New media are increasingly changing the way history is being written and memories are being forged. Perhaps it’s not an appropriate comparison, with the Olympics ongoing, but think of the London bombings in 2005. Mobile camera phones enabled a new and more instant form of witnessing and communication, as Anna Reading explains in her article on “Mobile witnessing, mortal bodies and globital time” (Memory Studies 4.3, 2011). Another revolutionary moment in the history of media was the advent and diffusion of television, in the 1950s and 1960s, which enhanced the globalization of information and knowledge. It thus contributed to the creation of collectively shared, public memories as it allowed for news to reach – for the first time – large masses of people in various geographical areas.
The impact of television on the collective memory of the 1960s is illustrated by the blockbuster Forrest Gump (1994): here the protagonist is given a place – occasionally through recourse to original footage – in a range of major historical events which most Americans will have “experienced” through television. It thus feeds upon a national and visual memory of those years in the USA. In Italy too visual media have had an essential role in the creation and circulation of memories of the country’s national history of the past five decades or so. This is also because Italy has never had a real newspaper ‘culture’, and for most Italians TV news reports have been the main means of information. Italian cinema, in addition, has something of the status of a national heritage product, as Alan O’Leary suggests in his analysis of Italian movies on terrorism (Tragedia all’italiana. Italian Cinema and Italian Terrorisms 1970-2010, 2011), which has created a number of memorable ‘screen memories’. A news report about, say, a heat wave in Rome, for example, may start with the famous fountain scene from Federico Fellini’s Dolce Vita.
But visual memories of Italy’s past can also be viewed daily on the 15-minute long program Blob, which goes on air just after the evening news at 8pm. Created by a former TV director and a number of movie critics and actors, Blob consists of a variety of deconstructed and reassembled fragments taken from (national and international) television program, TV adverts and movies. More precisely, Blob selects images from an audiovisual archive and re-organizes them in such a way so as to stimulate a critical reflection on current affairs and a rejection of institutional, mediatized and official discourses. Hence, it reveals the impossibility of a “meta-history” as suggested by the “global TV screen,” and instead gives space to other images and other histories, at times promoting a counter-memory.
What makes Blob so special is its unconventional form: rather than using texts or a presenter who unveils dark secrets or injustices of Italy’s recent past, Blob makes viewers think for themselves. This is achieved through an elaborate form of cutting and editing, which helps us make links and draw conclusions. Only a brief caption at the top left of the screen may give us some indications of the point being made. The announced political comeback – on 12 July – of former PM Silvio Berlusconi, for example, was used to bring back memories of Berlusconi’s political ascent in the 1990s. With the knowledge of Berlusconi’s various sex and corruption trials in the back of our minds, Berlusconi’s 1994 promises of a united and healthy Italy freed from corruption, today, sound ridiculous and surreal.
Clearly, this juxtaposition of the contradicting present and past images of Berlusconi, in addition to the knowledge we have gained of his problems with the law since the 1990s, works to reactivate forgotten or silenced memories, and to create moral awareness in the viewer. And if that doesn’t work, following on Berlusconi’s “outing” on July 12th, the Blob team broadcast images of the major anti-corruption investigations Mani pulite (“clean hands”) of the early 1990s, which brought to the light the political bribery scandal Tangentopoli (“Bribesville”). The latter involved most leading political parties at the time, and the subsequent ‘clean-up’ therefore led to the emergence of a new political class in Italy, with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (“Go Italy”) at the lead. In fact, in his 1994 speech, Berlusconi strongly fed on the Italians’ distrust in politicians, which had of course increased with the corruption scandal. But Tangentopoli not only opened the door for Berlusconi’s populist “ordinary man-politics.” It also provoked a “major rift between the judiciary and certain politicians and parties,”as John Foot has noted (Modern Italy, 2003). The rift would mark Berlusconi’s political career, as his infinite anxiety about the “Communist judges” who are always on his case illustrate.
Special attention in the Blob episodes is given to Berlusconi’s political “mentor” and prime suspect in the Mani pulite investigations: Socialist leader Bettino Craxi, who eventually fled to Tunis in order to avoid imprisonment. All in all, Blob recalls the fact that Berlusconi – in spite of his promise to give Italy a future again – actually continued the corruption, which was at the basis of Tangentopoli. The caption “fine pena mai,” which means something like life sentence, then ironically refers to the country’s condemnation to corruption by its politicians, from Craxi in the 1980s to Berlusconi in the 1990s and 2000s, and possibly Berlusconi again?