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Staging the Fascist War

The Ministry of Popular Culture and Italian Propaganda on the Home Front, 1938–1943

Series:

Luigi Petrella

Historians regard the Italian home front during the Second World War as an observation post from which to study the relationship between Fascism and society during the years of the collapse of the Mussolini regime. Yet the role of propaganda in influencing that relationship has received little attention. The media played a crucial role in setting the stage for the regime’s image under the intense pressures of wartime. The Ministry of Popular Culture, under Mussolini’s supervision, maintained control not only over the press, but also over radio, cinema, theatre, the arts and all forms of popular culture. When this Fascist media narrative was confronted by the sense of vulnerability among civilians following the first enemy air raids in June 1940, it fell apart like a house of cards.
Drawing on largely unexplored sources such as government papers, personal memoirs, censored letters and confidential reports, Staging the Fascist War analyses the crisis of the regime in the years from 1938 to 1943 through the perspective of a propaganda programme that failed to bolster Fascist myths at a time of total war.

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The media played a crucial role in the construction of the regime’s image from the onset of Fascism in 1919. The press primarily targeted the small, but influential, minority of literate Italians as well as foreign observers while radio and newsreels made Mussolini ubiquitous, his voice and per- sona reaching even to peasants in the remotest villages. Propagandistic campaigns had always had a martial cast and were imbued with a sense of conquest, even those trumpeting peacetime undertakings like the drainage and urbanisation of marshes or the large-scale building enterprises like the provision of social housing.1 The mcp, under the Duce’s strict super- vision, was in charge of staging that narrative by maintaining control not only over the press, but also over cinema, theatre, the arts and all forms of popular culture. When this construction was confronted by the sense of vulnerability among civilians that total war brought following the first enemy air raids in June 1940, it fell apart like a house of cards. Literature on Italian Fascism has generally tended to provide an un-nuanced repre- sentation of the determining contribution that propaganda made to its fortunes. Instead, this work has analysed the crisis of the regime’s image in the years from 1938 to 1943 in order to argue that propaganda’s failure to continue to bolster Fascist myths was due both to the catastrophic impact of the European crisis on civilians’ lives and to institutional and political flaws.2 As Chapters 1 and 2 have illustrated, when Italy entered the...

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