What makes us feel Italian
What makes people feel Italian? What prompts them to feel they are members of a national community and to see themselves as similar to or different from their neighbours? Clichés, stereotypes, habits, mannerisms, sayings and customs but also a culture, the expression of the Italian genius that sets Italians apart from the rest of the world and unites them with or against other peoples.
Italian culture unites us and represents us in the world, conveying our identity. Not just Nobel-prize-winning literature, arias performed in large opera houses around the world or paintings hanging in some of the most prestigious galleries, but the products loved by a wider public and made by “cultural industries” of the 20th century.
This section covers many different aspects, explaining how our tastes were formed: alongside the main forms of artistic expression, we find newspapers and magazines, books and songs, radio and TV programmes, films, theatrical productions and sports events for the masses.
What image do we have of ourselves? How did we describe and portray ourselves in the 20th century? Are there objective and distinctive characteristics of our ‘Italianness’, besides the many stereotypes that depict us as imaginative, creative, sentimental, superstitious, individualist, seducers or gesticulatory? How did the opinions and prejudices we are still recognised by locally, regionally and internationally come about, filling us with pride and shame? Portrayals and stereotypes are always subjective, but they capture elements we all identify with and which are explored in this display
Maria, Francesco, Giuseppe, Aldo… what about Agenore, Ricciotti, Jessica, Kevin, Mohamed? The names we choose for our children reveal a lot about the culture and times we live in, but they also hark back to the distant past and family ties. In the second half of last century, an age-old tradition was broken and grandchildren were no longer named after their grandparents, depleting the previously rich lexicon of names: Medieval, Biblical, operatic, political, archaic and symbolic names were replaced by new ones, often from the world of television and cinema.
Cults, rituals and liturgies have influenced our daily habits, the institutions and social structures for two thousand years, profoundly shaping the identity of the Italian people. In our country Catholicism has had a huge influence since the dawn of Christianity and a fundamental part of our culture is deeply rooted in this tradition– even though there have been other faiths, whose freedom is protected by the Constitution, in Italy for a long time. A growing number of people profess to be atheist or agnostic or to follow new spiritual currents, contributing to the gradual secularisation of Italian society.
The idea that there are different human “races” has been around since the 19th century, at the time when explorers travelled the world and conquered colonies. Coming into contact with other populations prompted the idea that some “races” were superior to others for biological, historical and spiritual reasons. At various times in history and in different countries, political policies have been based on these theories, legalising discrimination and persecution. Science has shown that human “races” do not exist and that racial classification has a destructive effect on social and human relations.