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Dangerous Masculinities: Young Men in Italian Cinema of the 1940s-1960s

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The impact of post-war cinema on young Italian masculinity

Gender representation in the media sends messages about the roles of men and women in society. EU-funded research shines a light on cinema’s impact on notions of Italian masculinity.


Young-Italian 2015 investigated cinematic identities and memories related to young Italian men in the two decades spanning 1943-1963. Undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships programme, this research integrated approaches from reception and ethnographic studies with textual cinematic analysis. “The project found that cinema and its paratexts (magazines, posters) was a central institution for articulating a young Italian masculinity that spoke directly to a post-war generation,” explains Professor Catherine O’Rawe, project coordinator. Alongside the country’s developing youth culture, this mass medium helped Italian men frame their own identity as youths. Post-war experiences The ethnographic aspect became more prominent as project research progressed. Project investigator Dr Enrico Biasin conducted face-to-face interviews and focus groups with older Italian men eager to recount personal experiences of post-war cinema-going and how this influenced their identity formation. Additional data sources included diaries and notebooks, some supplied by study participants and others held in the National Diary Archive in Italy. Written responses to a project-developed questionnaire also provided important study insights. Studies delving into the memories shared by older people can play an important function in addressing critical challenges posed by an ageing population, the crisis of care for the elderly and the rise in dementia. “Young-Italian 2015 has important implications for increasing use of therapeutic practices of remembering in the context of healthcare being carried out in Italy and in many other European and non-European countries,” notes Prof. O’Rawe. Cinema can operate as a powerful vehicle for accessing long-term memory, even when short-term memory is compromised, and programmes in the United Kingdom (under the Creative Dementia Arts Programme) and in countries as far apart as Ireland and Brazil have shown the potential for communal cinema screenings to unlock memories of the past and generate feelings of positive well-being. The recollections of this particular population group form part of a cultural heritage where cinema had a significant role in shaping the sense of national belonging. Such studies grant greater understanding of the role played by the culture industries in shaping gender identities and their narratives of the past. Beyond academia Dr Biasin disseminated project work and the study’s results at academic conferences and seminars held in Italy and the United Kingdom. “However, his most important dissemination work was presenting his project to groups of older people from different branches of Italy’s University of the Third Age,” the coordinator states. “This contact with the public, who is also the object of the research, was hugely important to the project, and ensured that the results were heard beyond academic networks.” The third age is considered that time after individuals have finished working full-time and/or raising families. The University of the Third Age was established in the United Kingdom in 1973 and today supports the elderly in life-long learning and developing their educational, social and creative interests. Although Young-Italian 2015 officially ended in October 2018, Dr Biasin is currently writing a monograph on the project. This work, Prof. O’Rawe reports, “will show for the first time the capacity of narratives of male cinema-going to locate personal ‘life-histories’ of spectators in relation to representations of male identity.”


Young-Italian 2015, cinema, post-war, masculinity, healthcare, elderly, cinematic identities, youth culture, identity formation

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