On the culture of the “trash” media in Italy, and Fischer's Capitalist Realism

Published (click to see context) on 10/10/2021 by Morgan Bazalgette • 5 minutes
Yesterday I was hanging out with some people I don't see very often often. I listened to them discussing about a TV show that they pretty much all watch called “Il Collegio”, one of the lowest points of Italian “reality” show productions.
One sentence piqued my attention:
“We don't watch it because it's good, we watch it because it's so terrible.”
This really struck me and reminded me of other moments in life in which I myself took part in this culture of “il trash”, as it's known in Italy. It usually comes from people growing up watching television who then come to understand its complete lack of content, whilst being in a cognitively dissonant state of “I watch it because it's so bad.”

The trash culture is not a niche part of the Italian society, either. “Intrashttenimento”, one of the most famous meme pages on Facebook and Instagram for content related to the “trash culture” have a combined follower base of about 3 million people, which is very significant for a country of 60 million people. It is thus pervasive and an integral part, if not one of the main elements, of the “cultural subhegemony” instilled by the Italian media complex, as Massimo Panarari brilliantly points out in his very interesting essay “Egemonia Sottoculturale”.

Television in Italy ceased to have any meaningful or purposeful program: it is now for the most part, including on state-funded television, a constant stream of mind-deactivating content for older people, and of ridiculously bad content for the younger folk. It is condition whereby, though, so many people willingly watch through these TV shows which they know they are bad, and even have the intellectual capability to understand it (as opposed to their parents, often 20 years into the capitalist reality), but they do not actively fight it, or question what kind of other television is possible, because on YouTube where such an alternative could be possible they are busy watching reaction videos and commentaries, all centered around the "badness" of such TV show. In a nutshell: Italian media has minimised costs by making TV worse and more stupid, and when they saw that they were losing spectatorship they made it even worse and for some reason it's now so bad that people think of it like good. Like McDonald's.

But with the acceptance that these shows are bad - or even that most of our society and our ways of living are rotten and becoming worse - many people feel like they've done their piece of "opposition" of this rotten society. Fighting back and creating an alternative is useless, because there is not and cannot exist an alternative.
Such is the state of Italian cultural hegemony among its young inhabitants, of which right now I'm experiencing and watching others experience a significant life-changing experience: starting to work and continuing studies in University.
An incredible portion of young people have the tools and understanding that what their parents are doing is shit, that they don't want to live shitty lives trapped in a capitalist loop of work, consumption and death. Yet there is this state of paralysis and acceptance in a kind of way, subjugated by the terrible realities of this modern world.

We live in a world where cities are increasingly being expanded in new blocks of cement which were not built for humans to live in, as their insides full of these IKEA or IKEA-style furniture may be "clean" and functional but completely devoid of any art, culture, personality. IKEA is the capitalist realism of our houses: cheap but apparently of high-quality, but without a particular deal of personality. Pre-made and ready-to-consume kitchens for people who have accepted the capitalist realism as a part of their life and cannot afford to take time off work to make their houses meaningful, which is literally in our minds one of the things that matter the most, as our home influences our memories and experience of each day of the most of our year.

All in all, I think Italy, even with the perception of the country from the outside, has been throughout history and the past 200 years an example of an alternative to the capitalist demise that was affecting other European nations at a much faster pace than what could have happened in Italy, economically and culturally. The day-to-day life of many people, especially in the south of Italy and in rural areas throughout the peninsula, has always fascinated me because there is still some humanity left there that is missing from so many other places I've seen in the world. And this culture, of which its most obvious product is food, is to some point visible also in large cities, where one of the great advantages is that restaurant chains and producers of depressing food still sit along more traditional, relaxed but extremely tasty Trattorias, Osterias, wherein if their food cannot be compared to what can be produced by an Italian grandmother in her kitchen, it is still so much more incredibly good and soul-filling than other food you can find in the city. Yet the capitalist reality is steadily creeping in. And the sadness I get when trying to pick a restaurant where to eat in Modena always suddenly dawns on me.

(On a final note, as I was talking a stroll last night I couldn't help but think about how the streets have been taken away from humans and been given almost entirely to cars, which reinforces a very capitalist notion of “the only reason you'd want to be outside is to get from one place to another”. Which is a sad reality that becomes the more apparent in larger cities which capitalism has permeated, where there is no “square” where young people, young and old, simply go to exist and be together. The reality of such square still exists in peculiar cities in Europe such as Bologna, but the squares of the cities and communities regarded as some of the central places of the communities is something that has now completely disappeared from the consciousness of the minds of young people, as they never had any experience of it in their lives.)