The hearth of our times: RAI and the domestication of Italian television in the 1950s
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When the Italian television started its regular programming, in January 1954, only a few of its spectators could appreciate the brand new experience of viewing in the cosiness of their homes. In the early stage of the medium, different cultures of television viewing coexisted in Italy for a relatively long period, and the model of collective consumption rooted in public spaces (such as bars, movie theatres, Catholic associations, and political circles) was largely dominant, due to economic issues (the high-price of the technical device), and cultural bias over the new medium, often considered dangerous and dodgy for the stability of the family and the privacy of the domestic life. This paper is aimed to outline the role assumed by the Italian Public Service Broadcasting (RAI) in contrasting the affirmation of a public culture of viewing, stimulating instead the construction of the television as a domestic medium in the stage of its institutionalisation, which lasted approximately until the beginning of the Sixties. Considering a wide array of historical sources (first RAI’s advertising and public campaigns, house organs and leaflets, public speeches of RAI’s first managers), the paper will show how the RAI was deeply interested in promoting a wide diffusion of the TV sets in the private domestic context, in order to maximise the economic profit coming from the license associated to the possession of the set and thus providing economic resources for programming and broadcasting. RAI’s major effort was intended to reassure the Italian citizens, presenting the television set as a harmless device that could enhance the comforts of the modern home in the social context of the Post-War economic boom.
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