From 1958 to 1962, Italy was booming. "Everything grows," wrote the novelist Luciano Bianciardi. "The rate of internal production, per capita income, relative and absolute employment, the number of cars, sales of electrical appliances, the pay for a prostitute, industrial wages, bus tickets, the interest rate, the average height of people, the speed of cyclists at the Giro d'Italia." And it didn't stop there. Boom! examines the arrival of the "new Italy" in all its exuberance and dynamism.
"Italians were getting refrigerators," says Roberto Dainotto, professor of Italian studies. "They were buying TVs. They were driving cars and wearing blue jeans and chewing bubble gum." Boom! "The largely agricultural economy was turning into an industrial and urban one. And it was happening very quickly. Because Italian industry, unlike German or French industry, wasn't evenly spread out. It was very concentrated (all in the north) and so there was a huge labor force available (in the south), which made wages very low and production very cheap, and, in no time, Italy had become the number one exporter in all of Europe."
While Italy exported as never before, it imported a culture that would change it forever. "American culture flooded Italy at this time," says Dainotto. "Especially American music." Especially rock 'n' roll. "You know 'Volare', no? 'Vo-la-re, ohho!' This is the first. It isn't the traditional good Italian voice. It's a lot of screaming really. Sometimes just talking. And the lyrics--I'm in blue. I'm painted in blue--they're absolutely meaningless."
And as the music changed and cars filled the streets and ancient architecture became "historical" in an Italy newly museumified, job-seeking masses flocked not to Switzerland or Germany or the U.S. but to Milan and Rome, the capitals of commerce in their very own country. In Dainotto's class, students do what Dainotto was not permitted to do when he was a student. "In Italian classrooms, you have to be silent. In my class, you have to talk." They talk about those who welcomed change and helped it along--Fellini, Bianciardi, Modugno, among others--and those who did not: "The Pope launched an anathema against rock 'n' roll and blue jeans," Dainotto laughs. "And [Pier Paolo] Pasolini lamented the fate of Italy's fireflies. 'Even if they do still exist,' he said, 'you can't see them with all of the bright neon lights!' "
IT 139-BOOM! Gli Anni Del Miracolo
August 1, 2004