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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Meet Italy's Veline

by Kate Devine
featured in The Wilding Issue 1
Let me paint a picture of Italian TV for you:

Channel one: woman sits quasi-naked on desk of old man while he talks about sport.

Channel two: bikini clad women hold up score cards and smile unconvincingly.

Channel three: crotch shot of a dancing girl provides an odd segue on chat show

I could go on.

Welcome to the glamorous world of the Italian ‘veline’: Think Melenie Stace in that 90’s abomination The Generation Game, except EVERYWHERE, with 99% less clothing, multiplied to form a sort-of sexy, blonde/brunette twins effect, and constantly shaking/dancing/generally animating her ‘assets’ at the presenter’s slightest whim. All this, while the programme’s host (always male, usually old) makes such intelligent observational quips as ‘you two should do this til one of you dies’ and ‘what happened to you, did you leave your boobs a home?’

The misogynistic onslaught that is Italian television was enough for one FT journalist (in 2003) to dub the fourth-largest economy in Europe ‘the land that feminism forgot’.

If it wasn’t infuriating enough that these women are daily objectified on national television, the real punch comes on learning that ‘being a ‘velina” is one of the top aspirations for young Italian girls! Heart-braking isn’t it?

There are literally thousands of Italian teenagers who dream of a job where the interview process involves bending over an ironing board and pressing men’s shirts before a studio audience (clad in mini-skirt and stilettos of course). This particular audition process helped to choose the ‘schedine’ or ‘little coupons’ (something to do with football pools) who were regulars on Sunday afternoon football show ‘Quelli che il calcio’ until recently.

Italian television has become something of a national shame, and the Berlusconi years were probably its lowest point. Never has a creepy old man made such an overwhelming impact on the face of a county’s media. He not only founded and still heads up, a multi-national mass media company comprising over 50 of the county’s main channels, it’s largest Publisher (Mondadori), countless magazines, newspapers, and film production houses, but also, when in power, exerted considerable control over the country’s national TV network, RAI, not to mention owning the company responsible for selling 60 per cent of all advertising space on Italian television. In the words of one blogger ‘When writing “Citizen Kane” Orson Welles would have thought this was too much for his character. And yet it is possible in Italy”.

Hardly surprising then, that the face of Italian television is so besmirched, when it’s lord and master is the kind of man who always ensures ‘five anthropological categories’ of women at his parties.
There are signs however, of improvements. Some TV shows, like the one mentioned earlier, have stopped using ‘veline’ in their programmes, documentaries like ‘Videocracy’ and Lorella Zanardo’s ‘Il corpo delle donne’ (Women’s bodies) are making efforts to highlight the degrading nature of Italian TV, and the feminist movement, in the form of ‘Se non ora Quando? ( If not now, When?) ’ appears to be growing. It remains to be seen though, against a backdrop of austerity and financial turmoil (not to mention Mr Bunga Bunga’s threats of a comeback) whether these tentative steps can continue to make progress.

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