The View from VIU: Discovering denial with Tom Cruise, Amanda Knox and pop culture

Hey everyone! Sorry for not posting in a while, ever since March started I’ve been really busy. Forgive me…well you really don’t have much of a choice.

Anyway isn’t this blog supposed to be about Italian politics? So the weekend before last I went to the Communist bar again (which I think is spelled Murion by the way, in case you’re wondering and possibly planning on finding it someday). The band this time around was actually really good and they were playing Bob Marley hits and other songs from the late 60s-early 70s.

Around 1 AM I called it quits for the night and headed back to the vaporetto stop that would take me back to my dorm on the island. A guy who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s and his girlfriend happened to be leaving at the same time as me and I started up a conversation with the two of them in a mixture of Italian and English.

Both of them took interest when they found out that I was an American college student studying political science, which prompted the guy to ask me for my take on the recent Italian elections. I prefaced my answer with a disclaimer of sorts: that I had no dog in the fight, so to speak, and that I had voted for Barack Obama last fall.

I gave an honest critique from my outsider’s perspective: that Burlusconi is one of the main reasons why Italian politics are more or less a punchline for the rest of the world. I also expressed concern over Beppe Grillo, despite running on a good platform and having innovative ideas, even being allowed to run for prime minister in the first place considering the three counts of vehicular manslaughter on his record.

The guy immediately stopped in his tracks and simply said, “I don’t believe it.” Not in the sense of shocked realization, but a straight, flat-out denial. Of course, I had to have known that the guy, from pure virtue of coming out of a Communist bar, would have left-wing and would have either voted for Bersani or Grillo. But this encounter (which ended amicably, no worries), taught me something.

That when it comes to politics, indeed, some people just can't handle the truth.

Some people can't handle the truth because it doesn’t fit into their preconceived notions and narratives, many of which have been held for their entire lives. I have encountered this phenomenon a lot back home when talks at family gatherings shifted to politics, and honestly believed that it only had its roots in the belief of American exceptionalism. But indeed, it seems like this happens everywhere.

It’s maddening to me, because it is the rejection of reason, logic, and fact. To put this in perspective, let’s list a few instances of this phenomenon in America.

When people deny that…

Climate change is real.

Obama was born in Hawaii.

Peter King was heavily involved with the Irish Republican Army.

Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, nor did Iraq back al-Qaida.

OJ Simpson was guilty of murder.  I mean, look, we all know OJ did it despite being found not guilty, but Grillo at least was actually convicted of the crime and denying Grillo’s guilt is worse than pronouncing OJ’s innocence.

But I digress. Speaking of murder trials, news broke today that the Italian Supreme Court has just ordered a retrial of Amanda Knox. Knox, if you don’t know the story, was an American college student in Perugia.  She, along with her boyfriend, served four years in prison for the 2007 murder of her roommate.

The trial itself became a media circus, with the Italian press being accused of sensationalizing the case and distorting the facts against Knox. It is also alleged that Knox suffered harsh treatment and harassment while in jail. The two were eventually acquitted in 2011 due to new forensic evidence being presented. After she was released, Knox went back home to Seattle.

The reopening of the case has the potential to get ugly really quickly and could strain relations between Italy and the U.S. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “double jeopardy,” which is being tried for the same crime twice, so there is practically no chance that the U.S. extradites Knox back to Italy to face the retrial because it violates the Constitution.

In addition, there was considerable disagreement amongst Italian politicians and officials during the duration of Knox’s prison stay regarding her guilt. I don’t anticipate there being any anti-American displays or protests, as Italians have close ties with America due to both family living in the States, American tourists coming to visit and the diffusion of American pop culture. But I am curious as to how the Italian press covers this news, and the case itself, which I doubt will even happen.

But on to more fun and light things: American pop culture here. It’s everywhere in Venice. There’s a McDonald’s, which I haven’t been to yet, about five minutes from the Rialto Bridge, and there is a Hard Rock Café just outside of St. Mark’s Square. I have also frequented lately an American/English style pub called Devil’s Forest, which is a stone’s throw from the Rialto and has really good burgers and fries that taste like they’re from back home. While at the pub I also got to catch the Indiana-Colorado basketball game on TV and saw an ESPN commercial for the upcoming baseball season.

Many times walking through the maze of alleyways that cross the city I hear American pop songs on the radio coming from restaurants and shops. One night when I was at a bar during orientation week, I saw a commercial for the upcoming season of Boardwalk Empire (which, if you read my Boardwalk Empire blogs last fall, you know that got me really excited), and heard "Who Did That To You" from  Django Unchained at a local pizza place.

I’m not entirely sure if this really represents Italy as a whole, or just Venice because of the tourists, but I’ll find out soon enough: for Spring break I’m going to Florence this weekend,  and then to Sicily from Monday-Friday next week to stay with relatives and discover my Sicilian roots.

Next blog I’ll recount my Spring Break adventures and travels, and hopefully provide more insight into Italian politics and culture.

HoshiYa-Banner-Final133

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