Asking People at the Stadium Whether They Think Soccer is Boring – Povia on Homosex
Two evenings ago, along with about fifteen million other people, I finally heard Povia’s “ex-gay” anthem, “Luca Era Gay” (Luca Once Was Gay) at the Sanremo Festival, the full text of which had been guarded like the whereabouts of Bin Laden up until about twelve hours before the festival began. (You can find my translation of the song here.)
I expected to find the song offensive and retrograde; I expected it to give aid and comfort to the Italian (but certainly not only) conviction that gay life is tragic and to shore up the popular fantasy (an especial favorite of the Catholic church) that a soi-disant gay man is merely a confused heterosexual who hasn’t yet come across the right woman. And I wasn’t disappointed.
To be sure, “Luca Era Gay” is a grubby and sick-minded rehearsal of popular clichés and of the discredited psychological theories of nearly a century ago: the “close-binding intimate” mother who is “morbidly jealous” of Luca’s female friends and begs her son never to get married; the absent, alcoholic father who has nothing to say to his son and who is probably cheating on his wife; the disturbed and guilt-ridden adolescent who is seduced by an older man and “goes with men” because he doesn’t want to “betray his mother.” It all ends happily, though: At a party, Luca meets a girl who “understands” him, allowing him finally to forgive his father (but not his mother, whom he indicates he never really loved), get married, and bring some more children into the world. Poor girl. Poor children.
It’s either a pulp novel from the 1950s (one of those with titles like Twilight Men or Love Among the Shadows) or else it’s a song presented in 2009 at a national music festival in Italy.
There’s a word for this in Italian, by the way (there’s a word for this in every language, I suspect, but let’s stay local): baggianata. Even if you don’t speak Italian, it’s almost onomatopoeic, but the word comes to us along the same road that gave us “babble” and “prattle,” so you get the picture.
As if the song weren’t twaddle on its own, there’s the fact that Povia has, for at least a monthbeen doing his level best to demonstrate that he is both (a) bigoted beyond repair and (b) desperate for attention. At first, he allowed as how the song was autobiographical, but on the night before Sanremo opened, he retracted that previous interview (had he had a heart-to-heart with Robert Bolle?), insisting that the idea for the song had actually come from a conversation with a guy he “met on the train.”
Yeah, let’s call it the train.
“I’ve never been gay,” Povia told the Italian weekly Oggi. “I told a reporter that story once, but really, I was talking a lot of nonsense in that interview.”
The day after the song debuted at Sanremo, Povia released a statement saying that he “had no intention of offending anyone.” He was just
“telling a story about a person who managed to get out of homosexuality and is finally happy, and I thought it was appropriate to spread this message of hope…. (A person might) think he loves (another man), but then he realizes he has to look within himself in order to recognize what love truly is, perhaps because he meets a woman who makes him feel like a real man and … allows him to overcome a series of traumas that had sent him in a different, confused direction. So I’m asking people, once and for all, to knock it off: I don’t have anything against gays…. But I want to be free to sing about the healthy values that were taught to me in my family.”
Whew! Imagine what he might have said if he’d actually wanted to offend us.
At a rhetorical level, there’s great stuff here. Povia, like the Catholic Church, has learned the new rhetoric of homophobia: Now it’s the gays who are the bigots; now the gays are the ones who are intolerant. They’re trying to keep artists from singing about what they feel called to sing about. They want to censor the Sanremo Festival. They are (as Povia said in his post-Sanremo statement) “people who think they’re liberals or are in the thrall of communist chic.”
He’s just exercising artistic freedom. People who think the song is a (say it with me) baggianata don’t believe in democracy.
At this writing, we’re awaiting the opening of the third night of festival programming. “Luca Era Gay” has made it this far (frankly, the competition isn’t particularly stiff this year), and an increasingly smug Povia is continuing to give interviews in which he manages to convey all the smirking satisfaction of someone who thinks his side has already won the match.
Thus far, my new favorite is the one that appeared on the Repubblica site yesterday. An interviewer actually attempted to challenge Povia’s
intellectually dishonest creative interpretation of scientific evidence regarding sexual orientation “change.”
“Have you had any cause to reflect on your position, given the numerous psychologists, sociologists, and other experts over the past several days who’ve said that this idea of changing one’s sexual orientation and becoming heterosexual isn’t consistent with….”
“Are they gay, these experts?” Povia wanted to know. “Because if they are, it’s like me going to the stadium to ask people whether they think soccer is boring.”