Apr 17, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun: Staged Authenticity

“Once abandoned, Castelfalfi, an 800-year-old Tuscan village, is being reborn. A German travel company purchased the town and began renovating it, with plans to make it a thriving town and resort (http://www.castelfalfi-resort.com/). The project, one of the largest such in Europe, promises to bring the village ‘back to life' by offering visitors an authentic taste of Tuscany… But how can a village created for foreigners retain any kind of genuine authenticity? ‘There is a chance this will become a Disneyland version of an Italian village,' says sociologist Pierluca Birindeli, a professor at Gonzaga University in Florence, ‘but Italy is used to trading on its history and past; we've been doing it since the times of The Grand Tour.” (Kirsten Hills, Sleeping beauty, The Florentine).

On the relation tourism-authenticity, you can read the following contributions:
-     MacCannell, D. (1973) Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist
Settings, “American Journal of Sociology”, 79(3): 589-603.
-     MacCannell, D. (1976) The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, Schocken Books
Inc., New York.
-     Urry, J. (1995) Consuming Places, London: Routledge.

“Touristic  consciousness  is motivated  by  its  desire  for authentic  experiences,  and  the  tourist  may  believe  that  he  is moving  in  this  direction,  but often  it  is  very  difficult  to  tell  for  sure  if  the  experience  is  authentic  in  fact.  It is  always  possible  that  what  is taken  to  be entry  into  a back  region  is  really  entry  into  a front  region  that  has  been  totally  set  up  in  advance  for  touristic  visitation” (MacCannell 1973, 597).
“A particular issue is that of authenticity. It is argued especially by MacCannell  that what tourists seek is the 'authentic', but that this is necessarily unsuccessful  since those being gazed upon come to construct artificial sites which keep the  inquisitive tourist away ... Tourist spaces are thus organised around what he  calls 'staged authenticity” (Urry 1995, 140).
“Touristic shame is not based on being a tourist but on not being tourist enough, on a failure to see everything the way it 'ought' to be seen. The touristic critique of tourism is based on a desire to go beyond the other 'mere' tourists to a more profound appreciation of society and culture, and it is by no means limited to intellectual statements. All tourists desire this deeper involvement with society and culture to some degree; it is a basic component of  their motivation to travel (MacCannell 1976, 10).

The (A-?) Social Network

"What makes Mark Zuckerberg run? In The Social Network, David Fincher’s fleet, weirdly funny, exhilarating, alarming and fictionalized look at the man behind the social-media phenomenon Facebook — 500 million active users, oops, friends, and counting — Mark runs and he runs, sometimes in flip-flops and a hoodie, across Harvard Yard and straight at his first billion. Quick as a rabbit, sly as a fox, he is the geek who would be king or just Bill Gates. He’s also the smartest guy in the room, and don’t you forget it…” (ManolaDargis, NYT).
You can find the screenplay of the movie here and watch Sherry Turkle's TED Talk: Connected, but alone?.
Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other is the result of MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on interviews with hundreds of children and adults, it describes new, unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy and solitude. It is a story of emotional dislocation, of risks taken unknowingly. But it is also a story of hope, for even in the places where digital saturation is greatest, there are people — especially the young — who are asking the hard questions about costs, about checks and balances, about returning to what is most sustaining about direct human connection. At the threshold of what Turkle calls “the robotic moment,” our devices prompt us to recall that we have human purposes and, perhaps, to rediscover what they are.

Apr 16, 2013

OECD Better Life Index

There is more to life than the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics. This Index allows you to compare well-being across countries, based on 11 topics the OECD has identified as essential, in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life: OECD Better Life Index.
Another website where you can quickly find data with a comparative perspective is FindTheData.

Apr 9, 2013

Blau Jeans

Once an American student lands in Europe, he/she is surprised for the American cultural influence on the Old World: fast foods, music, clothes etc. Blau Jeans — an essential, well-constructed documentary — helps to introduce students to the cultural and symbolic heart of Europe: Berlin. Then the course starts.
For decades Germany has been one of America's strongest and most trusted European allies, both politically and culturally.
American popular culture (US second biggest export) cast a spell on postwar Europe that has yet to be broken. Blau Jeans, a new one-hour documentary by Meaghan Kimball (2009), sheds light on how that spell both charms and afflicts the people in the capital city of Berlin, the symbol of modern Germany and cultural center of the New Europe.
Like no other contemporary documentary, Blau Jeans leads viewers on an exploration of the German-American relationship. From the shiny new Starbucks to the communist grit of Alexanderplatz, to the historic Staatsbibliothek, journalists, artists, musicians, professors, and novelists readily dig into their favorite cultural conflicts: Spider-Man versus Faust, Starbucks versus the cafes of Old Europe, American hip-hop versus European electronica, or simply low culture versus high culture. 
The picture that emerges is a Germany deeply affectionate for America's freedom, optimism, and confidence, combined with resentment toward its arrogance, power, and superficiality.
Shot entirely in Berlin with a German crew and presented in English with German subtitles, Blau Jeans provides significant insights into the German-American conflict, and America's tainted image abroad.

Apr 8, 2013

Hooligan and Ultrà

In Green Street Hooligans (Alexander, England, 2005), the world of English hooligans is shown to us through the eyes of Matt Buckner (Wood) who was just kicked out of Harvard for being accused of something he didn’t do: "West Ham is mediocre. But their firm is first-rate." So a young American is told soon after arriving in London (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).
Italian Ultras have a lot in common with English Hooligans. However, we might point out two main differences: the degree of politicization (see the video Irriducibili Lazio, especially part 2), and a peculiar social condition: Italian young ultras are living with their parents (for the last point see the post “Living with Mom (or very very close)”. So once they are finished with their performance a dish of pasta cooked by their mamas is always ready at home.

The ex-foreign secretary David Miliband has resigned from the board of Sunderland football club over new head coach Paolo Di Canio's "past political statements" – read the article here
This year Di Canio has been accused again to be  to be racist by English newspapers, and he has always defended himself like that:  I'm a fascist, not a racist.  Di Canio has a "Dux" tattoo and has expressed a fascination with Benito Mussolini: 'Fascist' Di Canio polarizes opinion (CNN).
A year ago 10 supporters of English club Tottenham Hotspur were injured in a knife attack by masked assailants in Rome ahead of a Europa League match with Lazio. And violence is still alive inside and outside the pitch. Last April two people were stabbed after rival groups of fans clashed in Rome ahead of the local Serie A derby between AS Roma and SC Lazio. Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno said that businesses in the area around the stadium had been forced to close during the clashes. Ambulance crews were forced to flee after their vehicle was pelted with sticks, stones and firecrackers, see the video
Last week an investigation has begun after an Italian third division match was called off amid allegations of death threats and a team being reduced to six men (see the article Inquiry launched after Italian game abandoned over 'death threats').

Below the BBC's documentary Foreign Fields, about the hooliganism as a global phenomenon.

The Real Football Factories International is a documentary style program about football hooliganism across the world. You can check below the part dedicated to Italy.

Apr 2, 2013

Habemus Papam

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the film Habemus Papam [We have a Pope] by Nanni Moretti came to my mind. Habemus Papam is a comedy about the human limits of a holy man.
The movie opens with a papal conclave, a gathering of cardinals in the Sistine Chapel in order to select one of their own as head of the Roman Catholic Church. Amusingly enough, the same silent prayer is on the lips of nearly every candidate: "Not me, Lord, please!" (A sense of self in a leap of faith, by Michael O'Sullivan).
Mr. Moretti finds broad comedy in the antics of some clerics, who can seem as sweet as children, but in Melville there is pathos and there is tragedy, and not his alone (A Reluctant Pontiff  Escapes to the Streets, by Manohla Dargis).