La Terra dei Fuochi: Cultural Labeling, Ecological Crimes, and Social (re)Action in Mediacratic Italy

La Terra dei Fuochi: Cultural Labeling, Ecological Crimes, and Social (re)Action in Mediacratic Italy

Salvatore Giusto
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2018010102
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In the summer of 2013, two major televisual outlets released a groundbreaking campaign of information about a massive mafia-lead traffic of toxic and radioactive waste involving the peripheries of Napoli and Caserta, southern Italy, which was historically covered up by the national secret services. The widespread mass-mediation of such a dramatic news significantly impacted the local cultural sphere. At the same time, it elicited eclectic (re)actions among the dwellers of these two areas, which the media dubbed as the “Land of Fires.” This article ethnographically analyzes the “Land of Fires” case study as a discursive milieu that mirrors the relationships between power, cultural production, and political change in neoliberal Italy. In so doing, it aims to redefine the contemporary Italian mediascape, which most academic literature describes as a “cynical” machine of political consent merely engendering “televised” subjectivities amid its publics, as an highly controversial (but still sophisticated and vibrant) space of socio-cultural production.
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In late 2013, the southern Italian provinces of Napoli and Caserta were no longer called as such by a large portion of their own population. I conducted fieldwork research in those areas from January 2013 to January 2014, since I wanted to study how contemporary southern Italian politics articulated vis-à-vis the local industry of cultural production. In that occasion, most of my ethnographic informants, as well as the overall Italian media mainstream, commonly referred to the two contiguous provinces as the “Land of Fires” (Italian: “la Terra dei Fuochi”). Such an evocative nickname had nothing to do with the breathtaking volcanic landscape offered by Mount Vesuvius. It instead echoed a major journalistic “scoop” by two Italian national TV operators: the newscast “TGSky24” and the news-satire-show “Le Iene.”

Starting in the summer of 2013 till the end of that year, the two media outlets regularly released groundbreaking information about a more than ten-year-old (and still ongoing) illegal traffic of toxic and radioactive waste involving the Campanian1 municipalities of Qualiano, Giuliano in Campania, Orta di Atella, Caivano, Acerra, Nola, Marcianise, Succivo, Frattaminore, Frattamaggiore, Mondragone, Castelvolturno, and Melito di Napoli (Chiariello, 2013a; Cerqueti & Chiriello, 2013; Toffa, 2013a; 2013b; 2013c). This traffic was promoted and supervised by the notorious Casalesi clan ―one of the most violent gangs composing the Camorra, that is a Neapolitan organized crime cartel―, in structural collusion with corrupted apparatuses of the Italian state and several northern Italian and European big corporations (Chiariello, 2013; Toffa, 2013a; 2013b; Moccia, 2014; Saviano, 2006).

In order to free space for the illegal displacement of new toxic waste and avoid controls by the public authorities, the camorristi used to burn up the piles of trash they had previously accumulated over the concerned areas, which were now punctuated by stakes as a true “Land of Fires” (Legambiente, 2003; Saviano, 2006). The criminal cartel thus spread deadly smoke and toxic chemical substances (including dioxin) in the surrounding crops, water sources, and atmosphere. In so doing, it severely compromised local agriculture (a key economic sectors in those areas) and consistently multiplied the amount of tumor cases affecting the local population2 (Legambiente, 2003; Moccia, 2014; Esposito & Turolo, 2014, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 2014).

The widespread diffusion of such dramatic news by the Italian media in 2013 elicited anxiety and political outrage among the national audience, and especially among locals. On the one hand, large sections of the local population reacted to the “Land of Fires” mediatic scandal by means of political action. As such, they participated en masse in a plethora of initiatives such as the November 2013 demonstration “Fiume in Piena” (English: Full River), in which more than 100,000 local protesters called for the direct intervention of the Italian government on the matter (Corriere della Sera, 2013). On the other hand, the national media’s lasting use of the term “Land of Fires” as a metonym for the whole hinterlands of Napoli and Caserta quickly percolated from Italian TV screens to daily conversations happening on the most local of grounds.

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