Good old Karl Marx claimed in his 1843 Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that religion was the opium of the people, a drug administered by the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, so that the latter, dazed and hazy from the smoke, would become a meek provider of surplus value for the capitalist class (presumably, a mostly useful anesthetic, at times of economic crises that chronically afflict the capitalist mode of production). If, as a result of bad karma, the philosopher from Trier were reborn in today’s Italy, he would conclude that he had got it almost right, with two important caveats: the “drug” is not religion, but takes the features of “crime news”, and is dispensed to the masses by the media, in particular the state-owned television, RAI.
On August 26th, Sarah Scazzi, a fifteen-year girl from Avetrana (Taranto) mysteriously disappeared from home. On October the 6th, her body was found and the uncle confessed to the assassination: the news was delivered to the family during a live television show. Since then, the coverage of the crime has taken a huge time share in the news, particularly in the (pro-government) RAI 1 public channel. No surprise that, as a result, organized tours (renamed as horror tours) are currently flocking to visit the crime scene.
The figure below shows (blue line) an index of the collective interest for the crime of Avetrana, the intensity of Google searches that Italians have made in recent weeks, containing the keywords “murder Scazzi”(omicidio Scazzi); the red line in turn describes the intensity of search on the topic of “unemployment”(disoccupazione). According to the Bank of Italy, the official figure, 8.5% of the labor force, actually underestimates the “true” rate—when discouraged workers and employees working zero hours, paid by the Wages Guarantee Fund (Cassa Integrazione Guadagni), are included, the figures exceed 11%. The graph shows that when the interest of the murder increases, the focus on the unemployment issue tends to decline, and vice versa. The difficult question for Marx is therefore: how long will the sedative effects of this media campaign last, particularly on the young unemployed (where the unemployment rate is at 27.9%)?
Figure 1: Intensity of Google search for “omicidio scazzi”(murder scazzi) and “ disoccupazione”(unemployment)
Scale is based on the average traffic of disoccupazione from Italy in Oct 2010.
Source: Google Trends