CFP special issue - Send in the clowns! Humour and power in Italian political, social and cultural life
Send in the clowns! Humour and power in Italian political, social and cultural life
We invite proposals for a special issue exploring the role of political humour and satire in Italian culture, society and politics. The aim of the issue is to analyze politics and society through a ‘humorous framework’, and to understand how this affects political discourse. What types of humour (irony, parody, satire, caricature, etc.) are used and with what effect on audiences? How is satire, for example, used to engage audiences in political debate? Is humour a political action or symptom of general discontent and catharsis? How should we investigate the relation between humour and its function of ‘telling the truth’ or ‘distracting from the truth’? And how ‘serious’ should we take political humour, even when it is not supposed to entertain?
For many years, Silvio Berlusconi has made Italy the laughing-stock of European politics. His unprofessional behavior, sex and corruption scandals, pending lawsuits and degrading jokes are infamous across the world. When Mario Monti took over in 2011, it seemed that the country might regain some (political and economical) credibility, but after the great success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and Berlusconi’s coalition gaining another surprising high percentage of votes in the 2013 elections, Italy’s international reputation plummeted to a new low, as the sarcastic heading of an article published in The Economist illustrates: ‘Send in the clowns’.
Although recent studies have argued that Italy’s economic problems cannot be reduced to Berlusconi’s ‘ruinous policies as a clownish prime minister’ – as the journalist of The Economist has it – alone (Mammone and Veltri 2010), the connection between humour and power should not be underestimated. Indeed, Italy is a country with an important and long tradition of humour and comedy, which – more than in any other European country – plays a crucial role in political, social and cultural life, in its various forms.
• From a political angle, comedians strongly influence perspectives on political and cultural life (e.g. Maurizio Crozza on Ballarò or Luciana Littizzetto on Che tempo che fa), explicitly support political leaders (as in the iconic image of Roberto Benigni with Enrico Berlinguer) and their parties (e.g. Bagaglino for the PDL and Silvio Berlusconi, Lella Costa for Giuliano Pisapia), consequently playing a major role in electoral campaigns (e.g. Enzo Biagi’s interview with Roberto Benigni in 2001). If, during the First Republic, Giulio Andreotti’s sarcastic jokes represented the ‘subtle’ power of the political man, humour and politics - often of questionable taste - overlapped almost entirely in the Berlusconian era. The political success of actor and comedian Beppe Grillo, in what may be the beginning of a post-Berlusconian era, is only the most recent expression of this feature of Italian culture.
• From a cultural point of view, Berlusconismo and its ‘subcultural hegemony’ (Panerari 2010) begins in the 1980s with TV shows like Drive in, while the end of the First Republic is marked by the success of Bagaglino and of the satirical magazine Cuore. Another important shift is reflected in the decline of the commedia all’italiana in the 1980s and the great success of the cinepanettoni in the 1990s, whereas the international success of Benigni - winning an Oscar for La vita è bella - and Nobel prize winner Dario Fo, on the other side of the political and cultural spectrum, represent the ‘hegemony’ of the comedian in 1990s Italian culture.
• Finally, from a sociological perspective, political humour and satire are the ‘discursive fields’ where gender and geographical differences, among other things, find their expression. Women are often passive objects of representation, as in the Bagaglino shows, although they have played a central role in the genre ever since the creation of the commedia dell’arte, which for the first time allowed female performers on stage. Since the late 1980s, women have regained an active role in satire, from La tv delle ragazze to the presence of female comic writers and performers on stage and screen (Franca Rame, Lella Costa, Serena Dandini, Sabina Guzzanti, Luciana Littizzetto and, more recently, Geppi Cucciari). Geographical differences once expressed in the ‘masked types’ of the commedia dell’arte (Arlecchino, Colombina, Pulcinella, etc.), which defined regional styles of irony and humour, continue to mark the identities of Italian comedians, from Totò’s napoletanità to the milanesità of Enzo Jannacci or the toscanità of Benigni and Pieraccioni.
• Another discursive field for political humour is the ‘vox populi’, which has found a particularly powerful expression in Beppe Grillo’s performances. If, in Papal Rome, established power was criticized by ‘talking statues’ (most notably Pasquino), in the late 1960s and 1970s, vox populi took the shape of political graffiti, ironic slogans and creative word plays. In our current age of mass media and internet, finally, Grillo’s ‘online democracy’ as well as websites like Spinoza and TV shows like Striscia la notizia or Le Iene offer similar attempts at ‘giving a voice’ to ‘the people’.
Possible topics include but are by no means limited to:
• the impact of television and stand-up comedians on political and cultural debates (e.g. Crozza nel paese delle meraviglie, Corrado Guzzanti’s Aniene, Sabina Guzzanti’s Vilipendio)
• political humour in current affairs and other TV programmes (e.g. Crozza at Ballarò, Littizzetto at Che tempo che fa, Serena Dandini’s The show must go off and Parla con me, Vauro on Servizio Pubblico and Annozero)
• humorous strategies of social criticism and symbolical justice (e.g. Striscia la notizia, Le Iene)
• humour and ‘passional’ configurations (catharsis, indignation)
• gendering/gendered humour and sexual discrimination in humour
• humour as form of political persuasion and identification
• humour in social media (e.g. Facebook sharing of satirical photomontage and cartoons, parodies on Youtube)
• film comedy and comedians in film (Moretti’s Il caimano, the satiric documentaries of Sabina Guzzanti)
• political cartoons (vignette, Vauro, Altan, Giannini), satirical magazines (e.g. Cuore, il Vernacoliere, Il Misfatto satirical supplement to Fatto quotidiano, etc.) and satirical headlines
• satire in music (e.g. Elio e le storie tese)
Please submit an abstract (250-300 words) and a short biography as word/PDF documents to Andrea Hajek (email@example.com), Daniele Salerno (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Clare Watters (email@example.com).
The deadline for proposal submissions is 20 May 2013. All submissions must be original and previously unpublished.
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