Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Naked ambition gets you nowhere

There was quite a brooha, here, the other week in relation to an opinion piece written by Adrian Michaels in the Financial Times entitled Naked Ambition (brought to my attention by the eagle-eyed ,Shane Barry – thanks)

The article focussed on the obsessive use of the female body in Italian television and advertising, and the implications it has for the wider society.

Now, whenever an important, and thoroughly buttoned up English institution criticises Italian norms it tends to raise the hackles, and so, not surprisingly, there were responsive – or rather dismissive – editorials printed in return.

That the respondent chosen by (left-leaning*) La Repubblica for its editorial on the subject was none other than everybody’s favourite Opus Dei physician, Joaquin Navarro-Valls speaks volumes. In an article that would have even the jesuitically inclined scratching their heads, Navarro-Valls partially agreed with Michaels, though pointing out that outside the realm of publicity and game shows, women work with dignity both inside and outside of the home – how thoroughly Escrivanian(?) of them.

Navarro-Valls is right, though, to point out how partial a picture Michaels article (necessarily) paints. Focusing on the representation of Women in Italian advertising and television is complicated by a simple fact – it’s not market driven, and therefore can say little about the society to which it is aimed. Televesion and advertising in Italy, more so than any other country in Europe is in the hands of the very few.

Michaels suggests that in countries like America, the gratuitous use of women in advertising produces hundreds of complaints and the withdrawal of the ads (he cites one example). It’s worth pointing out that in a system where accountability is noticeably absent, complaining is a futile exercise.

Michaels, in a lengthy and interesting piece, extrapolates from the bare bosoms on show on every billboard and prime-time tv show, and the lack of women legislators, that Italy is the last bastion of chauvinism. True, and yet there’s a more complex picture here.

The elephant in the corner of Michaels articles, perhaps, is – with all due respect to her – Marina Berlusconi. Ms Berlusconi, who is the chairman of Fininvest, and holds positions on the boards of a number of Berlusconi companies, was voted the 42 most powerful woman in the world – ahead of Nancy Pelosi, Laura Bush, and Mrs E. Windsor last year.

While Ms Berlusconi’s talent and ability is surely above reproach, it can’t help but be noted that she is the daughter of Silvio Berlsusconi, himself Italy’s richest man (and best loved comedian…).

It’s not chauvinism alone that holds women out of the workforce, or the parliament, but rather a rigid system that is all pervasive and anything but merocratic. Ironically, Silvio Berlusconi is doing more than most to bring women into politics, appointing a number of high profile (and predictably pretty) candidates into Forza Italia.

And finally, Michaels is worried that women in television are there to be eye-candy rather than top class journalists. But there isn’t room for top class journalists on Italian TV – regardless of gender…