If I really need to give you any background on Striscia La Notizia, chances are you don’t watch much Italian television, do you? Even in this day of cable television, when our foreign viewing isn’t restricted to Italian channels, Striscia remains highly popular with the islanders.
It is, of course, a spoof news update, but this doesn’t make it any less effective. With an ever-changing duo of conductors, gutsy coverage and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Striscia is responsible for keeping us updated on sundry pressing issues – from the state of the Italian government and the problem of tangenti (bribes) to the equally important matter of Elisabetta Canali’s bra size.
Or rather, it used to. Because, since a couple of days ago – with the launching of the new, autumn schedule, to be precise – something’s rotten in the state of Italy (fine, republic, but no-one is quibbling are they?) I am pretty sure that 90% of the country woke up in national mourning mode on Tuesday morning, reeling from the tragic removal of the traditional veline.
Ah, the veline. Again, if I need to explain about the veline…which planet have you been living on in the past 20 years, huh? How to describe them? A pretty – not to mention super scantily-clad – version of a newscaster’s interns? Only, instead of keeping your filing neat they dance and wiggle their admittedly-attractive bottoms at us.
And we, the audience, mostly love it. I’m including both genders because honestly, the whole thing was done in such good spirit that it was impossible to feel threatened/offended.
Until now, that is. Much to the outrage of every citizen who holds tradition dear, the veline have been replaced by two men who insist on wiggling their bottoms at us. Again, admittedly-attractive bottoms. But somehow, the whole effect is ridiculous, rather than fun. The idea, I suppose, is to have them complement the new duo of presenters, the delectable Michelle Hunziker and the wacky Virginia Raffaele. Maybe they figured that an all-female compliment would not work. I call silly-buggers.
A couple of sentences previously I said that the lady veline – typically a blonde and a brunette, because hey, they are equal opportunity employers at Striscia – offended no-one. I was wrong, of course. You will always find the small, boring minority, who will cry out clichés like…”but that is so sexist” or the even better chestnut “they are taking advantage of women and degrading their dignity”. Again, what utter bollocks.
This statement might sound weird coming from a woman. But if you look at it rationally and move your mind away from the frilly leotards, there is only one stark truth left. The veline choose to do his job which is paid well. Very well, in fact.
And their role invariably serves as the launch-pad to bigger and better-paid things. Maybe even things involving more clothing, though since this is Italian television and everyone is happy to drop their clothes at the drop of a pin, you can never really be sure.
The point I am trying to make here is that the dancing ladies of Striscia are not exactly being taken advantage of. On the contrary, most of them take the job and use it as an opportunity to penetrate (sorry) an extremely cutthroat industry. So keep your pity for the sales-girl who has to keep a shop running single-handedly all day while on minimum wage…not for these well-paid entertainers.
Now that we have established that there is nothing vaguely gender-crushing about the job of velina, back to my original argument. The new system will never be as popular as the original one.
Two attractive girls will always get more talked about than two attractive men. I have no clue why, but that is how life seems to work. Both men and women had fun watching the female veline. Straight men will be happier pretending that this male version doesn’t actually exist, for obvious reasons. And finally, there are the subjects of the debate: the ladies actually looked like they were having fun strutting their stuff. These two, instead, look like strippers who got lost on their way to the bacholerette party, somehow wound up in front of a camera, and are now feeling supremely sheepish about it. The good looks and the moves are present and correct, but the fun element seems to have been mislaid.
In short, a word of advice to our neighbours: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least they kept the puppy. Thank heavens for small mercies.
An edited version of this post first appeared on The Sunday Times.