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Staging the Fascist War

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


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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Chapter 5: Propaganda, the Media and Social Control


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Propaganda, the Media and Social Control

Following the first catastrophic air raids on Italy, the regime focused on creating a smokescreen to disguise its failures, using a combination of sanitised information (the exaggeration of which began to cause open dissent even amongst Fascists) and the specific targeting of issues or social groups. Yet the policy of minimisation proved ineffective, as shown by the widespread popular reaction to the British naval bombardment of Genoa.

Reticence, distortion and media lies fed mistrust among Italians and led to the spread of conjecture and rumour from the first months of war. The press targeting of specific layers of society, for example women, was conducted in a stereotyping and patronising fashion. Even when dealing with aspects traditionally suited to authoritarianism, such as the wartime tightening of law and order measures, Fascist propagandists were incapable of pursuing a coherent argument – mostly because government policies were indecisive. The centralisation of censorship over other vehicles of propaganda like theatre and popular music was based on a paternalist, albeit efficient, management that prioritised practical outcomes over the imperative of ideological control.

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