment genre throughout the series.
One particular ‘television memory moment’ that I want to discuss is that of Mina and Carrà performing ‘Che cosa’ with the Kessler twins. You can watch the song on the RAI’s website at: http://www.raistoria.rai.it/articoli/milleluci-i-gusti-del-pubblico-maschile/23901/default.aspx
The song is introduced in the previous segment of the show, which features the television host Alberto Lupo as guest of Mina and Carrà. He offers ‘se volete io vi posso fare da guida in un piccolo viaggio attraverso gli incubi che la femminilita troppo aggressiva ha provocato nella televisione’. There then follows a clip montage, showcasing what can be characterised here as ‘dangerous female sexuality’. The montage includes Abby Lane, Jayne Mansfield and Zizi Jamaire amongst others. At the end, Carrà challenges Lupo and asks if he really thinks that such things were provocative and caused problems. ‘Oh yes’ he says, ‘adesso però, è cambiato, no?’, his argument being that now, Carrà can wear a cropped top thus showing her stomach, and can dance in a sensual manner. This, he states, is ‘una conquista’.
Yet the sexualised outfits of both Mina and Carrà in this segment suggest that whilst there has undoubtedly been changes and developments as far as the presentation of women on Italian television is concerned, the audience is nevertheless encouraged to look at the female body. Laura Mulvey explains that ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness‘. As far as cinema is concerned, Mulvey posits that ‘going far beyond highlighting a woman’s to-be-looked-at-ness, cinema builds the way she is to be looked at into the spectacle itself. Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire’. In Milleluci, the camerawork, outfits, editing, and script work together to create a similar gaze, which is the product of the male director and producer. Therefore, although the depiction of women on Italian television had evolved by 1974, it was still very much the product of what Butler would call ‘a stylized repetition of acts’, where ‘bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self’, which was influenced by the dominant political forces at work within RAI and in Italy at large.
This is the context in which the Kessler twins are introduced. We are treated to a song and dance routine that recalls their early television performances on Studio Uno (1961). On that series, ‘they are filmed from a distance, which allows the camera to capture their
song and dance routines and to display their bodies and legs for the audience (indeed, their costumes are often figure hugging and made up of dance leggings and leotards in order to showcase their bodies and their dancing)’ (Haworth 2015 p. 32). This sexualisation is then picked up in the routine that the twins perform with Mina and Carrà, where all four sing about the aspects of their performances that appeal most to the male viewer. Whilst the performance is again the product of the male gaze, this gaze is also satirized and subverted here, as the women use their bodies to illustrate their objectification. But the shouts of appreciation that we hear from audience are male, indicating the persistence of the to-be-looked-at-ness of these famous female bodies. The nostalgic trip down memory lane afforded by Lupo and the Kessler twins then functions on the surface to highlight how much Italy has developed in its attitudes towards women, whilst at the same time reasserting the ongoing male domination within society and the objectification of the female body.