Magazines and censorship in Fascist Italy
Antonella: Thank you for your fascinating introduction to such a wide range of Rizzoli publications. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation, in particular your side-by-side comparisons of La Rivista Illustrata del Popolo d’Italia and Il Secolo Illustrato. I wonder if you could say a little more about the context in which these magazines were published. Was there any form of censorship during this period, or were magazines free to publish what they wanted? If censorship was in place, could you say more about how this affected the form and content of these popular magazines?
Dear Emma, thank you for your comment. I really enjoyed your paper on ACTION!
Your question on censorship is very good and I have a few answers. 1) The Rizzoli periodicals were not overtly or directly anti-fascists nor subversive. One can find a veiled subversion in Il Bertoldo (see an article I posted on this website) but it was veiled. Most of the periodicals I am discussing often featured a stately figure on the cover, full page, and one page of chronicle with photographs that were drawn from central agencies (so, let's say that their facade was oftentimes compliant with the regime). The question I am trying to pose relates to an industry of entertainment that is cosmopolitan by nature, US-driven, and accepted during Fascism (one sees this even more in film culture). The problem is that some values brought by this culture were antithetical to the Fascist diktat; nonetheless, they were accepted and not censored. Why? I think that David Forgacs (Italian Culture in the Industrial Era) has responded in very perceptive ways to this question by pointing out the economic dimension of the private culture industry and how it negotiated its industry with the regime. 2) Censorship during Fascism is a complicated matter, much more so than in Germany; it was more inefficient, especially when it came to the private sphere. I would direct you to the work of Guido Bonsaver. 3) The sphere of popular culture that impacts illustrated periodicals such as Rizzoli's touches on a dimension of escapism that is not directly attacked by Fascism. What I am trying to argue (as art historian who appreciates the visual richness of these pages) is that these magazines catered to a large readership and brought experimental design into a culture of entertainment (of course, Italy has great photomonteurs such as Nizzoli but those are usually working towards propaganda; in the case of these pages, montage is applied to fantasy). I am trying to give explanations that deal with the modernity of this language, which I see as comparable to Weimar Germany and France.
Thank you, Antonella, for your fantastic presentation. Building on your exchange with Emma above, and staying on the theme of cosmopolitanism and the entertainment industry, I was wondering if you might be willing to expand on how you see these Rizzoli publications engaging with ideas of the nation.
I keep coming back to your distinction between the essentialist national rhetoric of L'Agenzia Stefani (e.g. "an eye and ear that is specifically Italian") and the bottom-up mode of national popular culture you attribute to magazines like Il Secolo Illustrato. You make a strong case for the transnational dimensions of this popular culture, from the internationally-sourced images of L'Illustrazione ca. 1930 to the domestic reception of VU. But I'm wondering if there are ways in which you see these Rizzoli publications drawing from ideas of the "Italian," or transforming the parameters of Italian aesthetics. (Along these lines, I'm thinking of an argument that Miriam Hansen makes in "The Mass Production of the Senses" about Russian cinema becoming Soviet cinema through Americanization.)
Hi Maggie! This is a very interesting question and I need to read the Hansen's essay.
My first reply is according to Gramsci who - when he talks about the success of serial novels in his essay on the national-popular - voices a regret that these novels are, for the most part, translated from French, hence they are not produced within the Italian popular culture. His essay is a call towards the creation of a national production of that kind of popular literature. As I try to extrapolate these very important ideas to the culture of magazines (which our poor Gramsci could not experience), I think I can say that, similarly, the excitement of this storytelling draws from models that are clearly American. One can see more "Italian" stories in rubrics that cover the local chronicle (going to the train station, walking in the park,. etc) although these also, seem to take inspiration from the kind of essays one sees in VU (the kind that have Kertesz's photographs and text by MacOrlan or others). They are sort of early documentary essays about cities and towns, where Italian traits are expressed according to an everyday documentary that is both literary and photographic. So, in conclusion I would say that these magazines transform the parameters of Italian aesthetics. One does not find Futurist aesthetics here but rather a French-US aesthetics. But I would like to explore this more and discuss further; let me know if this answer is clear and prompts more questions. Thank you!