In a previous blog post, I was speaking about the nostalgic trip down memory lane that is afforded by the 1970s television show Milleluci, hosted by Mina and Raffaella Carrà, and which 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.
This can be seen in the episode dedicated to l’avanspettcolo, which was broadcast on April 20th (accessible at http://www.raiplay.it/programmi/milleluci/). Mina and Carrà as always introduce the genre that is under the spotlight for the programme but in this case, they seek to emphasise the authentic nature of this genre of entertainment by explaining the hard work that the performers had to put in, in order to command the attention of their audience. They also state that the aim of the Milleluci episode is to remember the genre as it was before the 1950s because even though it perhaps still existed in 1974, it had changed substantially. The explicit aim of the programme, then, is to nostalgically recreate the genre for the audience to consume. In the context of heritage cinema in German, Lutz Koepnick argues that ‘heritage films do not simply conjure the historical as an atmospheric background for tales of adventure and melodramatic stories. Instead, they present the texture of the past as a source of visual attractions and aural pleasures. Though these films often challenge mainstream codes of gender and sexuality, their gaze is museal: they transform the past into an object of consumption’ (p. 50). In a similar way, Milleluci here seeks to recreate the texture of the past and demonstrate its attractions and pleasures, which are then offered as an object of consumption. And one of the vehicles through which this past is consumed is the bodies of the famous female hosts.
Mina and Carrà play an active part in the recreation of the avanspettacolo. They wear the burlesque costumes of the dance troop, lead the singing, and join in the dancing. The costuming is perhaps most significant here as it places both hosts within the recreated world of the avanspettacolo, and it encourages us to look at our stars and thus consume their performance and thus the recreated version of the popular entertainment genre that is being proposed. The female body becomes a tool in the creation of the nostalgia that is being evoked, a nostalgia which can be characterised borrowing Rubenstein’s terms: it is ‘the element of grief for something of profound value that seems irrevocably lost – even if it never actually existed, or never could have existed, in the form in which it is “remembered”’ (p. 5). In this context, the avanspettacolo is constructed as a popular cultural form that is of value within Italy. The genre evokes simplicity and harks back to a period prior to the 1950s that is constructed as a period of relative stability where popular entertainment was apparently innocent and escapist and was accessible seemingly to all Italians. What is ignored here is the fact that the genre developed under Fascism, where it became popular as a result of tax relief that was offered to theatres to enable them to compete against the growing popularity of cinema. By stripping the avanspettacolo of its political connotations, Milleluci is able to focus on celebrating the genre in and of itself. The commonly-held assertion that the genre is of poor quality is in fact embraced and gently satirised in a way that draws the audience in. Rubenstein explains that ‘narratives that engage notions of home, loss and/or nostalgia confront the past in order to “fix” it, a process that may be understood in two complementary figurative senses. To “fix” something is to secure it more firmly in the imagination and also to correct – as in revise or repair – it. Even though one cannot literally go home again […] it may recoverable in narrative terms’ (p. 6). In the clip, the female body becomes the vehicle through which nostalgia is fixed: not only is our attention ‘fixed’ on the costumes and the performance of the two stars, but our memory of the genre is ‘corrected’ as we consume them and the version of the depoliticised, ‘innocent’, escapist version of the avanspettacolo that they are promoting.
I think it is important to place the nostalgia that is being constructed here within the socio-cultural-political climate of Italy in 1974 and the context of the anni di piombo when previously established and fixed ideas of home and belonging were being challenged and destabilised as a result of global changes, the emergence of the feminist movement, and the left and right wing political terrorism of the period in question. Specifically, the early 1970s can be seen as the period in which previously established ways of being woman in Italy clashed with the modernisation of society and the women’s rights movement. The results of the 1974 referendum on the divorce law that had been introduced in 1970 demonstrate the extent to which Italian society had modernised and options and values had changed in that period, with 59.1% of Italians voting to keep the law (Ginsborg, p. 351). Yet there were still very entrenched ways of being woman at work within Italian society. Milleluci in a way becomes the visual representation of the clashes in being woman in Italy in the 1970s as, as we have seen, our hosts both challenge and reaffirm the gender stereotypes of the Italian woman on television.