Maria was born in Poggioreale, a small country town in Sicily, Italy. It was the early 1940s and she was the fifth child born in a soon to be family of eight. She lived with her large but loving family until the 28th of February 1960, when Maria migrated to Australia. She then married Charlie, and together they started a family of their own in Sydney’s South West.
I spoke to Maria — who is also my Nonna — regarding her experiences of cinema and television across cultures. We discussed her life in Italy and how television and cinema underpinned this and she told me the story of how this all changed when she made the move to Sydney, Australia. Maria’s various encounters throughout her life highlight the significance of place, as an audience’s experience is dependent on this (Maltby, Stokes & Allen, 2015) and moreover communicates how culture is central to a discussion of media and its many forms.
Television in Italy was introduced to the masses in 1954 and quickly became one of “the most wide-spread media” forms in Italian history. As Maria was from a large working class family in a small country village, owning a television was not a priority in her youth. Maria’s family had utilised the hand-me-down system all her life, and placed primary focus on getting her eldest sister married, they weren’t interested in television and its broadcasts. In Italy, Maria’s family would take turns buying new clothes, “my eldest sister would get all the new clothes, because she was looking for a husband.”
To entertain herself, Maria recalled going to the movies instead. “Once a month we would go — my brothers, sister or friends and I — to the cinema.” It was a more reasonably priced form of entertainment that she could enjoy. When they first married in Australia, Charlie would take Maria to the movies every Saturday night. They would walk to the movies — she explicitly told me there were no cars back then — in their local suburb, Liverpool. Cinemagoing was regarded a social and collective experience in which members of society could let loose and encounter adventures of a new kind on the big screen, something Maria remembered fondly (Maltby, Stokes & Allen, 2015). Nowadays Maria hasn’t been to a cinema in over five years. The last film she saw at the movies was Marley and Me with her extended family, a tear-jerker to say the least.
Life in Australia was very different for Maria, who grew up in a traditional Italian household centred around the principles of family. Once settled in Australia, her and her husband Charlie worked on their farm in Austral and brought up 5 children of their own. It wasn’t until much later that the family bought their first television in the mid sixties. It was a standard black and white model that sat in the centre of their lounge room. “We didn’t have one for a long time, TV was very expensive.” Only a small handful of families in their local neighbourhood owned a TV, thus it was a luxury they could live without.
The television was a source of entertainment for Maria as she described times spent watching programs she and her family enjoyed on a regular basis. Countdown was a personal favourite, alongside Australian classics such as Skippy The Bush Kangaroo. Television also served to educate migrants like Maria, providing them with the chance to learn about Australian social norms and cultural heritage. An inherent link to place was thus established through TV watching.
As time went by and Maria’s family got older the programs they watched also shifted in nature. It would be wrong not to mention the longstanding programs Days of Our Lives and The Bold and The Beautiful, shows which have added an avenue of gossip to the lives of many Italian housewives since its broadcast on Australian TV. When I was younger I can recall a number of discussions between my Nonna and her friends over the phone about what Ridge and Brooke — the central protagonists in the show — were up to now. She still watches the program every afternoon.
Maria avidly watched Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, alongside Family Feud every night. Her “favourite channel is Channel Nine.” She doesn’t know what draws her back to it, perhaps it’s the Today Show’s Karl and Lisa. I can clearly remember her calling me one morning and asking me to enter her into their cash draw so she could win. If you called her before the show finished, the first thing she would say was “I wake up with Today.” It is for this reason, and many more that Sonia Livingstone (2013) argues “television has become inextricably part of, and often indistinguishable from, everyday life.”
Maria previously watched Italian television from her service provider, but since moving house in the last five months, she has had to reminisce on this transnational TV encounter. She would spend hours upon end watching Italian dramas, game shows and their equivalent to The X-Factor and The Voice — Zecchino d’Oro (it translates to ‘Gold Coin’ — a weird name for a singing show, I know). Rai, Italy’s national public broadcasting company, provided her and Charlie with an endless amount of entertainment in their latter life, all in a language they could fully comprehend.
Nonna told me she did miss watching Rai each day, but compromised instead. Her sister, who lives on the central coast, brings Maria DVDs of all their favourite Italian dramas to catch up on each time she visits. The stack she had sitting on her coffee table at the time of this interview featured contemporary Italian programs such as Angeli: Una Storia D’Amore (which translates to ‘Angels: A Love Story’) and Senza Identità (which translates to ‘Without Identity’).
DVDs have had a significant role in Maria’s life. The moviegoing experience Maria was once accustomed to now lives on in her own television set thanks to an antenna and the connection of a DVD player. Unlike my own mother, Margaret, who got to see films like Grease and Jaws at her local cinema, Maria experienced these blockbusters from home. She has an entire collection in her TV cabinet filled with films like Dirty Dancing and Bride and Prejudice. I was surprised to hear that she had also seen the cinematic version of John Green’s hit The Fault in Our Stars from the solace of her living room. Even Nonna agreed “it was very sad.” Whilst she and Charlie are a notably smaller audience, they are still valued members of the media space they inhabit.
Watching television or going to the cinema is thus an entirely immersive experience. It “provides viewers with much needed entertainment, relaxation and escape” (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 2013). Television has allowed for families like Maria’s to be entertained in the comfort of their own homes, and cinema has provided individuals with a socio-cultural experience in HD Surround-Sound that has the opportunity to change lives. Both forms of media have the capacity to evoke vivid memories associated with one’s past, and can be inextricably bound to an audience’s sense of identity, place and space, as was the case with my Nonna.
- Bechelloni, G., 2015, Encyclopaedia of Television – Italy, The Museum of Broadcast Communications, Accessed 23 October 2015, <http://www.museum.tv/eotv/italy.htm>
- Bowles, K. & Turbull, S., 2015, ‘Lecture 7: Television: Strange Objects and Media Spaces’, Lecture, BCM240, University of Wollongong, 3 August 2015.
- Bowles, K. & Turnbull, S., 2015, ‘Lecture 5: Cinemas- Strangers in Public’, BCM240: Media Audience and Place, Lecture, 24 August 2015, University of Wollongong.
- Kubey R., & Csikszentmihalyi, M., 2013, ‘Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience’ in Routledge Communication Series, Routledge, p.1. <https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=3g1EAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=kubey+and+csikszentmihalyi+television&ots=WcS4-OWgC_&sig=Xh7KUTuY0bB-v66a–Vu2IGNsP8#v=onepage&q=kubey%20and%20csikszentmihalyi%20television&f=false>
- Livingstone, S., 2013, ‘Making Sense of Television: The Psychology of Audience Interpretation’, Routledge, p.5, <https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=3g1EAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=kubey+and+csikszentmihalyi+television&ots=WcS4-OWgC_&sig=Xh7KUTuY0bB-v66a–Vu2IGNsP8#v=onepage&q=kubey%20and%20csikszentmihalyi%20television&f=false>
- Maltby, R., Stokes, M., & Allen, R., 2015, ‘Going to the Movies: Hollywood and the Social Experience of Cinema’ in Earlier Studies in Film History, Royal College of General Practitioners, pp.2-5, <https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kdCtBwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=cinema+and+audience+experience&ots=Z1vm5puuLJ&sig=jLN1vHhVPYsBdTRHT1bXpLmJGvM#v=onepage&q=cinema%20and%20audience%20experience&f=false>
- Stilloni, M., 2015, Interview, 23rd October.