Chapter 2 examines how the emergence of the beat trend in 1965 problematised the image of ‘youth-as-fun’ which circulated in the early 1960s. The term ‘beat’ was used in popular media to describe both a British-inspired style – made up of trends such as the miniskirt and long hair for men – and political movements that were inspired by the American beatniks. Magazines like Big and Giovani culturally translated the beat trend for Italian youth, by either ‘mirroring’ or ‘othering’ language and practices from other countries. The media’s emphasis on leisure activities in the Italian beat culture encouraged young people’s consumption of commercial goods, and implicitly suggested the youth’s political and social disengagement. The defusion of the beat trend’s subversive potential is underscored by its recurrent representation as a disguise in Musicarelli films. The chapter also examines how style elements like long hair for young men and an androgynous appearance for young women threatened established gender norms in Italian society. Popular media stripped these elements of their subversive connotations, namely gender bending and sexual emancipation. For example, the androgynous appearance of young pop icons Rita Pavone and Caterina Caselli was balanced in popular media with a normative representation of their private lives.
The final chapter summarises the monograph’s findings and illustrates the changes and continuities in representations of Italian youth in the late 1970s and 1980s. I argue that although the late 1970s witnessed the proliferation of youth-oriented popular media, including self-produced magazines and radio programmes, youth nevertheless still tend to be homogenised by the media. The chapter also highlights how the expanding definition of ‘youth’ in the period from 1958 to 1975 contributed to the creation of a generational identity for Italian young people, which was impossible before this category was naturalised in popular media.
This monograph provides a history of popular media representations of Italian youth from 1958 to 1975, the period that is commonly regarded as marking the birth of a distinctive youth culture in Italy. Analysing youth-oriented media products such as teen magazines, Musicarelli films and television programmes, it explores the way in which a ‘youth’ category was constructed, contested and transformed in Italian popular culture. To do so, this study examines discourses around young people’s style and bodily practices: by looking at visual and written representations of trends conceived for a young audience, it investigates changes in the social construction of Italian youth’s political, generational, national, ethnic and gendered identity. Fashioning Italian youth has three main objectives. First, it demonstrates how popular media contributed to identifying youth as a separate category in Italian society. The book traces a fundamental transformation from 1958 to the mid-1970s, namely the passage from the representation of a homogenous youth culture strongly influenced by global trends, to the fragmentation of this unitary construction, and the emergence of multiple Italian youth identities in the mid-1970s. Second, this monograph explores the relationship between media representations of Italian youth identity and the changing societal perceptions of youth in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s. The chronological analysis connects the emergence of different trends – such as the beat and the hippie trend – to historical accounts of youth culture nationally and globally. Third, this study explores the transnational dynamiThis monograph provides a history of popular media representations of Italian youth from 1958 to 1975, the period that is commonly regarded as marking the birth of a distinctive youth culture in Italy. Analysing youth-oriented media products such as teen magazines, Musicarelli films and television programmes, it explores the way in which a ‘youth’ category was constructed, contested and transformed in Italian popular culture. To do so, this study examines discourses around young people’s style and bodily practices: by looking at visual and written representations of trends conceived for a young audience, it investigates changes in the social construction of Italian youth’s political, generational, national, ethnic and gendered identity. Fashioning Italian youth has three main objectives. First, it demonstrates how popular media contributed to identifying youth as a separate category in Italian society. The book traces a fundamental transformation from 1958 to the mid-1970s, namely the passage from the representation of a homogenous youth culture strongly influenced by global trends, to the fragmentation of this unitary construction, and the emergence of multiple Italian youth identities in the mid-1970s. Second, this monograph explores the relationship between media representations of Italian youth identity and the changing societal perceptions of youth in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s. The chronological analysis connects the emergence of different trends – such as the beat and the hippie trend – to historical accounts of youth culture nationally and globally. Third, this study explores the transnational dynamics that contributed to the construction of a specifically Italian youth culture.
Chapter 4 discusses how in the early 1970s the Italian hippy style’s exoticised features were replaced by an apparent ‘normalisation’ of young people’s appearance, which was represented as a political act because presumably it refocused attention not on what young people wore but on what they had to say. Moreover, during the early 1970s, the homogenised construction of Italian youth began to splinter: different youth identities and surrounding issues emerged in letters to magazines, and young stars with specifically working-class or southern backgrounds, like Al Bano, became prominent in youth-oriented media. This process was arguably fostered by the circulation of emancipatory discourses thanks to both student movements and groups promoting the rediscovery of southern traditions. The emergence of feminist and gay rights movements, instead, influenced descriptions of trends such as trousers for young women and glam music and style for young men in the early 1970s. Although popular media tended to still objectify women’s bodies and endorse a return to a more ‘virile’ masculinity, popular media also allowed young people to express their desire for sexual equality and emancipation. For example, teen magazines featured both columns discussing feminist claims and coming-out letters by young people.
Chapter 3 investigates how, during a period marked by a wave of student and worker protests, Italian youth-oriented popular media promoted trends inspired by ‘other’ eras and ‘other’ places. First, young people’s style drew from the American pacifist hippie movement and seemed to mirror countercultural ideals, namely pacifism, anti-authoritarianism and a rejection of consumerism. Second, a 1930s-inspired trend, which followed the global success of the film Bonnie and Clyde, brought about a glorification of the United States’ ‘Roaring ’30s’ imagery for 1960s Italian young people. Third, the emergence of the Afro trend in 1969 showed both the influence of the United States in the circulation of young people’s trends and the permanence of colonialist and Orientalist discourses in Italian popular media. References to ‘other’ times and places also appear in representations of femininities in youth-oriented popular culture. For instance, singer Patty Pravo embodied the hippy femme fatale, a sexually provocative and toxic icon. Popular media accounts also reveal the preoccupation over the perceived ‘effeminacy’ of Italian young men, which was suggested by their style choices and appearance, and testify to the circulation of discourses aiming to reaffirm Italian men’s ‘masculinity’.
Noi siamo i giovani - Youth in Italian popular media
This chapter introduces readers to the context, subject, themes and sources used in the monograph. Inspired by theories by Judith Butler, Louis Althusser, Benedict Anderson, Dick Hebdige and Michel Foucault, the book’s main argument is that popular media like magazines, television programmes and films helped construct Italian youth as a performative identity defined by cultural practices, rather than by birth year. To identify this performative identity, the monograph uses the Italian term i giovani (young people) to define the subject of the study. The Introduction also discusses the methodological approach to the book’s three main themes. First, each chapter analyses the emergence of specific youth trends in each timeframe, focusing on media representations of young people’s fashion, hairstyles, dances and the spaces occupied by their bodies. It also explores media accounts of the ‘public’ and ‘private’ lives of young stars, who acted as spokespersons for the community of Italian youth. Second, each chapter investigates Italian youth’s appropriation of foreign trends by examining the ‘mirroring’ and ‘othering’ strategies popular media used to describe trends coming from other Western countries. Third, each chapter explores discourses connecting style and bodily practices to the media construction of Italian young people’s gender identity.
Chapter 1 describes the emergence of youth in Italian popular media by looking at two figures of youth that developed during 1958–65: the urlatori (screamers), a trend inspired by the American rock ’n’ roll youth culture, and the amici (friends), which emerged in Italy in the early 1960s. Representations of urlatori and amici in this period mirrored respectively what Dick Hebdige has defined as ‘youth-as-trouble’ – criminal, delinquent youth – and ‘youth-as-fun’ – commercial, consuming youth. In Musicarelli films, Italian urlatori were presented as potentially dangerous subjects: young people actively resisted cultural industries, such as the recording industry and television, and their attempts to exclude young performers. This attitude mirrored the social phenomenon of Italian teppisti, young ‘rebels without a cause’ who, beginning in the late 1950s, were represented as a social threat in Italian newspapers. Conversely, the amici, who were a literal translation of the French copains and constituted an appropriation of American rock ’n’ roll culture too, functioned in Italian popular media to define and domesticate emerging youth cultures: for example, the magazine Ciao amici presented a reassuring image of Italian youths, defined by consumption goods and leisure practices.
Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley, DJ Spooky and The Birth of a Nation
The re-emergence of racial stereotype as an aesthetic resource and political provocation in the work of several Black visual artists is a surprising development, a rethinking that challenges our notions of aesthetic value. In the work of the artists I consider here – Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley and Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky, that Subliminal Kid) – racial stereotype is repurposed as a political and aesthetic strategy, a critical tool and a device for reawakening what Walker calls the ‘unspeakable past’. Appropriating the aesthetic systems of the past, turning them around from the inside in acts of affirmative sabotage, Walker, Wiley and Miller convert the symbolic signals of both high art and popular culture to a very different message. Central to this engagement, I argue, is the repurposing of stereotype, the site of greatest imaginative condensation. The racial stereotypes of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries are confronted in these works, not as something to be censored or bracketed from critical scrutiny, but rather as a force field that activates a particularly charged form of historical thinking, an experience of history as seen ‘from below’ – from the perspective of the slave girl, the Black guy on the street, and the hip hop artist. Engaging history from a surprising angle of attack, the work of these three artists brings to the surface the undercurrents of a visual culture that both excludes and stereotypes Black lives.
The Birth of a Nation and the temporalities of race
Robert J. Corber
How should scholars approach The Birth of a Nation, a landmark film in terms of technique, but also one that is deeply racist? One productive way is to consider the film alongside the significance of Confederate monuments, which were erected after Reconstruction to celebrate soldiers of the Lost Cause. Similarly, as scholars have explored, Griffith set out to rewrite the history of the Confederacy by depicting the former Confederate soldiers as brave and noble men who had successfully resisted Reconstruction. The film gained further traction – becoming a Ku Klux Klan rallying call – through Griffith’s exploitation of a central fear in the white racist imaginary: that if African American men became equal to white men, then they would insist on the right to marry white women, which in turn would miscegenate the South. The debates about Confederate monuments – whether to pull them down or leave them as testament to the South’s racist past – carries strong echoes with the debates about whether to cancel The Birth of a Nation, or whether to use the film as an example of dangerous white supremacy. The historian Thomas Laqueur has argued for the creation of ‘pluralistic landscapes’, which include a mixture of monuments that commemorate Black history to be placed alongside monuments of the Confederacy. However, as the afterword considers, Laqueur’s suggestions does not adequately consider the temporality of Black life in which the effects of the nation’s white supremacist past are continuing to unfold.
This volume of essays works to reveal and iterate some of the many ways in which D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation continues to be read and received into the twenty-first century. As many have remarked in this volume, the discourse on Birth is ongoing and incorporates perspectives from scholars of various fields, including cultural commentators, journalists and filmmakers. This timeline has been produced to give a picture of the sheer breadth of that discourse, frequently one that saw disagreement between its contributors. It reveals how diverse the fields may be where the discourse might emerge: film journals, video disclaimers, museum catalogues, press headlines, biographies, book chapters, films, television and much more. Some of the most well-known names in academia can be found writing about Birth, such as Thomas Cripps, Donald Bogle, Janet Staiger and Manthia Diawara, and many reiterate the ‘birth’ metaphor in their critical approaches and, frequently, the titles of their books and articles, meaning that the discourse constructs the perception of a film that ‘started something’. Although this list is selective, it will be helpful to those seeking to explore the history of the Birth discourse. The timeline begins in 1915 and offers short summaries for each item.