It’s raining today, which is good for the farmers, but less so for us. During this kind of weather our first instinct is to curl up on a sofa with a good book or to watch something on TV. Unfortunately, both of these activities are difficult here in Italy: we don’t have a sofa and Italian TV is one of the weirdest, and in our opinion worst, parts of the Italian culture.
Most nights when we’re at home we flip through the channels, hoping to find something worth watching. From previous experience we know that TV can be a wonderful gateway for understanding a new culture, and for improving language skills. Especially if (like here in Italy) they dub all foreign programs into their own language.
Unfortunately, on the eight or nine channels we have access to, movies and series are rare, so we are mostly stuck with the choice of Italian talk or entertainment shows. Both of which dominate the Italian TV landscape.
To our foreign eyes they are not so much entertaining as they are shocking. No matter if it is an entertainment show with music and artists, a quiz show or even a science show – they all have one element in common; “sexy” Women. They are preferably dressed in tight, short and bright coloured dresses, revealing their long legs that always end in 10 cm high heels. They all seem to have long, wavy hair, lots of make up and most of them put on the same high-pitched and giggly voice when they talk.
The well dressed male hosts (most of which are at least one head shorter then the female co-participants) always seem to have an air of “lilla gumman” (or poor darling) when addressing the long legged amazons. On one particular show these “sexy” women are put on the spot with questions that are supposed to reveal how ignorant they are. Various fun scientific phenomena are explained and demonstrated, then three or four women, sometimes in only a bra and a see through top, are asked to guess answers to related questions. From their responses it’s impossible to believe that they were selected for their scientific knowledge.
Then there’s the quiz show, where in between the questions the camera turns to a group of 7-8 bikini dressed women doing some aerobic/dancing number. There’s another quiz show where the seemingly mandatory dance-break involves a woman gyrating alongside the computer generated avatar of the male host.
The commercials don’t give any respite from the onslaught. It’s not just that the gender roles are seemingly cemented in the 1950s, but they have made objectifying women into some kind of an unholy art form. They are multiple adverts where nearly-naked women frolic next to fully dressed men, in such an extreme way that you imagine it must be a parody - unfortunately no punch-line gets delivered.
Perhaps the most popular TV host in Italy is a bald, portly, middle-aged man called Gerry Scotti. Currently he hosts the Italian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and the “Guinness World Record Show”. The ad-breaks during his shows are dominated by adverts where he is the celebrity spokesperson. It was very confusing for us at first, as it seemed like we were just watching a strange segment of the show. In one advert he’s talking about holiday plans with his friend, and the friend mentions that he can’t go on a beach holiday because of his wife’s cellulite, the host counters that they could, if she applied this new cream on her thighs. Then the image turns to the TV behind them showing a young bikini-clad woman sensually applying cream to her thighs and bottom. The advertising regulators in Italy clearly have a different set of standards than you see in other parts of the world!
We don’t think of ourselves as prudes, it’s just that the portrayal of women in TV shows here is so far from the equality standards we’re used to, that we actually find it disturbing. So our plan is to limit our viewing to dubbed movies and the news.