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Siamo tutti Italiani? That would be depressing...

Siamo tutti Italiani? That would be depressing...

Ottorino Cappelli (January 2, 2008)

Italians are not unique in their malaise, says Chicago blogger Robert P. Baird. At least American graduate students are equally depressed by a sense that one is stuck in an “extended and underproductive adolescence"...


Blogger Robert Baird lived in Italy (Bologna)  in 2006 as a doctoral student. In a recent blog post entitled "Siamo tutti italiani?

Italy and Academia", he reports that the two words his Italian friends and acquaintances "couldn’t seem to avoid in describing their country were cazzo and merda." That's not difficult to believe; where that not true, one would wonder where did Beppe Grillo's successful "vaffanculo day" come from.

From his perspective as an American student connecting with Italian young (and disaffected) people, Robert liked Fisher's article -- especially the paragraph on "gerontocracy," when the journalist says Italian young are comdemned "to an extended and underproductive adolescence,” and goes on to quote Mario Adinolfi, a 36-year-old blogger and “aspiring lawmaker”:

The generational problem is the Italian problem…. In every country young people hope. Here in Italy there is no hope anymore. Your mom keeps you home nice and softly, and you stay there and you don’t fight. And if you don’t fight, it is impossible to take power from anybody…. We don’t have a Google…. We can’t imagine in Italy that a 30-year-old opens a business in a garage.


Robert, however, has something interesting and unexpected to add. He writes that although "Italians want badly to believe that they are unique in their malaise" their mood struck him as familiar:

It’s the same feeling that saturates graduate programs in the humanities (and some social sciences) here in America. Analogies like this are often dangerous to push too far, but here the two cases seem to line up fairly well: like Italians, graduate students feel significantly poorer than their peers, they see little hope for relief in the future, and they have a creeping epigonal feeling, as if they were leftovers in a world that wanted them only for their ornamental function (novels on Sundays, Venice in June). What hits closest to home, however, is the sense that one is stuck in an “extended and underproductive adolescence,” an adolescence that only seems to end, if it ever does, somewhere on the far side of tenure.

Analogies aside, it is interesting that an American graduate student feels this very "Italian" sense of insignificance and sees little hope in the future. Italian graduate students coming to the States, in fact, seem to feel exactly the opposite way: they excaped from the land of "raccomandazione" and are confident that, here in the U.S., they've finally found the Eden of Meritocray... So how is it that America is the land of hope and opportunity for Italian students, while it presents so little hope to their American counterparts?

"Siamo tutti italiani" -- like Robert concludes? That, indeed, would be a rather depressing conclusion :-)




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extended adolescence

Extended adolescence is a means of keeping down the size of a workforce that cannot be absorbed into the economic system. If 20% of the college students came out of school and began demanding jobs, there would be a revolution in this country (US). As long as college students stay in school believing that someday they will get a “real job” (i.e. not fast foods and retailing clerks) mangers of the economy are safe. Tom Verso


I'm a bit confused by the column and the response. I'll start with the latter- are you recommending that our college students leave school? In other words, are you arguing AGAINST education? Interesting.

Then, the malaise that Italians in Italy feel is also a bit self-serving. It is true that to get the "perfect" job, recommendations assist greatly. However, it is also true that many Italians wouldn't dream of working in any other field than their degree field, even if they cannot find a job in the field. This "green fields" approach is allowed as the level of comfort an Italian is provided by his/her parents, Italian society, and the social pressures of the bella figura, accomodate this behavior.

We must also be careful to differentiate (unfortunately) between the North and the South of Italy. Northern Italy enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world, is very productive, and is very innovating in many industries. The south, as we all know, is not. (I am of Sicilian descent just FYI)...