The San Remo Festival is hard to explain. To suggest that it’s Italy’s answer to the Eurovision Song Contest doesn’t quite capture it. It is tacky, certainly, and devoid of any musical merit whatsoever, so in that much it bears a resemblance. It is, however, one of the jewels in national broadcaster RAI’s calendar, bringing in over millions of viewers per night (there’s five – yes five – of them!)*.
Part of its attraction undoubtedly is due to tradition. The festival, established in 1951, is now the biggest festival of its kind, and in fact was the inspiration for the Eurovision (blame where blame’s due). Italians are, rightly, proud of their songwriters, and in the golden era of the festival there was sometimes a glimpse of that tradition with classics like Volare, or to give it its correct title Nel blu dipinto di blu by Domenico Modugno. These days you’re more likely to get Eros Ramazzotti, or more accurately Eros Ramazzotti wannabees (Eros hasn’t appeared at the show for some time, since winning it in the ’80s).
As with any media spectacle of this kind, its success is partly down to controversy and column inches generated, and we at the Monkeys, like the fools that we are, have been be sucked in.
Tonight, one of the much prized international stars invited to grace the stage of the festival will be Mike Tyson. From a publicity point of view it’s created the desired effect dominating the newspapers and media in general.
A number of groups have objected to his presence, arguing that it sends a poor signal in a country where domestic violence is a still a major, and often taboo, problem.
Somewhat sanctimoniously, the festival’s presenter, Paolo Bonolis, informed us that when we talk about Tyson we’re not talking about a monster, but a human being, who made a mistake and has served his time.
This seems, though, somewhat besides the point. By inviting him to the festival (and, no doubt, paying a substantial amount for the pleasure of his company), Bonolis and RAI are not merely accepting the pugilist’s right to return into society, but are elevating him onto a stage where a potential 16 million viewers will watch him. For a man whose contribution to the world of entertainment, so far, has been professionally attacking people, one would wonder about his contribution even prior to the rape sentencing. Tyson is a troubled individual, with a troubled relationship with violence. Perhaps there’s a valid argument for broadcasting an interview with him, in an effort to understand something about viciousness. A guest appearance at the most watched light entertainment festival hardly seems the time or the place.
In a flurry of nationalism, the consumer association CODACONS** has reasonably suggested that if RAI feels the need to invite controversial and violent characters to San Remo in order to boost the ratings, they should choose an Italian personality, for example Achille Lollo(Italian fugitive wanted for questioning in connection with the murders of Primavalle).
Obviously the politicians need to have their say, and for once it doesn’t seem to be a right/left issue. Alessandra Mussolini is against the appearance, in keeping with her generally admirable record on women’s issues (a record that never fails to confuse a liberal Monkey, given her other inherited political views). Minister for Communications, Gasparri, also on the right wing side of things, commenting on Tyson’s appearance said that “San Remo is about showbusiness, and everything that’s showbusiness is there”, before adding that “at San Remo, there have been Nobel prize winners, fighters, singers…”. It’s all a bit of fluffy entertainment at the end of the day, be it Nobel prize winners or ear-eating, convicted rapist, boxers.
* Last night brought in 16 million viewers. The opening night and the closing night are usually the highlights – explaining in part why they would have audience grabbing figures like Tyson on the second night.
**Attentive readers of TVFB will recognise CODACONS as the association that requested an official investigation into the holy happenings at Civitavecchia.