History, Life in Italy History

Life in Italy 1970s to 1980s

Italy in the 1970s

The 1970s in Italy are years of social and political commitment throughout the country. The decade opens with the proclamation on the law on divorce, in 1970, and ends with the law on abortion, in 1978. Both laws at the time are hot topics of debate, followed by referendum votes that split the population of Italy. Worker’s strikes and terrorist activities dot the 70s and everybody has a political point of view on almost any subject.

Music of the 1970’s

The 70s are the golden years for “cantautori”: singer-songwriters. The term doesn’t merely refer to singers who write their own songs, but to artists who always put a social or political message in their lyrics. Bob Dylan and the early work of Bruce Springsteen would fill the bill, with Francesco Guccini and Fabrizio de Andrè the spiritual leaders of this movement. Other names to check out are the unforgettable Lucio Battisti, Lucio Dalla, Francesco De Gregori, and Franco Battiato. Lucio Battisti started playing romance songs in the 60s and reached his peak in the first part of the 1970s. However, light romantic songs do not go well with the young Italians of the 1970s. At this point, young Italians are looking for singer-songwriters more ‘politicamente impegnati‘, political activist. In the major cities young Italian girls are switching more and more toward the feminist movement and they hate the symbol of ‘donna oggetto’, refusing categorically (at least for the moment) Battisti’s beautiful romantic songs.

Battisti, La Canzone del Sole.

In any case you can’t remove romance from life, particularly in Italy, and eventually Battisti returns to popularity in this and the following generations. I still consider his songs the ones with the most impact on Italian society in the last 40 years.

The political tensions of the time give birth to the terrorist movements that trouble Italy in the 1970’s. Right and left wing extremists take arms to try to transform the Italian state according to their own visions. The “anni di piombo” – years of lead, leave many dead and wounds that are still not yet healed.

Maybe as a reaction to this turmoil, in public Italians think and speak about very high and delicate matters. However in private, they enjoy almost trivial activities.

Movies of the 1970’s

In the 70s the highest grossing movies produced in Italy are “commedie pecorecce“, comedic sexy movies that lampoon some of the most common stereotypes about Italian society, a care free degeneration of the light comedies of the previous years.

Two kind of fringe movie goers emerge from the 70s. The cinema d’essai attracts art movie lovers who flock to small, independent theatres that show movies outside the greater distribution circuits. They watch mainly eastern and far eastern productions, and small independent movies coming from nearby France and aspired to the latest art movements.

The other fringe movie scene is the red light (luci rosse) movie goers. These were the aficionados of the porn theatres, hidden is some narrow alley of virtually every Italian town.

Both of these kinds of theatres are almost extinct, due to VHS, DVD and now Internet distribution of similar materials.

Italian Television of the 1970s

In the 1970s, more and more families own a TV, which after the middle of the decade also offere a Color TV option. The National public channels (RAI) and the emerging private channels start adding imported foreign TV shows to their broadcast schedule and formats. American soap operas and South American telenovelas make their debut along with English TV shows. The most famous TV show is an Italian production, Sandokan, a series of TV movies inspired by adventure books by Italian writer Emilio Salgari. Sandokan makes Kabir Bedi, an unknown Indian actor, a superstar virtually overnight.

Italy of the 1980s

The 80s are a time of fun, excess, luxury and optimism. The 1980s top the seemingly unlimited economical growth of Italy and mark the apparent transformation from an agricultural country to an industrial and service oriented economy. In these years Milan affirms itself as the social and economical capital of Italy. Designers, artists and fashion gurus open stores and galleries in the city. After a famous TV spot, the city becomes known as Milano da Bere, the Italian capital of the aperitif ritual.

The decade starts with a tragedy, the mysterious incident known as Ustica Massacre: on 27 June, 1980 a civil airliner suffers an in-flight explosion while in route from Bologna to Palermo and plunges into the sea off Sicily, near Ustica. At first it seems an accident, but then various hypotheses began to surface. First the investigators think it was a bomb on board, than it becomes more and more apparent that the plane was hit by a missile fired by a military fighter plane. To this day, no one knows the truth and many other mysteries have crossed paths with the Ustica incident.

World Cup Victory

Immediately after Ustica in 1982, Italy triumphs at the World Football (that’s soccer for you Americans) Championship in Spain in 1982. After 1982, gradually the Italian youth are less and less into politics, compared to other values that start emerging in young Italians. With the terrorism movements almost defeated, a strong economic growth and the optimism spur from the 82 championship victory, and Italians embrace the pop era.

1980’s Music and Fashion

These are the years in which “Made in Italy” becomes a true brand and Italian products and lifestyle start to get more and more attention abroad. In return, Italy is more open than ever to foreign influxes. This is evident in music and television. Many singers and bands are influenced by the new musical movements hailing from England, Germany and the USA. Music fans are inspired in their dress code and behavior from their pop idols, like Madonna, Wham, Duran Duran. Many pop bands, both original and copycats of British and USA bands start to appear throughout Italy.

Music and culture also give rise to the “urban tribes” – groups of young people bonded over a clothing style or a musical preference. Paninari, dark, new romantics, metal heads and post punks are just a few of these tribes. Each one has its own rituals, meeting places and dress style.

1980’s Entertainment

The breakthroughs in technology and science, like the personal computers and personal video gaming systems, and an optimistic outlook on life are felt in everyday life. The year 2000 is closing in and everybody wants to live in the future. Even the traditional Saturday evening shows gain a science-fiction tint, that culminates in dance numbers inspired by the Star Wars movies, with glittering dancers wearing aluminum costumes.

In the 80s a phenomenon that made its first appearance by the end of the previous decade explodes with unforeseeable consequences: the Japan Invasion. While this may sound dramatic, in reality it is just the broadcasting of Japan-imported animated shows (anime) on Italian public and private TV channels. While this may seem insignificant, the nostalgia effect of the Japanese TV shows on those who were a few years old in the 80s had strong consequences. In late 2000s there are parties, dance contests, and nostalgia nights dedicated to these 1980s cartoons. Many kids that grew up with the Shogun Warriors in the 80s created an industry based on their youth heroes with publishing houses, record labels and clothing lines.

If animation is dominated by Japanese products, mainstream TV is invaded by American shows. Happy Days, The A-Team, Automan, Super Car and other 80s glories followed the road paved in the 70s by Charlie’s Angels and The Six Million Dollars Man. With all these shows and the liberalization of private owned networks, Italians start to spend more and more time watching TV. This is a trend that for some is the root cause of Italy’s contemporary disinterest towards other media and lack of critical analysis about current world’s state. Many Italians tend to believe everything told by TV and seldom look for a second opinion or independent fact checking.

During the 80s, in part due to the influence of movies and TV spots, perceived glamorous jobs start to attract many young Italians. Managers, creative talent working in the advertising business, financial yuppies all see their ranks grow. The fabulous 80s were fabulous in Italy too.

Political Tensions Reemerge

While Italians live a fun and optimistic life on the surface, the political tensions never went away. Many governments fail as the guide of the country, unable to get the economy in check and causing a decreasing IGP and rise of inflation. Blinded by shiny lights and promises of a glorious future, Italians lose sight of what is happening under the surface of the country. If the 80s officially started with the victory in the World’s Football Championship, the glittering years brutally end with slaughter in 1992. The Mafia kills its two most dangerous adversaries, the judges Falcone and Borsellino, harshly reminding to everyone that it still is an evil force to be reckoned.

In that same year begins the “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands) judicial investigation. It uncovers a widespread web of political corruption that engulfs the major political forces of the time and their leaders, leading to their near extinction and causing the rise of new, but not necessarily better, political parties.

These two events change the social and political panorama and abruptly waken the Italians from the glittering dream of the 80s.

Historical Notes: Italy from 1970 to 1980

The communal protests, particularly the student movements, shake Italy in 1969. This event leads to the Fiat factory located in Turin being occupied. During the “Battle of Valle Giulia” in March 1968 clashes take place at La Sapienza University in Rome.

The late 1960-1970s are known as Opposti Estremismi and are later renamed as anni di piombo due to the shootings and bombings; a policeman named Antonia Annarumma is the first victim, killed in Milan on12th November 1969 during a protest led by the left-wing.

Rome is hit by four bombs at the four monuments of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Vittorio Emanuele II, the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura and Banca Commerciale. A bombing at Piazza Fontana on December 12, 1969, leaves 16 people killed and 90 inured.

The 1970s and 1980s

17th May 1972 Luigi Calabresi, a police officer that would be later awarded a gold medal of bravery for the Italian Republic, is killed in Milan. 16 years later Leonardo Marino, Adriano Sofri, Giorgi Pietrostefani and Ovidio Bompressi are taken to custody in Milan, accused for the assassination. This matter is highly controversial and after many convictions and acquittals, the participants of the assassination are judged guilty of their crime.

The Interior Minister Mariano Rumor attends the ceremony held in the honor of Luigi Calabresi and during the ceremony a rebellion Gianfranco Bertoli attacks with a bomb and kills four people, leaving 45 injured.

The Unrest

In 1974 Edgardo Sogno reveals about his visit to the chief of the CIA station in Rome: he informs the chief about a neo-fascist revolution. Edgardo Sogna asks the US government to take some measures against this kind of revolution. In response to Sogno’s question, the United States wrote that they will give any support in order to keep the communists away from the administration. In 2001 General Maletti had declared that he was not aware about his relations to CIA and had even not been told of the coup.

Vito Miceli, a general who was the chief of SIOS from 1969 and had also been SID’s head from 1970 had been arrested in 1974 on the charges of conspiring against State. After his arrest, the secret services of the country had been reorganized. A law had been passed in 1977 in an attempt to gain their parliamentary and civilian control. SID had been divided in SISDE, CESIS and SISMI of the present day. These had role of coordination and were led by President of Council. The year of 1977 was mostly known for the various terrorist attacks.

Aldo Moro

Aldo Moro, a democrat, was first kidnapped and then killed, in May 1978, by the Red Brigades. The Red Brigades was a terrorist group which Mario Moretti was leading at the time. Before the murder, Aldo Moro had been an important figure in the Democrazia Cristiana party (Christian Democracy) and had been Prime Minister several times.

The kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro was one of the worst moment in the recent history of Italy
Ph. public domain on wikipedia

The PCI (Italian Communist Party) was the largest communist party in Western Europe at the time, due to its orientation towards reformists. Another reason was because of its independence from Moscow (PCI led by Berlinguer broke with Moskow in 1976-77). The party was also very strong in the central parts of Italy. The party had managed the regions of Umbria, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany quite efficiently for years. After Moro’s murder the hope of a collaboration between the DC, Socialist and Communist Parties ended.

In the years that Italy faced the terrorist attacks in the 70s and in 80s, the majority of the parliament was made up of the parties that had supported the constitution. The communists did not take part in the main government functions.


For the first time since 1945, in the 80s the two governments were led by non-Christian premiers, namely Bettino Craxi and Giovanni Spadolini. However, the main supporting factor for the government was always DC (Democrazia Cristiana).

Towards the end of 1989, PCI had gradually increased the number of their votes. This was made possible by Enrico Berlinguer‘s leadership. PSI (Socialist Party) was led by Bettino Craxi which had become critical towards the communists and Soviet. He pushed the public in favor of Ronald Regan and the placement of the missiles in Sicily against Russia.

The Communist party moved to moderate positions and the PCI’s ranks increased. The party surpassed DC in the elections in 1984, only two days after Berlinguer’s death which might have drawn sympathy from the locals. Large crowds of people attended his funeral and it was the only time when the DC was not the nation’s largest party in the elections. With Bettino Craxi the government also revised the Lateran pact of the 1927 with the Vatican; the revision, that crossed out Roman Catholicism as State religion, lighted the links between Italian government and Church.

With the investigations of Mani Pulite, “Clean Hands”, which started one year post the Soviet Union’s collapse, the country realized the extent to which corruption existed in the country and included some the most important of the country’s political parties. What followed after the investigation is known to everyone today as Second Republic.

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