“Are all human beings too thick for government?” asks Italian radio

Ensuring life-and-death matters slip the mind. 

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“Do you know that you’re interviewing a genius?” On the Italian national station, Radio RAI, a couple of hosts are indulging in a favourite pastime: crucifying politicians. There are times when it can feel like an entire show nominally about pop music and chit-chat is actually trying definitively to answer the question “are all human beings too thick for government?”

This afternoon the subject for mockery is Roberto Giachetti, ex-radical and now vice president of the Chamber of Deputies, who fancies himself a poet. One of the hosts, pretending to be him, quotes from Roberto’s supposed work. “It is impossible to stop an ineluctable / flow of time unless you /make somersaults” goes the verse. “Did sunstroke generate this poem?” examines the host, and “Giachetti” shrugs. “I was in Rome,” is his excuse. This, everybody on air finds hilarious, just as my car’s radio signal falters, while I teeter across pitted tracks and potholes on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria – technically closer to Africa than Italy.

Round certain bends on the coastal road the station frequently gives way to Radio Quran Tunisie, on which Cheikh Said Jaziri interprets scripture, and tells stories of prophets and messengers. Today an imam is picking apart the phrase: “And they asked the people of remembrance that ye know not.” Is it a sarcastic expression? A legal directive? A call for independent use of the mind?

For a time, no radio. Just the indifference of the landscape. Scooped and jagged mountains of obsidian, a small field full of bickering hens. Then abruptly back to RAI, where they’ve moved on to Berlusconi and his new weight-loss diet of one lemon for dinner. And perhaps “the veggie-burger” someone trills, to wild laughter.

Were Giachetti (or Berlusconi) actually in the studio they would probably be playing along. Italian politicians appreciate that they’re not treated with awe or expected to be armed with the tools of logic and ethics or comprehend state pensions. It’s only when you ask them a real question that they get pissed off.

Tease them about Greek yoghurt and they’ll play along with even the most vicious character assassination. Italian radio: ensuring life-and-death matters slip the mind. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tragedy