Italian TV, What a Gay Ole Time

Curator's Note

Here are three facts about Italy: Italians have experienced 63 governments in 70 years. 2 – While what we know as Italian was based on the Florentine dialect used by Dante, the senate rejected a bill in 2007 that would make it the official language of the Republic.  3 – The sceneggiato, or Italian miniseries has been the nation’s preferred fictional form since Italian TV’s advent. Looking at these facts I see an identity founded on fracture, I see a refusal of longevity for longevity’s sake.

The sceneggiati, initially literary adaptations, would later include original content that served as a platform through which Italy could speak to itself about itself. There are direct parallels between the temporal limits of the Italian miniseries and the nation’s political and national identity. To cite just a few: The Octopus dealt with the lengthy reach of the Sicilian mafia; The Best of Youth wove decades of Italian history into its narrative; and 1992 explored the systemic political corruption at the time. Weaving the nation’s history into its television, these shows and many others like them choose an abbreviated narrative format.

Regarding spectator pleasure and loyalty, scholars like Ien Ang have discussed the “structures of feeling” that found the basis for viewer identification (20). In miniseries this identification can be more temporary; these are not long-term commitments.

If, as Lee Edelman notes, queerness “troubles the relentlessly totalizing impulse informing normativity,” and futurity is fundamental to the logics of socialized time, then queer temporality can challenge the structures on which normativity is based (189). Our Western time, as Jack Halberstam states, is built upon “conventional forward-moving narratives of birth, marriage, reproduction, and death,” these narratives require sustained social and sexual commitment. Miniseries offer viewers a casualness that lies outside the prolonged narrative coherence of future-oriented time. So the spectator’s identifications with the characters and narratives of weak seriality become queer moments of identification that challenge prevailing liberal trends in identity politics. It allows spectators to question the naturalness of temporal commitments that are normativized by the standards imbedded in time’s economy.

Like binge-watching, miniseries give no promise of a future, and after two or ten episodes when the show ends spectators are left with a “what now” feeling that Italians are not only very much used to, but on which they structure their very national identity.

 

Comments

Geoffrey Henry's picture

The Sceneggiati

Thank you for your post, Julia. Like the other posts for this week, your comments have peaked my curiosity about the subject. Though I have seen various miniseries and limited programs, I have not seen any of the sceneggiati. However, your post has made me want to watch some of those programs. I am particularly struck by your statement that these shows allow Italy to, in your words, “speak to itself about itself.” I admire television series that use their storylines to comment on social issues. Thus, reading your post made me think of different television programs that address social issues in some form or another.

Julia Heim's picture

Language and its objects of representation

Hi Geoffrey, I used “sceneggiati” as you note, because it is the original word for such “weak sereality” but for some time now Italy has taken to using “Fiction” for all fictional content made for television, which is a pretty queer choice as well. When I mention that these shows are the way that Italy speaks to itself about itself, I’m making specific comments about historical content programming, but also I think there is a larger argument here about television as a reflexive locus. Scholars like Merri Lisa Johnson have made great cases for reading television as theory because it becomes a space for culture to better understand itself (see Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box, 2007: 19).

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