May 21, 2013

The War in Italy

At Taki's Magazine, my new column continues my intermittent series on the roots of postwar America. 
... For example, the fight against the Japanese furnished California with a national epic. After the war, the Golden State filled up with ex-servicemen who had passed through California in 1942-1945 and vowed that if they made it back alive, they were going to raise a family in the sunshine. They brought back from Hawaii not just a comic penchant for Tiki torches, but, more lastingly, for board-riding—first surfing and then skateboarding, laying the foundation for X Games culture. 
If the War in the Pacific gave Americans more of a yen for the sun, the now largely forgotten War in Italy (1943-45) set off a craze for all things Italian—such as dining, movies, and singing—that improved postwar American nightlife.

Read the whole thing there

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that why the sand states had the housing bubbles that they did? Middle East wars...

Anonymous said...

What sort of coffee were Italians drinking in 1945? Percolated? If it was better than that I would think that they would have brought back something better.

These days it seems that it takes far less time for a good local thing to sweep the world. Witness sushi and sweet chilli sauce. With the internet things just hit exponential growth so quickly.

Whiskey said...

Steve, Frank Sinatra was a star in 1939, when he joined Tommy Dorsey's band. He only grew in appeal when he was the Justin Bieber of his time, hated by every serviceman, being home adored by all the cute young things and exempt from the draft. Sinatra during WWII was all over the radio, and was HUGE far before the Servicemen even coming home.

I'd say that you're probably right on the balance, though the talent of Italian singers, actors, etc. was massive, and fairly suppressed under the old Hollywood which really did not employ their talents well, and the advent of cheap records with higher fidelity than radio helped guys like Bobby Darin and Dean Martin.

What really killed the Italian bel canto singing was the electric guitar, and the Beatles. The Beach Boys were these SoCal surfer dudes who sang Italian style, like Bobby Darin or Frank (who doesn't love Sinatra?) or Dean. But the Beatles just crushed them, with a heavier guitar sound, and that was that.

Ironically as Frank Sinatra got older, guys really loved him. "Me and My Baby" and particularly, "My Way" might as well be every middle aged guy's anthem.

Anonymous said...

Take issue with you Steve.

The dumb-ass left and communists (who are such an accursed menace in Italian politics) are currently enthuiastically importing north Africans by the boat-load.
if you can believe it they are even dumber than north European leftists (ie Britain's shitty Labour Party or Seden's Social Democrats)in proving their lefty credetials with swamping by muzzies.
For all his faults, the philanderer Berlusconi is actually immigration-sceptic.

Anonymous said...

... For example, the fight against the Japanese furnished California with a national epic. After the war, the Golden State filled up with ex-servicemen who had passed through California in 1942-1945 and vowed that if they made it back alive, they were going to raise a family in the sunshine. They brought back from Hawaii not just a comic penchant for Tiki torches, but, more lastingly, for board-riding—first surfing and then skateboarding, laying the foundation for X Games culture.

If the War in the Pacific gave Americans more of a yen for the sun, the now largely forgotten War in Italy (1943-45) set off a craze for all things Italian—such as dining, movies, and singing—that improved postwar American n Skateborading and Surfing lead to the growth of the underground garment industry, the Skateboard/Surfing wear increase illegal immirgants in the greater La area by 100,000 to sew the Skateboard/Surfing clothing wear during the 1990'sAlso, Skateboarders who were all Mexican attack a white guy at a Laundry place and he the taken to the hospital. There are a lot of punks in the Stakeboard craze. Many of the Stakeboard Parks have a lot of drugs and that's why Laguna Beach which has more Seniors than teenagers went against a Stakeboard Par. Surfing and Stakeboarding are not cool sports there are a lot of Punks involved.

Marc B said...

"Surfing and Stakeboarding are not cool sports there are a lot of Punks involved".

It retains some aura of cool because of this, not in of spite it. Just drive through Orange County and see all the middle age dads wearing Hollister surf and skate attire. Look at the massive sales of Tony Hawk's video games. The Dogtown surf and skateboarders of the 1970's are now known of far beyond the skate crowd. Your average American kid has still a yearning for the California fun in the sun lifestyle, and the risk taking and rebellious behavior of it's practitioners are a part of the appeal. Lots of conformist suburban kids who do not wish take the social risks involved with being a part of one of the assorted available subcultures still yearn for the freedom and opportunity they represent.

Dutch Boy said...

The California weather was a much bigger draw for my war-veteran, Midwest-bred parents than any experiences they had in the Pacific war.

Pincher Martin said...

David Gilmour in his excellent The Pursuit of History describes how the geography of Italy made the peninsula subject to two somewhat contradictory facts: It was easy to invade, but difficult to conquer.

With the Apennines making a formidable backbone along the center of Italy, but with most of Italian cities within easy reach of the sea, invaders could not easily expand out beyond their landing points. They could land, conquer, and then settle in many localities, but they could not effortlessly use those places as bases of operations for marching armies around the rest of Italy.

(Gilmour also argues that land invaders from the north didn't face the kind of barriers that many typically think of today. The Alps were not as impenetrable as some continue to believe.)

Rome's rise and conquest of the Italian peninsula certainly doesn't seem to support this thesis, but the circumstances of Roman power don't contradict Gilmour's point. For by the time Rome conquered the rest of Italy, it was soon after a force all over the Mediterranean - the kind of military power that could gradually conquer the peninsula was also the kind of military power that could eventually conquer the rest of Europe. It just took that kind of impressive might to accomplish Italian unification. With the fall of Rome, Italy reverted back to its natural state, which was as a land of city states and regional powers easily and frequently invaded. The center could not hold.

I wonder how much this history contributed to Italy's genetic structure. (Obviously the geography was important. How else can one even begin to explain Razib's quote that "different groups within Italy share as little recent common ancestry as other distinct, modern-day countries.…”?

But when Steve writes, "While much of northern Europe, especially the Slavic regions, has been swept repeatedly by vast invasions, prehistoric and historic, modern Italians are largely living in the lands of their ancestors", I wonder if this neglects the importance of localized invasions to those deep structures.

pat said...

It's odd that in a column that dwells on Patton and Italy you also make the point that Italy hasn't been invaded much.

In the movie "Patton" George C. Scott makes a little speech in which he calls Sicily the most conquered nation on Earth. Another more recent film - "True Romance" -makes much the same point.

As a Northern Californian, I of course found Tuscany very much like home. If I had slogged north from Anzio with the troops, after the war I could imagine looking for similar American soil and finding it in Napa Valley. The Gallo and Italian Swiss Colony winery founders did.

When I was kid in fifties I noticed that all the pop crooners were Italians. Not just Sinatra or Como but also Julius La Rosa, Jerry Vale, Vic Damone and Al Martino. All the comedians were Jews. HBD?

In those days the black singers also imitated the Italians. Nat King Cole. We also had the very Italian and more muscular voiced Mario Lanza. Oddly enough in Italy itself their Lanza was Claudio Villa - who sang entirely differently.

Italians sing good, and have for quite some time. Actually Pavarotti is a counter example in that the two Spaniards with whom he is compared - Domingo and Carreras - were generally preferable but - they were Italian tenors in everything except birthplace.

Part of the reason is simply that Italy is filled with tenors. Hearing the male chorus at La Fenice in Rondine was a revelation. No Anglo-Saxon chorus ever sounded like that.

Nice article. Thanks.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

The boom in American Italian food was also given a boost by prohibition. Italian Americans could legally make their own wine for personal consumption, and a lot of Italian-run boarding houses would use the loophole to legally serve wine to patrons in their in-house dining rooms, accompanied by some delicious Italian food.

Anonymous said...

As I recollect from one detailed book on political history during World War II ... a sizable fraction of (largely wealthier) Italian-Americans detached themselves from the Democratic coalition in the elections of 1940, 1942, and 1944, partly because they were hostile to the Democrats anti-Italian foreign policy. The detachment of Italian-Americans continued even after all overt sympathy for Mussolini went underground--indeed, after this episode was forgotten by all but academic historians.

Worth recollecting such cross-currents.

Grove Prosling said...

The dumb-ass left and communists (who are such an accursed menace in Italian politics) are currently enthuiastically importing north Africans by the boat-load.

^Dubious. Actually it is the rightward leaning corporate types and small business types in farming and associated industries who push for North Africans to obtain a source of reliable cheap labor.

Five Daarstens said...

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? 1966 was a good film about American GI's in Italy during WWII:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061176/

Post war Italian culture also influenced British style and fashion.

Louis Western said...

The 1960's group Jay Black and The Americans were also influenced by the Italian musical tradition. They were huge in New York, not so much everywhere else. You can hear this in the song Cara Mia.