Matteo Bittanti, “Teh Italians Do it Bettah!!”, in AA.VV., Neoludica. Art Is a Game 2011 – 1966, Skira, Milano 2011.
italians 1009 up, 406 down
An incredibly cultured people who work hard and are not considered white by white people and yet not considered minorities to the WASP-ass government.
Sometimes get a bad rep because of movies and shows where they are depicted as gangsters. Italian women are strong-willed, hard-working, and completely hot just like Irish and Black women. Usually have beautiful olive skin and dark hair. Italian men love their families and work hard and many are incredibly intelligent, despite what it shows in the movies. Leonardo DiVinci, an Italian man, was one of the smartest men in the world. Italians are also great artists. An Italian discovered America, an Italian named America, the Italians slave to make a better life while WASPs like Peter kick us in the face. And don’t sit there rolling your eyes, whities, because I know you wouldn’t give a damn if another minority wrote this, but simply because you think I’m Italian you blow this off. You’re hypocrites.
Italian power, brother! Power to all minorities! (I_am_There, 2005)
italians 167 up, 117 down
italian living in italy is somebody who actually says “we are the best in the world” (sounding in italian like “ui ar de best in de uold”) and he means it. Constantly bragging about himself and italy
while he never traveled away of his hometown.
Italians (thinking about football) say:”we are the best in the world!” Rest of the World (thinking about culture, economy, aviation, military organization, transports, modern architecture, technology, engineering, basketball, baseball, tennis, olympics, and so on) says: “Are you sure?” (mave73, 2008)
Despite their apparent, manifest inanity, these two definitions, currently hosted on the Urban Dictionary, are both (un)intentionally funny and (un)expectedly clever. For those who are not familiar with Urban Dictionary, this open archive of web-based and web-centric dictionary words and phrases featuring over 11 million definitions at time of writing, was included in TIME magazine Top 50 Best Websites list (2008, that is). Launched in 1998 by a then computer science student at California Polytechnic State Institute, Aaron Peckham, Urban Dictionary provides useful insights on how Italians are perceived in the age of videocracy, at least in the online vernacular. Each definition is written by users (read: amateurs) rather than by professional linguists or experts in etymology. And each description is voted “up” or “down” by any site visitor, with the definitions appearing in descending order of highest ratio of thumbs up to thumbs down votes, in an attempt to “democratize” the meaning-making process while rewarding the so-called wisdom of the crowds. This bottom-up approach is antithetical to a more traditional curatorial practice – e.g. an art exhibition – in which one or more specialists are assigned to identify and subsequently invite a selected number of artists for a specific goal or agenda.
Akin to a vocabulary definition, the title of an exhibition is meant to describe, illustrate, and explain a specific situation. So what kind of situation is this?
Italians Do it Better!! celebrates and simultaneously laments that particular paradox that is Italy, a country whose contribution to the genesis and development of videogames has been almost negligible: among all the advanced, technologically-savvy Western and Eastern countries, the Belpaese has the most underdeveloped, immature digital game industry. Videogames are to Italy what soccer is to the United States: everybody plays, but, as a whole, the National team has been incapable of producing something even remotely noteworthy. The reasons behind the enduring debacle of the Italian game industry (not to mention the sad state of affairs of American soccer) are too multifaceted – and, let’s face it, not that interesting – to be discussed in this context.
And yet, Italy has provided some of the most interesting examples of what I have called elsewhere Game Art (Bittanti and Quaranta, 2006), that is, videogame-inspired artistic interventions that invite us to rethink the nature and purpose of techné, while also providing artistic, cultural, and social commentary. Yes, indeed. A gang of mavericks have been experimenting and tinkering with games while the rest of the country was stuck in an epistenological cul-de-sac, aimlessly arguing about the potentially harmful influence of gaming – without ever doing any significant research but lazily recycling third-rate research made in the US – and/or concocting ever elusive strategies to find the Holy Grail, that is, to “monetize” play. By appropriating the medium of the videogame, these audacious individuals – many of whom are represented here –ventured into the furthest territories of the Art World in a country traditionally dismissive of technologically-informed practices of play, a disgracefully technophobic environment where luddites – led by a grotesque Kung Fu Panda – are running the asylum.
“It’s such a commonplace that in Italy, if you’re under 30, you have no future. And yet, this country, this country of mobsters, racists, charlatans, has proved to the world that we can work miracles when you least expect it.” (Paolo Pedercini, 2011)
“I’m maybe young at heart but I know what I am saying” (Madonna, Papa Don’t Preach)
In a context where the powerful are deliberately sabotaging the process of innovation in order to artificially maintain the status quo – something that could only be achieved with aweird, but effective amalgamation of the cathodic and the catholic –it is no surprise that several artists featured in this exhibition have long fled their home country. Some moved to the United States, other to the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Europe. It is not simply a matter of “brain drain”. Italians Do It Better!! reminds us, with a sigh of relief, that today individuals are in a position that allows them to negotiate or re-negotiate their allegiance to a specific geographical, cultural, and social context in order to pursue their aspirations.
One cannot but wonder: How could a country with such a poor videogame culture produce so many clever, thought-provoking, original game-informed artworks? The question should be reformulated as such: Is this paradox surprising? The answer is “yes”, but only if you have never read Marshall McLuhan’s works. In the second introduction to Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, (1964), the Canadian media scholar – via Ezra Pound – reminded us that:
The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. In this century, Ezra Pound called the artist “the antennae of the race.” Art as radar acts as “an early alarm system,” as it were, enabling us to discover social and physic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic, contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. If art is an “early warning system,” to use the phrase from World War II, when radar was new, art has the utmost relevance not only to media study but to the development of media controls. (Marshall McLuhan, 2003: 16)
What lies beneath an apparent jingoistic commemoration of “italian-ness” is a critical exploration of such puzzling notion through the filter of videogame-informed art. Rather than providing a simple and unequivocal answer to an apparently straightforward question, “What is Italy, today?”, the premise & promise of this exhibition is that Italians “can work miracles when you least expect it”. These mavericks are our cultural radars: acting as early warning systems, they grasped the social and technological relevance of videogames while the rest of the country was lethargically and passively watching television instead on playing with it. Through their artworks, these artists may ignite or re-ignite our national consciousness. After all, in a country like Italy, patriotism is not a constant, but an occurrence, or, better, an opportunity. Such events as the World Cup, legal and illegal immigration, a threat – real or perceived – to the borders, trigger an otherwise weak sense of unity. Italian-ness is not a status, but a process. Like a videogame, it is a performance, something that must be enacted, activated, played to mean something. Citizenship is a political demarcation; the sense of identifying with one’s nation is a profoundly personal activity. Technology and art allow each of us the opportunity to manufacture our versions of what it means to be whatever we are, or want to be. Whatever we do, or wish to improve.
In conclusion, Italians do it better!! is both about “Italian-ness” and “Italian-less”: it embraces, even perpetuates, the narratives of the Italian genius (Urban Dictionary-style) while concurrently dismissing the kind of nationalistic rhetoric that informs hooligans’ racist chants or official political speeches. Above all, it celebrates “the power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more”. A generation of Italians.
San Francisco, May 10 2011
PS. As for ideological consistency and internal coherence, an attentive reader/visitor will not fail to notice that some of the worst Italian traditions, e.g. normative conflicts of interests, are blatantly at play in this context. The observation that we live in the age of multitasking and that videogames are all about role play, does not justify the double role of a curator-artist. One is tempted to say, or rather, sing: do as I say, don’t do as I do. As Madonna put it: Papa Don’t Preach.
Bittanti, Matteo & Quaranta, Domenico, GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames, Milan: Johan & Levi, 2006.
I_AM_Here, “Italians”, Urban Dictionary, April 15, 2005 (last accessed May 10 2011).
Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”, 1986. Lyrics by Brian Elliot and Madonna. Produced by Stephen Bray, Madonna. Performed by Madonna.
Mc Luhan, Marshall, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. San Francisco: Ginko Press, 2003.
Mave_73, “Italians”, Urban Dictionary, May 6, 2008 (last accessed May 10 2011).
Pedercini, Paolo, “Postcard. IGDA Italia & Global Game Jam”, Gamescenes, February 2 2011,