Wednesday, May 11, 2005

TV Italia

It's comforting to know that you are never alone in Italy. For whenever you set foot into a trattoria/bar/train station/book shop, your friend the TV will be there to greet you, warming you against the effects of the cruel outside world, entertaining you with a 1-2-3-4 dance-kick, a medley of show tunes, an eyefull of cleavage. Anyone who's ever channel-surfed in Italy can confirm: Italian TV is humanity at its worst. And yet, even well-cultured Italians will insist on wheeling the idiot box up to the edge of the dinner table. It is the honored guest that always has the first and last word. You can speak ill of Zio Silvio, but you cannot disparage TV, the medium that made him his billions, the device that helped him march to power (twice) and, ultimately, keeps him out of trouble.

Every once in a while, il tubo flashes with potential. On Monday and Tuesday nights, RAI's TG1 -- one of the state-run channels that insist I pay it 121 euros each year while it still runs a gaudy amount of ads -- features a two-part made-for-TV drama. Last week, it was about a wrongly framed Turin man. The Turin story was based on true life events, hence the need to cast a soft porn actress to play the heroic prosecutor who bucks the system (in impossible heels) and frees our hero. This week? A timely yarn about KGB smugglers operating out of Ferrara, a city home to still more attractive protagonists.

Something meaningful can always be gleaned from watching a nation's primetime television, particularly when the broadcaster draws compulsory funding from its citizens thus obliging it to produce programming that reflects the tastes and values of its citizenry. Thus the Brits, one can rightly deduce from their BBC, value historical documentaries (preferably ones involving in this order: anything about WW2, Hitler's dubious sex life and anything about the late, great British empire, oh, and more military victories against the Germans, please, because we're British.)

Italy famously values variety shows. Lots of dancing girls in showgirl outfits. Awful pop covers we can theoretically clap along to at home. Sweaty, portly male presenters well past their prime flanked by the fine new fleshpot of the season. Call it a broadcaster's homage to arete -- perfection of mind and body. When that fails, bring out more dancing girls.

But something odd is happening at RAI. They now regularly show docu-dramas, each with a wholesome, uplifting message: through perservance, ingenuity, honesty you can overcome adversity. Racism, sexism, needless red tape? Forget it. They don't stand a chance under this new empowering formula. Say it with me, italiani. Through perserverance, ingenuity...

I'm still afraid of the women at the post office though.

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