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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 6: Area Bombing and the Definitive Breakup of the Home Front


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Area Bombing and the Definitive Breakup of the Home Front

The emphasis on the regime’s determination to punish mercilessy criminal behaviour in wartime and the press campaign aimed at women were two exemplary aspects of a propagandistic pattern that became increasingly unappealing as across the country living conditions deteriorated and the sense of insecurity spread. The proliferation of rumours, scarcely curbed by police repression, was the direct consequence of reticence and lies in the media. Fascist war propaganda shaped by two decades of gendered social framing targeted women as ‘traditional recipients’ of gossip and employed female journalists for the task of prescribing orthodox codes of conducts.

The attempt to present the public with the illusion of order, discipline and social cohesion also relied on entertainment: among the play scripts submitted the MCP in 1940–1943 that dealt with war-related topics were works of clumsy propaganda as well as stories that provided glimpses of Italians’ real lives, fears and hopes. Censors were particularly diligent at removing passages that they feared might cause public demoralisation or that contained veiled criticism of the authorities, but improvised or off-script performances sometimes gave small audiences some narrow spaces of freedom – though these were promptly repressed and sanctioned.

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