Dec 19, 2012

Pearls from students -- N.2

The two students who wrote  Pearl N.1 the night before the midterm, were able to repeat the exploit before the final exam...

Dec 6, 2012

American and Italian Hypocrisy

I started my lecture “The Mediatic Construction of a Leader” with the following quote: “Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend (attributed to Albert Camus, but I never found it in one of his articles or books). Therefore, I have declared two things: how much I care about friendship; the difficulty of an Italian (me) in facing the theme of leadership. The motivations are somewhat obvious for those who have a minimum knowledge of Italian past ad recent history: Fascism and Berlusconism — along with the narcissism of the center-left competitors. Moreover, I pointed out the absence of an Italian Myth. What’s the “Italian Dream”? Wine, olive oil, fashion, art, soccer, etc. are not enough. They do not define what we stand for as a people. The past is past, and a foundation myth always connects the past, the present and the future of a community. The Italian anarchist attitude — everyone is a leader of him/herself — and the struggle to imagine any form of trust and commitment outside the confines of the family — amoral familism — constitute the two other main cultural explanations of our trouble in being leaders (and followers). Thus, I’ve shared my “grand dichotomy”: the Skeptic (nihilist, cynic?) Italian versus the American Believer. Charismatic leaders do not grow as mushroom. Kharisma is a “divine gift”, and — following Max Weber — the charismatic authority disrupts tradition and rests only on the person of the leader. Charisma is “… A certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, super-human, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (Weber M., 1922/ 1947 Theory of Social and Economic Organization, 358). Such a charismatic leader has a new prophecy, vision and mission. Any leader like that out there? I’d say… NO! Your president Barack Obama — to be clear — is following the American Dream in any words he pronounces… Thus, in terms of ideas, he is a traditional or a rational leader (still following Weber’s ideal types). I have then constructed a playful narrative about leadership. Taking a short cut, I was clearly being ironic toward the American credo in leadership. I’ve showed the two presidential candidates wearing a sports jacket right after the hurricane Sandy… The unavoidable presence of their wives and the “happy family” picture — although brilliant and truly charismatic, someone single will never be the President of the US.

Not happy of expressing the feeling of triviality that an average European might feel in seeing such a show, I pushed it further on, touching the General Petraeus sex scandal. And I’ve then juxtaposed the wife and the mistress pictures…Saying: “Everyone in the world is wondering why he did that… An incredible puzzle”.
At the peak of my typical Italian sarcasm and political incorrectness, I’ve shared my last thought, that goes in the opposite direction. General Petraeus resigned, our former president Silvio Berlusconi never did; and he never had a true pressure by Italian people for doing so. Many Italians where amused by the sexual adventures of the prime minister. The Italian ethical relativism stems also from a survey about Berlusconi’s behavior toward women, family and homosexual: 16% admire him, 25% are indulgent; 5% real fans (total: 46%). Only 37% of women (18-29 years old) consider Berlusconi’s behavior offensive (the percentage drops to 28% for Italian women between 30 and 44). The average Italian annoyed reaction toward what is considered the typical American puritan hypocrisy, turned into something else: hypocrisy indicates that there is a value. You cannot cross that thin red line. If you do, the public opinion will condemn you, and you are out. I wish we had such public and collective hypocrisy; it would have saved us from a 20 years long squalid show — that keeps going on, just watch some Italian TV. A letter from Italian journalist and historian Indro Montanelli to the Pulitzer prize winner Edmund Stevens explains the difference between American and Italian hypocrisy. Read it all. Below the translation by Alexander Pinoci, and here is the Italian original version.
Montanelli: An American Lesson
A letter written in the early 50’s by Idro Montanelli to Pulitzer Prize winner Edmund Stevens: A comparison of the weaknesses of two peoples

Dear Edmund,
I have some objections to your feedback on American hypocrisy. First of all, I have not noticed that hypocrisy is more widespread in America than elsewhere: as found in Italy, for example. I did notice however that it is of a different nature. With us hypocrisy is not a social fact. It belongs to the category of private iniziatives, and as such is exercised for private agendas. Italians, for example, can’t ever get together with each other to sponsor a useful lie for the interests of the State or of a social class, as it happens in America, where every now and then big a gross collective lie is launched, in which those sponsors engage the pretense for the rest to believe in. With us not even the fascist dictatorship managed to impose conformity. The people applauded Mussolini but gave him the minimum necessary in order to continue to live in peace. Italo Balbo, Governor of Libya, who I once visited in Tripoli, said to me, pointing to his black shirt uniform: “You see what I have to do to support the family?”. This is more or less the answer that the old Rossini gave to the young Wagner, when he asked him why and how come he stopped composing. “What do you want? Before, when I had to support many children, I was forced to believe in the importance of music. But now my children are grown up and provide for themselves … “.
Hypocrisy in Italy is dictated by a sense of the “opportune”. It is petty, practical and utilitarian. When an Italian wants to change political affiliation, it is not a question of conscience, but a simple calculation of convenience. Fifty years ago, in Capri, a wealthy English family requested me to set out the path in order to convert the inhabitants into Protestant Christianity. They somewhat succeeded in this task simply because all neophytes had the right to eat for free. But at some point they discovered that every Sunday the neophytes went for confession to a Catholic priest, who had given them the permission. Meanwhile, the missionaries had fallen completely into economic distress because the neophytes had little faith, but huge appetites. And in the end it was these “hypocrites” who came to feed the English without expecting in return their conversion to Catholicism.
No, a real and proper hypocrisy in Italy there is not; and there is not for the simple and not very noble reason, because Italians do not have ‘ideals’. They accept themselves. Do not strive to be different and better than what they are. In America the hypocrisy is born from the desire to be better. The American woman who, before making love with a man who is not her husband, drinks herself to stupor stimulating her desires with alcohol, as a means to be able to exculpate her actions the next day . Her excuse is veiled under an ‘influence’ which justifies her actions and it is certainly hypocritical., Nevertheless, she remains ‘virginal’ within the delusory illusion of a self serving ideal of false honesty and cleanliness to preserve against her own weaknesses. I remember my indignant surprise when, in the aftermath of my first erotic American experience, I found myself treated with extreme coldness by my companion who refused to talk about it. I was furious. As a good Italian, I found it offensive and disgraceful that a woman had forgotten or felt disgust for a night of love with me. And I could not forgive her.
This attitude, not even today I comprehend nor like, but think I understand the reasons. My mind accepts them, even though my temperament rejects them.
You are hypocrites also in politics, when you, for example, talk against colonialism, you, who are the sons and heirs of the most ruthless colonization in the history of man. Let me tell you the language that you use at the UN is a little out of place and more fitting to be heard from the mouth of redskins, but is not fitting to be used by those who exterminated the Indians. You oppose the French in North Africa in favor of the natives against whom they have done a lot less than what you did to your native population. Now, it is true that you treat the Indians fairly and humanely today, much more so than the French do the Arabs. But you also have it easier, having reduced the Indians to a small minority that cannot compete against you, even though fully equal to whites in law and rights. You are preventing the Europeans from doing in Africa and in Asia, what your European fathers, did in America. Politically, perhaps you are right. This I can affirm, as a countryman and pupil of Machiavelli who taught me the distinction between politics and morality, but not you. For you Americans, politics and morality must coincide. But sometimes even you admit that that they coincide badly. So much so, that I’m reminded of what Disraeli said of Gladstone: “I do not blame them for cheating because every politician does so. I reproach them for saying that it was God’s ‘will’ who slipped them the winning Ace”.
Nevertheless, I admire your hypocrisy and I understand that it is a social force of incalculable value. Roosevelt was a big hypocrite when he “forced” the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor while swearing to American mothers that their children will never ,,, etc. However with that act of hypocrisy he put you on the side of good vs. evil and gave the U.S. soldier a weapon far mightier than the atomic bomb: Righteousness. In short, he, a Puritan, a good Machiavellian Catholic, much more Machiavellian than our comparatively simple Mussolini, who parroted so much about Machiavelli whilst understood him so little..
Besides, who cares? All this hypocrisy does not alter the fact that American life is interwoven with human relationships that are among the most hebetudinosity simple, honest and friendly in the world. I, in “sincere” Italy, never know how far to trust a friend, and to what extent be wary of an enemy. Here, however, I am confident that when someone in New York invites me to lunch, I by accepting will give him pleasure. In Rome, no, I am not so sure, or at least not always.
In conclusion, I remain firm in my opinion that hypocrisy is an obligatory tribute that sin pays to virtue. But it is important that there be this ‘virtue’ and that a people pays tribute to this ‘virtue’. In America this has been accomplished. It is an effort that every American voluntarily makes, more or less in good faith, to be virtuous. You do not always succeed, but you almost always try. In the end, each one of you wants to believe in what Jefferson stated: That a desire to do good is in itself enough, to bring good to the world.
We Italians have lost this faith in centuries past. And for this reason we are mature enough to become a colony of a puritanical, strong and hypocritical people. If you continue to be anti-colonialist, someone else – also a puritan, in his own way, and certainly more hypocritical than you – will use this to his advantage.
Think about it.
Indro Montanell

Nov 8, 2012


In the movie Carnage (Roman Polanski 2011) — adapted from Le Dieu du carnage, by French playwright Yasmina Reza — two young teenagers get into a fight in the park; one hits the other in the mouth with a stick. Alan and Nancy Cowan (Waltz and Winslet), visit the home of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (Reilly and Foster), the parents of the boy who was hit: “As the Cowans and the Longstreets go through the motions of mature, reasonable conflict resolution, that old primal force asserts itself in various forms. These nice, complacent people turn angry, competitive, contemptuous and stupid” (A.O.Scott, Carnage Review, NYT, December 15, 2011). You can see here  the  trailer & clips and you can find her the whole screenplay. Below two key moments of the “dialogue”.

- NANCY: Hotshot firebrands like my husband, you got to understand, it's hard for them to get excited about what happens down the block.
- ALAN: Exactly.
- PENELOPE: I don't see why. I don't see why. We're all citizens of the world. I don't see why we shouldn't have some sense of community.
- MICHAEL: Oh Penny! Give us a break with the  highfalutin clap trap!
- PENELOPE: I'm going to kill him.

- MICHAEL:  They don't give a shit! It's so obvious, right from the beginning,  they don't give a shit! She doesn't  give a shit either, you're right!
- ALAN: Like you do?
- NANCY: I...
- ALAN: Explain to me, Michael, exactly how you care. What does that mean anyway? You're more credible when you're  being openly despicable. Truth is, nobody here cares. Except maybe Penelope, one must acknowledge her integrity.
- PENELOPE: I don't need your acknowledgment! I don’t need your acknowledgment!
- NANCY: But I do care. I really do care.
- ALAN: We care in a hysterical way, Nancy. Not like heroic figures of a social movement.
- (to PENELOPE:) I saw your friend Jane Fonda on TV the other day. Made me want to run
- out and buy a Ku Klux Klan poster.
- PENELOPE: My friend Jane Fonda? What the hell  does she have to do with this?!
- ALAN: You're the same breed. You're the same kind of involved, problem-solver woman. Those are not the women we  like, the women we like are sensual, crazy, shot full of hormones. The ones who want to show off how perceptive they are, the gatekeepers of the world, they're a huge turnoff.  Even poor Michael, your own husband is turned off...
- MICHAEL: Don't you speak for me!
- PENELOPE:  We don't give a shit about what you like in a woman! Where do you get off spouting these opinions? You're one man whose opinions we don't give a shit about!
- ALAN: She's screaming. A quartermaster on a slave ship!
- PENELOPE: What about her? She doesn't scream?  She didn't just scream that your little asshole was right to beat up  ours?
- NANCY: He was right! At least our kid isn't a little wimpy-ass faggot!
- PENELOPE; Yours is a snitch, that's supposed to be better?


Nov 5, 2012

Sociology of Culture, Fall 2012

What's in a Leader?

The Fall 2012 Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Track Session took place Tuesday 13 November from 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm in room 306 on the topic "What's in a Leader?", with the participation of Dean Patrick Burke who will deliver the Introduction: "Come on! Won't You Be a Leader?", and Professors Silia Passeri (Psychology): "The Good and the Toxic Leader;"Bernard Gbikpi (Political Science): "Flexible and Steady: the Machiavellian Leader;" Andrea Giuntini (Economics): "Changing Needs: From the Political to the Economist Figure of a Leader?" Pierluca Birindelli (Sociology): "Fashionable Leadership: The Mediatic Construction of a Leader;" Renata Badii (Holocaust Studies): "Manipulative Leaders and/or Gullible Followers: Who Needs What?" Don Alessandro Andreini (Religion): "What's in a Leader? The Depth of a Call".

Oct 29, 2012

A Room with a View

A Room with a View is a 1985 British movie directed by James Ivory. The film is a close adaptation of E.M.Forster's novel.
“Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone, the genteel Miss Bartlett, are frustrated in their hopes of obtaining a room with a view at the Pensione Bertolini in Florence. Offered an exchange by Mr Emerson and his son, George, Miss Bartlett's sense of social propriety is offended. She graciously accepts the proposal, however, after being reassured by a respectable acquaintance, the Rev. Mr Beebe. Lucy, innocent and impressionable, is shown around Florence by the lady novelist, Miss Lavish, one of the novel's many English ‘characters’ about whom Forster is gently satirical.
Venturing out alone, Lucy witnesses a quarrel between two Italians, one of whom is stabbed and dies in front of her. She faints, and recovers to find herself in the arms of George Emerson. Later, a party from the pensione joins an excursion to Fiesole. During the trip Lucy is again rescued, after a fall, by George and impulsively embraced. She and Miss Bartlett are affronted and take themselves off to Rome, then back to Surrey.
Lucy becomes engaged to the cultured, but shallow and over-protective Cecil Vyse. Her independent spirit is aroused and she eventually rebels. The Emersons, meanwhile, arrive to take up residence nearby. Lucy realizes with some perturbation that she loves George, not Cecil. She extricates herself from the relationship with Cecil, aided by Miss Bartlett, and marries George. The close of the novel finds George and Lucy on their honeymoon in the Pensione Bertolini” (Room with a View, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English). 
“In Forster’s splendid novel of initiation, Florence herself is transfigured and becomes a fiery metaphor for the enigmatic relationship between life and art, or between individual passion and social norms – and for their turbulent interrelationship” (Finkand Bernardi, It Happened to the Visigoths, Too: Florence in American Films). 

Italian for Beginners

Italian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere, 2000) is a 2000 Danish film written and directed by Lone Scherfig —  who, by the way,  "borrowed" her plot from the Irish novel Evening Class by Maeve Binchy.
“The film takes place in a squalid Copenhagen suburb where emotions and anxiety seemingly run amok. While the actual narrative is simplistic, it profiles six desperately needy and complicated individuals looking to fulfill themselves… Just as life shoots uncontrollable twists and turns at these folks, the characters also turn their attention into mastering the Italian tongue. The focus is meant to ease their frustrations over life and love, to the point where the 'beginners' literally beg for a whole new beginning. Conquering the foreign language is a metaphor for the mending of a broken heart or the escape from the vicious circle of daily life. And yet the universe ends up completely in balance” (Frank Ochieng,
Six singles — whose sentimental life, in the cold and bleak Copenhagen, is in pieces — are “saved” by an introductory Italian class. Italian is synonymous with love, and the protagonists are novices in love as much as they are in speaking Italian. Italian language and culture is the catalyst for love and the chance for a new beginning. The plot — as we will see later during the course — is the classical “Italian (Romantic) Paradigm”: the typical representation of Italy in the Grand Tour narrative.
The movie follows the Dogme 95 movement developed by Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring, and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. The objective of the Dogma 95 movement is to encourage a sense of plainness in filmmaking, free of postproduction alterations. Von Trier and Vinterberg formulated a set of ten rules that a Dogme film must conform to.
1.   Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2.    The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.
3.    The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place.
4.     The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.
5.      Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6.      The film must not contain superficial action. Murders, weapons,  etc. must not occur.
7.      Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. That is to say that the film takes place here and now.
8.      Genre movies are not acceptable.
9.      The film format must be Academy 35mm film.
10.  The director must not be credited.
I cannot affirm that the eight “commandment” is not entirely maintained, but it is interesting to observe that the power of the Italian romantic myth “survives” to Dogme 95. Here you can find the entire script of the movie. Below the dialogue beween Jørgen and Giulia. Language barriers do not exists; we are in Venice, the city of romantic love.
Giulia, I know you can't understand what I'm saying. But I'll say it anyway.
I'm ten years older than you and I'm not really good at anything.
I've no relatives any more. I'm no good at my job.
I've no hobbies. Apart from doing Italian. And that's really for Halvfinn's sake, - because I'm no real good at languages. I can't even say anything to you.
Actually I think I'm rather dull. I certainly haven't your temperament.
And sex isn't something I feel confident about any more.
I know you don't understand what I'm saying.
But if I don't say it now I'll never get it said.
But I love you, Giulia, and I want to be with you for always.
I'd like to have children ...... and to watch you get older ... and grow old.
I'll love you every day from when I wake up till we do to bed at night.
I so much want to marry you, Giulia.
I do understand a bit of Danish. I just speak it very badly. Perhaps I would like to marry you. But I want to do to a church ...

Oct 18, 2012

Pearls from students...

The night before the midterm exam I have received this email from two of my students. 
I believe this is a "pearl" that I should share with all of you...

Sep 24, 2012

Living with Mom (or very very close)

A survey by Censis reveals that 31% of Italians live at home with their mother and that 42.3% live at no more than a 30 minute walk from her. 
The survey indicates that more than half of the adult Italian population (54%) lives at no more than a half-hour walk from close relatives. I have published extensively in Italian upon this phenomenon — Clicca su te stesso. Sé senzal'Altro; I giovani italiani tra famiglia escuola —  and you can read the article How to do Words with Things
We will discuss later during the semester the structural and cultural interpretations of the so called prolongation of youth in Italy and compare it with the pattern of transition to adulthood in Northern Europe and United States. In the meantime you can take a look at the US the reality show Mama's Boys of the Bronx: NewReality Show on TLC and to the article Real Italians. We will also talk about Jersey Shore in Florence (and how the city reacted).
Jersey Shore Abroad
Mama's Boys of the Bronx

Sep 12, 2012

Culture Shock in Florence

First of all I hope that none of my students will ever experience a “culture shock” while they are spending their institutional semester abroad in Italy. I tend to associate the term ‘shock’ to a traumatic event that causes a sudden and violent disturbance in the emotions. 
If my use of the term makes any sense, I do not think that American students necessarily experience a “culture shock” (Kalvero Oberg 1960) [1] while they are studying in Florence. Or, to put it in other, more sociological terms, I do not see this group of people exposed to such a threat — no more than any other group of youngsters that comes to my mind. As a sociologist, I would never start studying the topic “American Students Abroad” from such perspective. That’s why I am always surprised when a student uses the expression “culture shock” — a bit as a mantra, I shall confess — in class. It seems as if they were prepared and socialized to this theory, and they are applying it as "the" interpretative paradigm for their acculturation process abroad. Therefore, I believe culture "shock" is an inopportune terminological choice; I would consider “culture malaise”, or “culture fatigue”, or  “culture frustration”,  or  “culture anxiety”, or  “culture stress”, proper expressions. Shortly, I consider the locution cultural shock, referred to the average American youngster who is studying in Florence, a hyperbole. How would you describe a true traumatic event, Cultural Super-Shock! I believe there is a profound difference between frustrating and traumatic events.
Within the psychological literature “acculturative stress” has become the preferred expression for other reasons, because “it is closely linked to psychological models of stress as a response to environmental stressors” (Berry & Sam, 1997, 298).  Anyhow, we are talking about stressors, not shockers!
Acculturative stress is defined as a negative psychological reaction to the experiences of acculturation, often characterized by anxiety, depression and a variety of psychosomatic problems. Berry prefers to use the expression “acculturative stress” for two more reasons.

First, the notion of shock carries only negative connotations, whereas stress can vary from positive (eustress) to negative (dis-stress) in valence. Because acculturation has both positive (e.g., new opportunities) and negative (e.g., discrimination) aspects, the stress conceptualization better matches the range of affect experienced during acculturation. Moreover, shock has no cultural or psychological theory or research context associated with it, whereas stress has a place in a well-developed theoretical matrix (i.e., stress-coping-adaptation). Second, the phenomena of interest have their life in the intersection of two cultures; they are intercultural, rather than cultural, in their origin. The term “culture” implies that only one culture is involved, whereas the term “acculturation” draws our attention to the fact that two cultures are interacting with, and producing, the phenomena. Hence, for both reasons, the author prefers the notion of acculturative stress to that of culture shock (Berry, 'Acculturation', in Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 2004).

I do have some problems also applying to the American students in Florence Peter Adler’s  five-stage process (1975). The initial contact, or the honeymoon stage, is when the newly arrived individual experiences the curiosity and excitement of a tourist without any corresponding sense of responsibility for his or her own behavior. The second stage involves disintegration of familiar cues and overwhelms the individual with the requirements of the new culture. The individual typically experiences self-blame and a sense of personal inadequacy for difficulties encountered. The third stage reintegrates new cues with an increased ability to function in the new culture. However, the emotions associated with this third stage are typically anger, blame, and resentment toward the new culture for having caused difficulties unnecessarily. The fourth stage continues the process of reintegration toward gradual autonomy and increased ability to see both bad and good elements of the old and new cultures. The fifth stage is when the individual has achieved a bicultural identity and is able to function in both the old and the new cultures.
What's my problem with such a sequence? I simply never met a student that went through anything like that; if you are one of them — or you know one — please reply to this post.
Moreover, this sequence is considered by some scholars controversial and simplistic. According to Furnham and Bochner (1986) the U-curve theory first does not consider several important variables in the adjustment process — such as depression, loneliness, homesickness. Second, each subject might experience cultural stress in different moments of the adjustment process. That is, you might be "shocked"  as soon as you get off the plane, and experience the honeymoon stage at the end of your sojourn — may be because you truly fall in love with an Italian boy or girl!
The U-curve model does not even address differences in time, location, and intensity of the sojourn —predicting the same curve for people who experience little or significant culture gaps. The U-curve and  its variations —W-curves; but I can easily imagine other kinds of curves appearing in the next future (M, Z, K, and X-curves) —  are largely anecdotal and fail to describe other types of sojourners: who fails to adjust; who returns home early.
Finally, why cultural problems, or however you want to name them, are thought in a negative way? Why critical cultural encounters have to be weathered in advance? Why not seeing them as positive experiences within the overall identity development of the youngster abroad? 

-        Berry, J. W.; Kim, U.; Minde, T.; Mok, D. (1987) Comparative studies of acculturative stress. “International Migration Review”, 21, 491-511. 
-        Berry, J. W.; Kim, U.; Power, S.; Young, M.; Bujaki, M. (1989) Acculturation attitudes in plural societies. “Applied Psychology”, 38, 185-206. 
-        Berry, J.W., & Sam, D. (1997) Acculturation and adaptation. In J.W. Berry, M.H. Segall, & C. Kagitcibasi (Eds.), Handbook of cross-cultural psychology: Vol 3 (pp. 291–326). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
-        Furnham, A., & Bochner, S. (1986) Culture shock: Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. London: Methuen.
-        Oberg, K. (1960) Cultural shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments. “Practical Anthropology”, 7, 177–182.

Shock (New Oxford American Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2010). 
N.  1. a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience: it was a shock to face such hostile attitudes when I arrived. ■ a feeling of disturbed surprise resulting from such an event: her death gave us all a terrible shock | her eyes opened wide in shock. ■ an acute medical condition associated with a fall in blood pressure, caused by such events as loss of blood, severe burns, bacterial infection, allergic reaction, or sudden emotional stress, and marked by cold, pallid skin, irregular breathing, rapid pulse, and dilated pupils: he died of shock due to massive abdominal hemorrhage. ■ a disturbance causing instability in an economy: trading imbalances caused by the two oil shocks. ■short for electric shock2. a violent shaking movement caused by an impact, explosion, or tremor: earthquake shocks | rackets today don't bend or absorb shock the way wooden rackets do. ■short for shockabsorber.
V. 1. [with obj.] cause (someone) to feel surprised and upset: she was shocked at the state of his injuries. ■ offend the moral feelings of; outrage: the revelations shocked the nation. ■[no obj.] experience such feelings: he shocked so easily. ■(usu. be shocked) affect with physiological shock, or with an electric shock. 2. [no obj.] (archaic) collide violently: carriage after carriage shocked fiercely against the engine.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from French choc (noun), choquer (verb), of unknown origin. The original senses were ‘throw (troops) into confusion by charging at them’ and ‘an encounter between charging forces,’ giving rise to the notion of ‘sudden violent blow or impact.’

[1] Kalvero Oberg coined the term culture shock to describe the anxiety resulting from losing one’s sense of when to do what and how in a new culture. A visitor to a foreign culture experiencing culture shock discovers that familiar cues have been replaced by strange or unfamiliar cues. Oberg mentioned six aspects of culture shock: (1) strain, resulting from the effort of psychological adaptation; (2) a sense of loss and deprivation, referring to former friends, status, profession, and possessions; (3) rejection by or of the culture; (4) confusion, referring to role, role expectations, feelings, and self-identity; (5) surprise, anxiety, disgust, or indignation regarding the cultural differences between old and new ways; and (6) feelings of impotence, as a result of the inability to cope in the new environment.

Sep 7, 2012

Italian Sugar-Misogyny

A member of the Arcigay (an Italian association whose aim is to defend gay rights) walks in a bar and — I imagine — order an espresso. While putting the sugar, she notices what is written on the packet: 
“The difference between a toilet and a woman is that the toilet is not chasing you for nine months after you've used it”.
She feels offended, disgusted and picks up another packet “What is the difference between a battery and a woman? That the battery has at least one positive side” and another “The difference between a mirror and a woman: the woman speaks without thinking, the mirror reflects without speaking”.
The italian LGTB community reacted and an article on the local edition of the Corriere della Sera finally appeared Frasi sessiste sulle bustine dello zucchero (Sexist phrases on sugar packets). The marketing manager of the company, Techmania, replied: “The message has a clear ironic purpose and was conveyed without wanting to offend anyone”.
I may perhaps stop here — there is enough information to formulate a clear opinion about the issue — but I won’t stop, and, in a certain sense, surrender. While I continue to write, I feel a bitter taste, a strange and uncomfortable sentiment. I keep it under control because I hope — I hope — that another Italian professor, female, who is also introducing Italian society and culture to American students, is doing the same. According to Maria Laura Rodotà, Italian women today are an incomprehensible hybrid:

"Today's average Italian woman is a hybrid incomprehensible to foreigners: she's overdressed, overworked and has the lowest self-esteem in the western world. If she has a job, she has to work overtime inside and outside the home (Italian men rarely clean or cook, and spend less time looking after the children). Unwritten laws demand that she is cute, thin, elegant and well made-up. For Italian men it's normal to have a wife and a lover, which is why many have been amused by the adventures of the prime minister. The number of women in positions of power is small; in politics, almost all owe their status to men. The fear of being caricatured as a bitter feminist (who probably hasn't got a sex life) is always strong. Women who overcome that fear are often ridiculed". (Italianwomen have to fight sexism in every aspect of their lives, Guardian Sunday20 September 2009).

To get started, you can watch the documentary “Ilcorpo delle donne (The Body of Women), by Lorella Zanardo and read the article WomenTake On Sexist Image in Italian Media.
Then let’s go back to the bar where everything started  (re-started?). The bar is in Eboli, a little town in the province of Salerno, southern Italy. The name Eboli is known mainly for the book Christ Stopped at Eboli (Italian: Cristo si è fermato a Eboli; movie adaptation by Francesco Rosi). It is a memoir  by  the antifascist Carlo Levi, giving an account of his exile from 1935-1936 to Grassano and Aliano, remote towns in southern Italy, in the region of Lucania which is known today as Basilicata. In the book Levi gives Aliano the invented name 'Gagliano'.
The title of the book comes from an expression by the people of Gagliano who say of themselves, 'Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli' which means, in effect, that they feel they have been bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself — that they have somehow been excluded from the full human experience. Levi explained that Eboli, a location in the region of Campania to the west near the seacoast, is where the road and railway to Basilicata branched away from the coastal north-south routes. Below the full incipit of the book in its English translation (Farrar and Straus, New York 1947). 

Because of his uncompromising opposition to Fascism, Carlo Levi was banished at the start of the Abyssinian War (1935) to a small primitive village in Lucania, a remote  province of southern Italy. In this region, which remains unknown not only to tourists but also to the vast majority of Italians, Carlo Levi, a painter, doctor, and writer, lived  out a memorable time.

MANY years have gone by, years of war and of what men call History. Buffeted here and there at random I have not been able to return to my peasants as I promised when I left them, and I do not know when, if ever, I can keep my promise. But closed in one room, in a world apart, I am glad to travel in my memory to that other world, hedged in by custom and sorrow, cut off from History and the State, eternally patient, to that land without comfort or solace, where the peasant lives out his motionless civilization on barren ground in remote poverty, and in the presence of death,
"We're not Christians," they say. "Christ stopped short  of here, at Eboli." "Christian," In their way of speaking means "human being," and this almost proverbial phrase  that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority.
We're not Christians, we're not human beings; we're not thought of as men but simply as beasts, beasts of burden, or even less than beasts, mere creatures of the wild. They at least live for better or for worse, like angels or demons, in a world of their own, while we have to submit to the world of Christians, beyond the horizon, to carry its weight and to stand comparison with it. But the phrase has a much deeper meaning and, as is the way of symbols, this is the literal one.
Christ did stop at Eboli, where the road and the railway leave the coast of Salerno and turn into the desolate reaches of Lucania. Christ never came this far, nor did time, nor the individual soul, nor hope, nor the relation of cause to effect, nor reason nor history. Christ never came, just as the Romans never came, content to garrison the highways without penetrating the mountains and forests, nor the Greeks, who flourished beside the Gulf of Taranto. None of the pioneers of  Western civilization brought here his sense of the passage of time, his deification of the State or that ceaseless activity which feeds upon itself. No one has come to this land except as an enemy, a conqueror, or a visitor devoid of understanding. The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ; no message, human or divine, has reached this stubborn poverty. We speak a different language, and here our tongue is incomprehensible. The greatest travelers have not gone beyond the limits of their own world; they have trodden the paths of their own souls, of good and evil, of morality and redemption. Christ descended into the underground hell of Hebrew moral principle in order to break down its doors in time and to seal them up into eternity. But to this shadowy land, that knows neither sin nor redemption from sin, where evil is not moral but is only the pain residing forever in earthly things, Christ did not come. Christ stopped at Eboli. 

Jul 18, 2012

The Media Frenzy of Amanda Knox (by Nathan Dines)

At the end of the first full week of classes in Florence, two of my friends and I decided to take a weekend trip and explore a new part of Italy. We did not go into the trip with anything more than two nights booked in two different hostels and an itinerary proposed by my host parents to visit three nearby cities: Perugia, Assisi, and Lake Trasimeno. The trip turned out to be one of the most fun and culturally rewarding of the semester, yet it was my short stay in Perugia that inspired me to focus this paper on Amanda Knox. Before arriving in Florence, I had never heard of Amanda Knox. Maybe it was because I did not live in Washington or simply because it never came up at school, but hearing about her story was fascinating. Here was a girl who left the States during her junior year, just like most everyone else in the Gonzaga in Florence program, yet the similarities from that point stop almost immediately. Knox’s predicament of facing a murder charge, being humiliated by the European media, being convicted of the murder of her roommate, serving four years in a foreign jail thousands of miles from home, and finally given a chance for appeal and receiving an acquittal of those murder charges is almost impossible to imagine, let alone accept as reality. Read more…

Italian Cultural Attitudes toward Homosexuality in an Age of Globalization (by Patrick Noonan)

In a heteronormative world, the narrative of a sexual dissident can be comparatively characterized as that of a traveler. The cultural norms, attitudes and expectations threaten to be anything but familiar. A heterosexual hegemony challenges the perceived other to adapt and acculturate in a social milieu that may or may not value their presence in society. In society’s gravest failings, a heterosexist authority reduces this traveler to a marginalized role suffered by that of a vagabond. In society’s most honorable accomplishments, a heteronormative culture becomes self-conscious and the social norms of the past are deconstructed to make a home for the weary traveler. With any hope, the weary traveler of the past will be the prosperous cosmopolitan of the future. Italy has been both a gracious and crude host over time. Cultural attitudes in Italy’s history have at times appeared as temperamental as the winds that brought prosperity and prevalence to the peninsula’s ports. Even before considering the “anxieties of anachronism”, one can at least acknowledge the possible acceptable existence of homosexuality in ancient Rome and the Renaissance. In search of an equilibrium echoing justice, contemporary society turns to the promising stabilizer of globalization. Despite its limitations, globalization offers an opportunity for social consciousness and change. Read more...

Jun 18, 2012

L'Ultimo Kiss (by David Kouroyen)

The purpose of this essay is to express the issues and flaws that can arise creating a remake of a foreign film. When a director with a different background remakes a film for a culture different to the originally intended audience, the film itself is modified and potentially hampered, this is especially true for Last Kiss (Tony Goldwyn, US 2006)¸ the American remake of the Italian L’ultimo bacio (Gabriele Muccino, Italy 2001). Some changes were subtle, such as the names of the characters; but more dramatic changes also existed (i.e. removing characters altogether or adding or deleting scenery). The Last Kiss was altered to suit an American audience, which greatly hampered the message and quality of the film, primarily in the areas of a college mentality, sex, and the display of emotion. The main issue is that L’Ultimo Bacio is an Italian story through and thorough, which is what led to its significantly higher rating, box office sales, and national recognition over its American knockoff (David Kouroyen). Read more…

Jun 6, 2012

Gomorrah: no Honor or Tradition

Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, Italy 2008).

“There are no colorful characters in Gomorrah,  Matteo Garrone’s corrosive and ferociously unsentimental fictional look at Italian organized crime; no white-haired mamas lovingly stirring the spaghetti sauce; no opera arias swelling on the soundtrack; no homilies about family, honor or tradition; no dark jokes; no catchy pop songs; no film allusions; no winking fun; no thrilling violence.... 

... Instead, there is waste, grotesque human waste, some of which ends up illegally buried in the same ground where trees now bear bad fruit, some of which, like the teenager scooped up by a bulldozer on a desolate beach, is cast away like trash” (Manohla Dargis, Lesser-Known Mobsters, as Brutal as the OldOnes, New York Times, February 12, 2009).

In late 2007, the Sicilian police found a list of “Ten Commandments” in the hideout of the mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo. They are thought to be guidelines on how to be a good, respectful and honorable mafioso.
1.      No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
2.      Never look at the wives of friends.
3.      Never be seen with cops.
4.      Don't go to pubs and clubs.
5.      Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty — even if your wife is about to give birth.
6.      Appointments must absolutely be respected.
7.      Wives must be treated with respect (7.Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery)
8.      When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
9.      Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
10.  People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.

Are we talking about blood ceremonies, obscure symbols, elaborate codes? Is it the arcane remnants of a defunct culture? According to Diego Gambetta’s The Sicilian Mafia: the Business of Private Protection (1996) Cosa Nostra ten commandments can be considered norms and guidelines for a well working (criminal) organization. Gambetta’s main thesis is that Mafia begins to resemble any other business. In a society where trust is in short supply, this business sells protection: a guarantee for commercial and social transactions. As you understand, this is not a “mythical” interpretation. Mafia here is considered the logical response to existing market conditions. Organized Crime either replaces the State or they coexist in the same territory.
Cosa Nostra cannot be understood outside its historical roots in Sicilian society.  Mafia arose in mid 19th century with the collapse of feudalism and landed aristocracy on one side; the emergence of a new bourgeoisie and the unification of the Italian state on the other. People belonging to the new upper class did not propose and support new type of social development for Sicilian society; they just “moved into villas of aristocracy” and assumed their values. Thus, the class that is the “engine” of any modernization process, did not provide an economic, political and civic leadership when aristocracy collapsed. According to Gambetta (and other scholars) organized crime in Sicily (and in the South of Italy) can be considered as the answer to the absence of a civil society — in other parts of Italy patronage absolved a similar function. Therefore, Mafia arose in a liminal, transitional period: the old social-economical structure was fading away but the passage to a new social-economical order with its legal apparatus (the state) was not completed. In such historical period, Mafia provided the needed protection for the emerging business and new landholding class. Gambetta posits that Mafia protection was a substitute for the absence of institutional and interpersonal trust. The lack of trust in the state is considered as the “cultural spring” for Mafia uprise — the resemblance between Sicily and Russia after the collapse of former Soviet-Union is sticking.

What about Camorra?
This is not a stalactite in a magnificent cavern close to volcanoVesuvio. This is Napoli Center underground, and the stalactites are the result of 200 years of waste disposal exhalations. A strong indicator of the historical presence of Camorra — and of well “grounded” detrimental social, political and cultural attitudes toward the public good (to the costs of people’s health, camorristi included). Camorra’s power structure is horizontal, unlike the hierarchical one of Cosa Nostra.  Distinct clans operate largely autonomously without a single leader — each clan has its own boss. Alliances can be created between clans; that is when Camorra functions like a single organization. Coalitions are maintained only as long as there is equilibrium of power and reciprocal benefits. Sometimes,  a inter-organized crime alliances can be created:  the Casalesi, a group of confederate families, is allied with the Calabria 'Ndrangheta and  Sicily Cosa Nostra. According to the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs (2009) Camorra counted  between 100 and 200 clans, for approximately 10,000 formal  members and 50,000 associate: an army. The area of operation in Italy is mainly in the following regions: Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Molise, Lazio,  Basilicata. Camorra’s international ramifications can be found mainly in: Eastern Europe, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, Portugal, Latin America (Colombia), United States, Canada. All of this to say: Camorra cannot be considered just a local phenomenon.
In its early incarnations the main illegal activities were local criminal and patronage structures, escalating to extortion and 'taxes' on illegal activities, such as prostitution.  Later Camorra interests expanded to counterfeiting, money laundering and smuggling, primarily of drugs. Camorra’s infiltration of local bodies and public administration is evident: the province of Naples has had the most instances of city councils dissolving (44 cases between 1991 and 2007) owing to suspected ties to the Camorra.
One of the most recent criminal “opportunities” for the Camorra is the waste management industry. Hundreds of companies contract the organization’s clans for the disposal of toxic waste; the waste is disposed in a number of ways, including burying it and burning it. The market cost for disposing of toxic waste is between USD 0.21 and USD 0.62 per kg. Camorra offers the same service for a mere USD 0.09 per kg.  According to Italian environmental organization Legambiente, waste trafficking earns organized crime groups around EUR 22 billion (USD 32 billion) per year. Out of the drug trafficking (mainly cocaine) the sole clan Di Lauro earns approximately EUR 300 million (USD 439 million) per year. The annual revenues of the Camorra are around EUR 16 billion (USD 23 billion). Camorristi define themselves “entrepreneurs”.
From another sociological point of view, Camorra has of course a locally based identity which strengthens its social base. The majority of residents have some interest in maintaining the existing system: the family-based clan structure ensures that most residents have family or friendship links to Camorra associates, making it less likely that anyone would betray the group. Camorra offers its own social network, a sense of community (although illegal), and jobs for unemployed young people (cigarette smuggling, drugs or minor crime). Now the approximate meaning of camorra — “organization” — makes more sense. The members of the Camorra prefer to use the word “sistema”, or system, to identify their criminal organization, viewing the group structure as analogous to a business system. Felia Allum, in Becoming a camorrista: criminal culture and life choices in Naples, points out an interesting qualitative and cultural analysis. At its origins, Camorra had a code of conduct for its members — values such as defending one’s honour, respect for all, prestige, personal vendetta and power. According to Allum, by the 1980s these basic traditional values had been manipulated and transformed by the Camorra subculture into new values, based predominantly around business: respect for power and money, strategic use of friends and family, greed. In a certain way, joining nowadays the Camorra becomes a “shortcut to success” — which is not a biographical path that can be relegated only to the organized crime world. The ’50 core values (honour, family and friendship), where transformed in the 80’s to money, social prestige and, most of all,  power: “Beyond the craving for wealth which is undoubtedly an important motive in criminal activities, the Mafia’s  paramount  aim  is  power” (Siebert 1996, 61). And this kind of neo-feudal system of ‘power’, means the control over a territory, over the lives of the people, over social and political activities, over everything: “in its abrogation of absolute power to itself, the power over life and death” (Siebert, 62). 
Exhibitionism is another piece of this cultural mosaic:  “Unfortunately, pathologically, we are exhibitionists, real exhibitionists, you do not undertake a crime if you do not want people to talk about it” (Boss Umberto Ammaturo, Tribunale di Napoli 1994).
Allum’s concluding remark is: “The changes  in motivation  for  joining  the Camorra during the period we have studied reflect closely those of the capitalist society and culture in which it operates and of which it has become the very epitome” (2001, 343).
Other scholarly synthetic propositions, attempting to capture the gist of the  South Italy’s social and cultural phenomenology are:  “great social disintegration” (Gramsci 1930); “amoral familism” (Banfield 1958) ; lack of  in “social capital” (Putnam 1993; Fukuyama 1995). Much more can be written about the relationship between organized crime and others socio-cultural features supporting the Italian modernization process.
I would like to finish this scattered reflection with a question. To which statement you feel closer?
1) “In general, it’s worth to trust people”;
2) You can’t trust people, they will take advantage of you”.
The 70% of young Italians (25-35 years)  picked the second statement (Iard 2007). In Italy, young people have one of the lowest levels of “institutional” and “interpersonal” trust within the Western world. The passage from low trust in Otherness, low trust in the future and low trust in yourself does not sounds as an hazardous conceptual consequential chain to me. Are these young people proud to be Italian?
In 2007 one of my students (Georgetown University) wrote about his pride of being American:
“I am personally proud to say I am an American.  
I am not proud of everything America does and stands for.  
But I have learned to love my home.  
If I didn't love it, I wouldn't have any care or concern to try to change it for the better”.

-     ALLUM, F. (2001) Becoming a camorrista: criminal culture and life choices in Naples, in “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”, 6, 3: 324–347.
-      BANFIELD, E.G. (1958) The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Glencoe: Free Press.
-      IARD (2007) Sesta indagine dell’Istituto Iard sulla condizione giovanile in Italia. Bologna: Il Mulino.
-      COVINO, M. (2009) La Malavita: Gomorrah and Naples, in “Film Quarterly”, 62, 4: 72-75.
-      FBI, Organized Crime in Italy,
-      FUKUYAMA, F. (1995) Trust. New York: Free Press.
-      GAMBETTA, D. (1996) The Sicilian Mafia. Harvard: University Press.
-    GRAMSCI, A. (1926/1983) The Southern Question, in The Modern Prince and Other Writings, ed. L. Marks. New York: International Publishers.
-      PINE, J. (2008) Icons and iconoclasm: Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah and La Denuncia, in “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”,13, 3: 431-436.
-      PUTNAM, R.D. (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: University Press.
-      SHELLEY, L.I. (1994) Mafia and the Italian State: the Historical Roots of the Current Crisis, in “Sociological Forum”, 9, 4: 661-672.
-      SIEBERT, R. (1996) Secrets of Life and Death: Women and the Mafia, London: Verso.
-   Tribunale di Napoli, V Sezione Penale, RG 3952/November 1992, Contro Alfieri Carmine + 9, verbale di udienza: Pasquale Galasso (a 15 November 1993), Carmine Alfieri (b 22 April 1994, c 4 May 1994, d 5 May 1994), (e 13 April 1994), (f 17 February 1994), Carmine Schiavone, Umberto Ammaturo (d 5 May 1994).