Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Boys will be boys

If you look in an English-Italian dictionary for a translation of the word ragazzo, you'll find 'boy', followed by 'boyfriend', 'young man'. Italians of all ages frequently use the word to address a group of friends, the irony more evident as the age of the group increases. But it's a good word on the whole, a word that expresses affection and solidarity, particularly when it's addressed to people who fall outside its strict chronological range. So it's been interesting in the past few days to see how the media use the word. 

Italy's seeing a lot of street violence at the moment, or, at least, the media are paying a lot of attention to it. All news is mediated and it would be naive to pretend otherwise, but there's an interesting distinction that needs to be made between two kinds of mediation, particularly with television reporting. The first is the air of general obedience to whoever holds political sway within the country or, more importantly, to the editor in control of the specific news programme for which the journalist works; invariably a political, or party, nomination. Bruno Vespa, a TV journalist who's tough with the weak and supine with the powerful, once referred to the Christian Democrats as his editorial point of reference, although he's certainly revised that view with each election and is now lapping with his usual zeal from the bowl provided by Silvio Berlusconi. This doesn't only happen in Italy, of course, and not all journalists can be tarred with the same brush, but independent monitoring organisations confirm the sense that the news in Italy has, let's say, a marked tendency to bend with the prevailing wind.

The other kind of mediation is linguistic. Among the stories that have been used to distract attention from the economic crisis and the bare-faced indifference of the government to issues not directly linked with Berlusconi's vendetta against the judiciary system are a series of rapes and an act of violence against a homeless person. Most of these rapes have been committed, as far as we know, by Romanians, usually young men, usually in groups. The act of violence, during which a homeless 35-year-old Indian, trying to sleep on a bench in Nettuno station, was first insulted, then beaten up, then covered with petrol and set alight, was also committed by a group of three men, ranging in age from 16 to 29, but these happened to be Italian. The Romanians are, without exception, referred to as Romanians. The Italians, who may be facing a charge of murder if the man dies, which seems likely, are defined as ragazzi

Leaving Navtej Singh Sidho, recently made unemployed and evicted from his lodgings, with third degree burns over much of his body, the 29-year-old ragazzo sent a celebratory text to friends in Roman dialect: "Gli amo fatto la festa". (In standard Italian, this would be "Gli abbiamo fatto la festa"). Fare la festa is an expression that translates as 'Give somebody a warm welcome'. The irony in Italian is bad enough; in English it becomes almost unbearable.

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