Ellen Nerenberg. Murder Made in Italy. Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture

Article excerpt

Ellen Nerenberg. Murder Made in Italy. Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

A significant body of literature has been written on Italy's political murders and mafia killings, illustrious targets referred to as "excellent cadavers." On the other hand, the less overtly political murders that are woven into the fabric of the so-called misteri d'Italia are yet to receive extensive attention. Ellen Nerenberg's Murder Made in Italy: Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture makes a significant contribution to this field and shows that even these murders carry symbolic meaning, and can act as indicators of important social and cultural phenomena. In Powers of Horror, Kristeva argues that the dead body is a powerful marker of the "abject," it brings back what was expelled in the process of identity formation, challenging the fable of a stable identity and prompting societies to come to terms with the erosion of accepted norms and values [Julia Kristeva. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982]. Applying Kristeva's theory to three prominent murder cases--the serial double homicides of couples that took place in Florence between 1975 and 1984, the Novi Ligure matricide and fratricide of 2001, and the Cogne filicide of 2002--Nerenberg uses crime as a way to explore the larger cultural context of contemporary Italy, and analyze both developments in Italian society and their impact on the collective imaginary. Through the analysis of a diverse array of fictional and non-fictional representations of the murders (from investigations and court cases to the press coverage, televised news broadcast, talk shows, literature, and films), Nerenberg reconstructs the contexts in which the crimes occurred, and re-evokes the climate of fear raised by their threats to conventional beliefs about the national geography of crime, the perception of Italy as locus amoenus and a place autonomous from foreign influences, the Italian family, youth culture, and the sustainability of the welfare state. Furthermore, because each of the cases examined generated a "judicial media circus," Nerenberg explores the development of the Italian mass media, and its impact on both the public perception of murder and on the judicial process itself. As Nerenberg contends, in each case, the media coverage fueled a culture of moral panic that "threw a wrench into the works of the investigation" by delaying or preventing the law from administering justice (247). The crimes were treated as isolated and "monstrous" phenomena because of society's unwillingness to accept them as indicators of cultural change. On the other hand, literature and cinema, particularly those forms "abjected" from the canon such as crime and pulp fiction, and the slasher and horror film, overturned the national narrative of murder by exacerbating social fears and prompting Italian society to come to terms with new images of the self, instead of disavowing them.

In the first section, Nerenberg delves into the discourse about serial killers, or "monsters," in contemporary Italy by exploring criminal investigations and true crime reports, as well as fictional representations that were inspired by the "Monster of Florence" case. In the criminal investigation against Pietro Pacciani, who was convicted of serial murder in '94, the finding was affected by several factors, which marred the investigation. For instance, suspects were limited only to those who had served time in jail. While no evidence connected Pacciani directly to the crimes, because of his former conviction for killing his fiancee's lover, he became the lead suspect, and the target of a media frenzy that nurtured the theory of the lone killer. Nerenberg contends that

a lone killer in an isolated situation was more acceptable to the public because it eliminated the possibility that serial murder, and the deviant behaviors associated with the Florence crimes (voyeurism, sexual deviancy, Satanism), were generalized rather than isolated phenomena from which Italian society believed itself to be immune. …