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Sono stati loro: imbrications of National, Regional, and generational identities in the 2001 Erika and Omar Murder Trial.

"[...] ogni mattina lo specchio le rimandasse un piccolo disagio, come di una faccia smarginata, scarsa di lineamenti del tutto definiti: il dubbio di un lato in ombra." (Sereni 38)

The Center Will Not Hold

To begin, an image created discursively: the frame of the newspaper's photograph shows several people from the waist up. At the borders of the image the figures are clear and focused: men in winter clothing, one half turned to the camera, another with his back to it. (1) These two visible figures flank two others, obscured, at the center: the forms are plainly discernible but the faces are encrypted, presumably censored, to ensure the privacy of their identities. However, encryption cannot offer a complete anonymity, as gender and age are easily deciphered. (2) The first of the partially occluded figures is a fairly tall young woman, slender in a dark blue ski jacket, the hair framing her blurred face straight, blond, and loose. The figure belonging to the second hazy face is in front of the young woman's. It is a male, like those hovering at the image's edges, although the slighter stature suggests he is younger than they are. Dark short hair disappears into the blur of what would be his identifying features.

Despite the encryption, or perhaps because of it, the identities of the figures in this photographic image, initially captured by a camera operator for one of the RAI news services and, downloaded and stilled, used innumerable times in equally innumerable sources (both print and electronic), are hardly secret. Erika De Nardo and Mauro ("Omar") Favaro were minors (16 and 17, respectively) when the image was captured in February, 2001, the day following the brutal murders of Susy Cassini, Erika's mother, and Gianluca De Nardo, her younger brother, in their home in Novi Ligure. When first televised, and before Erika and Omar became the prime suspects in the double homicide, their faces, beamed into millions of homes throughout Italy, were those of the bereaved daughter and her boyfriend being escorted past the police cordon to the crime scene to assist the police, the carabinieri, and the Procura generale (State's Attorney's Office) in understanding the viciousness of the crimes committed by Albanian intruders whom Erika had identified as the killers. Shortly after, however, the young couple implicated themselves, was detained and charged, and to protect their identities as minors accused of a crime, organs of the press, one and all, engaged in the common practice of encryption, erasing what had, only shortly before, been plainly visible to any spectator.

Constant use of this particular image of Erika and Omar helped it achieve iconic standing in the year 2001. The void at the center of the still image (not a photograph, exactly) signifies the void of public understanding of the ferocious stabbing murders of mother and son. But the encryption also visibly marks a significant generation gap and the failure of a cohort of parents, educators, spiritual leaders, and politicians to comprehend the genesis of the crime and of the way it spoke to young Italians everywhere. Because of the absence of the facial features that serve to assign precise identity, it appears that Erika and Omar symbolically morph into the "ragazza and ragazzo qualunque," members of the misunderstood generation of the Italian "Everyteen." (3) But while it may be possible to argue that Erika's and Omar's rage and homicidal violence are representative of Italian youth, my interest, instead, is in the way the crimes functioned as a cultural flashpoint, signing generational meconnaissance, or misunderstanding. In fact, the semiosis of the Erika and Omar "event," which includes literary expression as well as other cultural representations, argues for the reading of the homicides as a moment of the cultural articulation of the contemporary generation gap as seen from both sides. Omar, whose confession shortly after his arrest launched him anew onto the bosom of social piety, where he wept, declared remorse, and consequently received a welcome return, is ultimately less of a cipher than his former girlfriend, Erika, whose erasure, emptiness, and silence in the long narrative of her detainment and trial is nothing short of stunning.

The 2001 Erika and Omar spectacle performs the drama of the modern social subject's unstable identity, wherein the false binaries of self and other, fixed and fluid, private and public, loop endlessly on a closed circuit from which there appears no exit (read: Hegelian Aufhebung, or sublation). Although the Erika and Omar media event illustrates the enactment of identity on several imbricating, or overlapping, strata, including regional identity and national identity, my prime focus will be on generational identity. (4) While youth culture was, in the first blush of cultural studies, considered the same as popular culture and therefore a site for the articulation of issues devolving from class and consumer culture, as Angela McRobbie has observed, there is need for renewed attention to youth culture as a critical field and in a contemporary context (156). The Erika and Omar event, in tandem with contemporary narrative portraying the evanescent generation of Italian teenagers, helps articulate these distinct inflections within a current Italian context. In these pages, my focus is the ways in which Italian adolescence is brought into being by contrasting and intersecting types of narrative, specifically broadcast and print journalism and prose narrative, with some reference to cinematic narrative.

The brutal violence distinguishing Erika and Omar's crimes, and which the Italian public found equally horrifying and riveting, is not accidental. Inexorably and pitilessly, the more than one hundred stab wounds inflicted on Susy Cassini and Gianluca stand as reminders that the struggle toward identity (psychosexual, social, geographic or political) mirrors the struggle of birth. The birth of a subject, like that of most mammals, is, oftener than it is not, painful and bloody. The violence constitutive of the Erika and Omar story corresponds to violence common to contemporary Italian adolescents, articulated by scholarly and literary narrative alike. (5)

"Sono stati loro," or "Odio e noia di provincia"

Befitting a police investigation, the news coverage of the Novi Ligure homicides offers a backward chronology, beginning in medias res with the discovery of the bodies as the first news item, followed by investigative reports unfurling the crime, and so forth. Confirmation of the chronology was not received until release of the report of the RIS (Reparto investigazione scientifica, the carabinieri's branch of forensic specialists) on 6 October.

Succinctly, the events occurred as follows. On the afternoon of 21 February, Susy Cassini picked up Erika after school (approximately 2 p.m.). They had lunch together and Erika studied at home until approximately 4 p.m., when she went to Omar's house. They spent a typical afternoon together: sex, drugs, and music. Erika returned to the De Nardo home on Via Beniamino Dacatra at approximately 7 p.m. and laid the dinner table for four, ready for her father, Francesco De Nardo's, return from his weekly calcetto match. Susy returned home with Gianluca following sports practice. Omar and Erika heard them in the garage, about to arrive by the kitchen entrance. He hid in the bathroom off the kitchen. Gianluca passed through the kitchen en route to bathe in the upstairs bathroom. Once her brother was out of immediate earshot upstairs, his bath running, Erika took a kitchen knife and began stabbing Susy screaming "Adesso muori!" Omar exited the bathroom and helped in the attack on Susy. Erika ran up the stairway (there is only one in the De Nardo villetta) and began her attack on Gianluca, trying first to induce him to eat a blue powder (the rat poison that she and Omar had purchased earlier when they planned to poison the family's dinner). Omar joined Erika upstairs and both stabbed Gianluca while he was in the filled tub; the latter eventually died from drowning. Omar left Via Dacatra, disposing of his clothes and hiding the second knife. Erika walked calmly from the house and, near the roadway, the charade began. Throughout the attacks, the two De Nardo family German shepherds were silent. Erika claimed that the intruders had been Albanian and that she had barely escaped attack.

On 22 February, she and Omar were questioned by the carabinieri and visited the De Nardo villetta in the scene I described. Not believing either teen's version, they began surveillance of the couple, which included hidden camera video-recordings of their colloquy in the caserma, and electronically intercepted telephone conversations. In this documented evidence, Erika assured Omar that "Non ci scopriranno mai," and "Ce l'abbiamo fatta" (Il Corriere della Sera, 24 February, 2001). The hidden cameras capture an exchange that, when reported to the public, achieved a sort of ghoulish playfulness. "Vieni qui, assassina," Omar invites Erika from across the interrogation room. Her retort, "Assassino sei tu," lays the ground for their later battibecco, or "he said, she said" opposition (La Repubblica, 28 February, 2001). Separated for further interviewing, Omar soon confessed. Erika confessed in turn, but not to her participation (that would not come until October); instead of Albanian intruders, she stated that Omar had attacked and killed both Gianluca and Susy. Both teenagers were detained in the Ferrante Aporti juvenile facility in Turin but, to remove Erika from further contact with Omar and from public scrutiny in Piemonte, she was relocated to the Beccaria prison in Milan. The extensive psychiatric evaluations began in the spring and were concluded in late summer, when news of Erika's narcissistic, possibly borderline personality disorder and Omar's masochistic submission to her was disclosed to the press. The joint trial began on 28 November, at which date the teens' attorneys opted for an abbreviated trial (rito abbreviato), which carries with it an automatic one-third reduction of sentence. Since both teens were minors at the times of the crimes, life in prison (ergastolo) was not a sentencing option. On 3 December the court issued its formal accusation: premeditated murder with several aggravating factors, including the couple's obstruction of justice (simulazione) and, in Erika's case, the killing of a sibling and a parent (ascendente). On 14 December Erika was sentenced to 16 years in prison and Omar to 14. Their sentences were confirmed on 30 May, 2002.

The psychiatric experts' discussion of Erika's borderline personality leads to the consideration of another borderland, that of Novi Ligure, and to the examination of the ways the Erika and Omar case spoke to identity as regionally formed. Significantly, regional affiliation for the area surrounding Novi Ligure is, like Erika's and Omar's distinguishing physiognomy in the images I referred to at the beginning, blurred and indistinct. Roughly midway between Turin and Alessandria, Novi Ligure, although its name suggests a Ligurian origin, is situated in Piemonte, in the province of Alessandria, and is positioned near the conjoining of Lombardy, Piemonte, and Emilia. Like many small cities throughout northern Italy with an industrial base (the Pernigotti chocolate factory, where Francesco De Nardo works as a manager, is the chief employer in town), Novi's population has grown since 1980 and counts, among its inhabitants, immigrants from North Africa and former Eastern bloc countries.

The news of a double homicide in the affluent, suburban "profondo nord" (as novelist Sebastiano Vassalli and actor Diego Abbatantuono have called it), stunned the Italian public. In the previous 14 months, crimes (largely armed robbery) of semi-celebrities had been widely publicized in the press and attributed to illegal alien immigrants of Slavic descent. (6) Despite the fact that these crimes rarely ended in homicide, Erika's claim that the intruders were Albanian, nevertheless, rooted immediately like a bad seed in loamy soil. Procuratore Carlo Carlesi, filmed by news services outside the De Nardo villetta the night of the murders, asserted that "quasi certamente e stato un tentativo di rapina" ( Mourners at the De Nardo double funeral, refusing to believe that either Erika ("una ragazza apposta") or Omar ("un ragazzo troppo buono") could be involved, stated that the intruders were "Marocchini [...] non ci hanno scrupoli." (8) Residents widely declaimed their dissatisfaction with the efforts of Mauro Lovelli, the PDS (Partito di democratici di sinistra) Mayor of Novi, whose governance had not adequately protected the area from "gli slavi." Given the xenophobic reach of the teens' deception, the fact that Mauro had chosen the orientalized (Arabic, exoticist) "Omar" as a nickname is as ironic as the fact that, when detained in the Beccaria facility in Milan, Erika was surrounded by young Albanian women in detention for a variety of crimes.

Parties on the right of the political spectrum capitalized on the extreme xenophobia that erupted, using it as fodder for the discussion concerning immigration tout court in Italy. (9) The press fanned the flames of xenophobia so that interest in expediting the Novi Ligure investigation reached the highest levels of the government. (10) Xenophobic panic delayed for several days an eye witness (superteste) coming forward to place Omar in blood-stained clothing in Via Dacatra at the time of the murders, even though the latter had claimed to be at home during the attacks. The witness regretted not coming forward until 1 March; even though he was "un immigrato in ordine [...] avev[a] paura" (Il Corriere della Sera, 1 March, 2001)."

The ways in which the political right painted with a broad brush the issues of immigration correspond to the lack of distinct regional boundaries surrounding Novi, subsuming the problem under the wider umbrella of the less distinct "North" and, ultimately, "national," in a designation which tends to undercut regional identity. (11) The rhetorical operations of An (Alleanza nazionale) and the Lega also show how affiliation (and therefore identity) can form across boundaries, over great distances, against cultural context, local histories, and practices in service to creation of the "imagined" community Benedict Anderson observes is constitutive of nation-making. (12)

The blurred identity I have been referring to similarly describes the ways in which the case appealed to national identity, also too broadly defined. Guido Chiesa's fictional documentary of the event is aptly named Sono stati loro, a title which derives from the repeated avowals of numerous Novi residents that the perpetrators of these heinous murders "sono stati loro," that is, precisely not "us" but interlopers, non-Novesi, non-Italians, the menacing and indistinct "Slavs." When at last Erika and Omar's authorship was revealed, the venerable journalist Enzo Biagi, on the nightly news commentary he aired at the time entitled "Il Fatto," sadly accepted the teens and their ill-fated and ill-contained violence. "Erika e Omar," he told the millions of viewers of telegiornale, "sono nostri" ("Il Fatto," TG1, RAI 1, 28 February, 2001, 20:33:22-20:36:47).

The possessive predicate adjective "nostri" stands starkly distinct to the "loro" of my title and returns to haunt the case and the many questions surrounding the etiology of violence. Concern about the way film and television, so available to young Italian audiences, might inculcate violence prompted the President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to assert that "il nostro cinema non alimenta la violenza" (Il Corriere della sera, 27 February 2001). Filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci agreed, stating that "nel nostro cinema raramente ha trovato alimento quella cultura di morte, quell'esaltazione della violenza anche estrema che puo provocare danni gravi soprattutto nella formazione dei giovani" (La Repubblica, 27 February, 2001). (13) Such linguistic binarism recalls David Forgacs's discussion of the importance of speech act theory to understanding the relational and dynamic production of identity, wherein "identity and boundaries of the individual ego are marked out by the use of what linguists call deictics or shifters (I/you, here/there, this/that, etc.), demonstratives (him, them, etc.), and performatives (I promise, I do, etc.)" (143). (14)

The shift from us/them to I/you parallels the split between Erika and Omar. The psychiatric evaluations revealed that, as individuals, Erika and Omar were not predisposed to rage or poor impulse control; the dilemma was in the third agent, the couple they had created that combined their forces. Following the murders, however, the previously inseparable couple began furious disavowals and betrayals in the interests of escaping punishment. (15) Erika's attempts to distinguish herself from Omar correspond to the analogous separation that her ferocious attack on her mother illustrates.

In addition to mapping regional, national, and, as we shall soon see, generational identity, Erika's matricide imparts bitter lessons concerning the gendered identity of a young woman. At the beginning of the case's media coverage, Erika's youth is underscored in description worthy of fairy tale. She is reported as being 14 (and not 16), found barefoot in the middle of the street in her pajamas in the deep cold of the northern Italian wintry night. "La bambina," one headline read, "e ora ricoverata in stato di choc" (La Repubblica 22 February, 2001). Similarly, La Repubblica's bold banner headline of 23 February, 2001, reported her as saying, "Ho visto mia madre morire per salvarmi."

Once the facts were uncovered, on the other hand, the ways in which Erika was represented changed significantly. Erika "ha ricostruito l'accaduto con la precisione di una trentenne" (La Repubblica 23 February, 2001). Major Luciano Carofano of the RIS similarly described Erika's mature, adult behavior. A guest on "TG 2 Dossier," Carofano discussed some of the forensic facts and described Erika as having acted "con grande freddezza [...] e lucidita" following the murders, and even though Erika's singular identity disappears behind the blur, her voice silent, her female body continues to signify in the semiosis of her evil ("TG2 Dossier," RAI 2, 24 March, 2001, 22:39:32-22:54:02). Even journalistic reportage that seemed sympathetic to Erika's plight could not but feminize her in some way, as evidenced by coverage in the 26 February issue of La Repubblica, where a romanticizing lexicon is used to describe the young woman:

Erika guarda il mondo dalle finestre sbarrate del carcere. E chiede aiuto. I capelli biondi le accarezzano le spalle e incorniciano il volto dagli occhi stanchi ma ancora pieni di luce. La tuta da ginnastica bianca la fa sembrare ancora piu giovane. A chi la incontra non sembra un'assassina, bensi un'adolescente, incerta davanti ad un destino segnato.

(La Repubblica 26 February, 2001).

Her blond hair "caresses" her shoulders and "frames" her "visage," wherein her tired eyes still shine with light. Petrarch would be proud. But if news coverage included reports on what Erika wore to court, Omar was given no lesser treatment. However, while Erika's maturity and steely reserve were described during interrogation and arraignment, Omar, on the other hand, was almost immediately reduced to "quel bamboccio in tuta con la faccia rigata di pianto, il moccio al naso" (La Repubblica 26 February, 2001).

"Non siamo capaci di ascoltarli"

The encrypted image with which I began signs the way toward the topic of identity understood in generational terms. Once Erika and Omar were suspects in the murders, their physiognomic identities as minors required protection. (16) And yet the identities of young Italians (aged, roughly, 13-19) appear to be an unknown and largely unknowable subject. Issues of privacy and concern over the eruption of violence ex nihilo, so central to the Erika and Omar narrative, figure prominently in studies of the juvenile subject of various methodologies and numerous disciplines and practices, including psychology, sociology, social history, and artistic practices like literary and cinematic narrative.

In his study from 2001, Non siamo capaci di ascoltarli: riflessioni sull'infanzia e adolescenza, child psychologist and sociologist Paolo Crepet, a regular guest on televised talk shows discussing the Novi Ligure murders, seeks to reveal the abyss of experience between contemporary Italian adolescents and their parents. To a large extent, this disconnect is attributed to the perceived permissiveness of the post-1968 generation, something I discuss in fuller detail below. (17) The investigations of Erika and Omar by journalists, police agents, educators, and psychiatric teams revealed the "normal" disconnect between adolescents' appearance and their behaviors. Repeatedly and from numerous sources the pre-crime Erika was remembered as "una ragazza apposta," "sportiva," "brava," from supporters across the generational spectrum, including her Italian teacher, friends, classmates, who knew her to varying degrees, and other adults, often her friends' parents. The assessment of Omar followed suit; he was "troppo buono" to have participated in the murders. After Erika's culpability was revealed, however, a range of behaviors discrediting the appearance of "una ragazza apposta" emerged; this is the terrain of "SMS" ("short message system") described in the press. (18) For SMS behavior, very little subterfuge was required, so it appears, to keep these activities hidden away from scrutiny by the generation of parents, teachers, and other adults. Rather than a lack of physical contact, this "esistenza cablata," as Crepet christens it, makes constant and present the contact between Italian teens (Crepet 25-27).

The "wired" existence speaks not only to the omnipresence and importance of cellular technology, but also to the ways the Internet, as illustrated by the Erika and Omar event, facilitates and fosters affiliation and identity formation. (19) On March 6 the Internet site was launched and received instantaneous recognition and opprobrium. The content of the site showed as much identification with Erika as criticism of her. One posting read, for example, "Io mi identifico con Erika," while another rejected the site, judging it to be a "sito da vomito, tetro e pericoloso" (La Repubblica 6 March, 2001). The clamor spilling into the next day's coverage continued this split reception. One user, perhaps in jest (surely in bad taste), wrote: "Erika, hai fatto bene, [v]orrei avere il tuo coraggio," and signed the posting as "Hitler" (Il Corriere della Sera, 7 March, 2001). Other users (one cannot, from the disembodied apparatus of the Internet, determine gender, age, or other demographic traits) pondered the young couple's actions at greater length asking, "Chi e il diavolo?" "Miao" offered a response:

Marilyn Manson, Puff Daddy, Erika e Omar? Non e un giudizio, ma vicende come queste mi suggeriscono quanto sia stupendamente diverso dal normale cio che e universalmente ritenuto normale. Dio mio quanto sono difficili gli esseri umani.

(Il Corriere della Sera 7 March, 2001)

The reportage captured the last response in that particular discussion thread from "Uno": "Voi filosofeggiate e due innocenti sono stati massacrati" (Il Corriere della Sera 7 March, 2001).

Though the content offers some insight, "the medium is the message," as cultural and media critic Marshall McLuhan would have claimed in his influential essay written in 1944 (17-36). Recent technological innovations in the field of telecommunications bring into proximity, as never before, interlocutors from widely divergent geographical, not to mention class, religious, and ethnic locations. The proximity to each other of young Italian-language Internet interlocutors suggests a disembodied, virtual group formation that might resemble the geographically distant formation of groups like women (involved in the women's movement) or gay people (involved in, to use a North American example, "Queer Nation"). (20)

The "SMS" Erika bought and took drugs, engaged in frequent and aggressive sexual activity, and, with Omar, plotted her family's annihilation for several weeks, buying rat poison and the gloves they would wear during the attacks. (21) Omar, on the other hand, unbeknownst to his parents, had in fact assaulted a classmate Erika did not care for several weeks prior to the murders; occurring in the week of February 14, Erika considered it an act of Omar's devotion, her "Valentine's Day present."

Clearly Erika and Omar are not the first violent youth offenders to gain notoriety, nor are they unique in recent Italian history. Nearly all television programs covering the events, from the briefest to nearly epic in length, featured stock footage of the celebrated cases of young family annihilators, and the Italian viewing public could not have forgotten these cases, had it wished to. (22) The four vintage cases include Doretta Graneris, who, together with her boyfriend, Sergio Baldini, killed her father, mother, brother, and grandparents on 13 November, 1975, in Vercelli (Piemonte) to secure her inheritance. On 4 August, 1989, Ferdinando Carretta killed his parents and brother in Parma and, claiming they had all left the country to live in South America, fled to London where he lived until returning to Italy nine years later to confess. With the help of three friends, Pietro Maso killed his parents on 16 April, 1991, in Montecchia di Crosara (Verona), and then spent the evening night-clubbing. (23) Of all the delinquents, his cool lack of affect proves the most remarkable for Italian collective memory. The last case history perpetually used to round out the group is that of Nadia Frigerio, who killed her mother on 4 November, 1994, in San Michele (Verona) to secure her rent-controlled apartment. In addition to these, the more recent case of the four young women in Chiavenna who, on 4 June 2000, putatively impelled by the "satanic" music of Marilyn Manson, killed Suor Maria Laura Mainetti, as ritualistic offering seems more on point for the way it begs the issue of violence in a female youth offender.

In his 2000 study I nuovi adolescenti, psychologist Gustavo Pietropolli Charmet sees an increasingly violent society as one of the leading challenges to parents of adolescents. For Charmet the etiology of violent behavior in young adults is usually attributable to violence endured during childhood (175-76). Yet, different from the mass of documented violent youth offenders, Erika and Omar did not experience violence at the hands of family members or other adults. In fact, surprise and normality recur so often in reportage of the case that they become a topos: surprise or disbelief that two such seemingly "normal" teens could plan and commit such a violent crime. What was the provenance of such violence? Significantly, the brief moments when Erika and Omar were left unattended in the caserma were compared by the press to scenes from "un film d'orrore." In fact, throughout the investigation and later trial, narrative (literary, cinematic, and musical) was thought to have influenced the young couple, particularly Erika. (24)

In the week following the murders, as the RIS forensic specialists scoured the house for physical evidence, they discovered in Erika's bedside table a copy of Giovanni Verga's collection, Novelle rusticane. The story "Liberta," in particular, was heavily underlined. This fact is easily explained by reviewing the reading list in the high school where Erika was a student: Verga is required reading of all high-school-aged students in Italy. Yet Erika was no academic eagle, and appeared not to take much pleasure in reading and study. In light of accumulated evidence pointing to Erika's participation and culpability, however, the annotated short story was thought to acquire greater significance. Recovery of Erika's diary in roughly the same time frame and place as the victims' bodies also seemed to underscore the importance of Verga's text.

Verga's short story, written in 1883, is set in a small village on the slopes of Etna in 1860, as Garibaldi's Mille make their way through the island "liberating" Sicily from both the foreigner as well as its age-old feudalism, thus weaving the story into the tapestry of events known as the Risorgimento. "Liberta" is a story of graphic violence and tremendous irony. Verga's prose describing the peasant uprising is as quick and choppy as the rise and fall of the hatchets, sickles, and scythes the townsfolk employ to "cut themselves free" from the yoke of serfdom. These farm implements cut a swath not through the accustomed wheat, but through the crowd, quickly and inexorably mowing down landowners, lawyers, priests, and aristocrats, irrespective of gender or age. And the short, staccato "Viva la liberta!" punctuates nearly every dispassionate and realist description of violence. The catharsis that this unchoreographed bloodletting affords is quashed by a military restoration, whose mechanisms of law and order can neither explain nor tolerate the violent lawlessness the uprising displayed. The elliptical sentence that ends the story speaks volumes. En route to prison following a cursory trial, the condemned carbonaio exclaims: "[...] se mi avevano detto che c'era la liberta [...]!" (325). If they had told him that liberty taken by violent means would end in the loss of every liberty, perhaps he would have reconsidered his actions. Despite the apparent lack of motive, the RIS had suspected Erika nearly from the discovery of the bodies; thus, reports that they had recovered Verga's short story, heavily annotated, led the press to suppose Erika had drawn inspiration from it, seeking her own liberty from her parents' interference in her relationship with Omar. However, as the investigation showed, although Susy informed her daughter she did not care for Omar, it was not demonstrated that she forbade Erika to see him. What, then, did Erika need liberty from or for?

At the trial (in closed court), a member of Erika's defense team assayed a link between the germ of the idea to slay Erika's family and her interest in The Doors, which Omar had described as "her passion." Omar testified he had given her a copy of Oliver Stone's film about the band as a gift and claimed they had watched it countless times. The attorney read aloud from Jim Morrison's lyrics from "The End," an apocalyptic ballad in which another "normal" narrator succumbs to the deep structure of Oedipal jealousy and rage and lays waste to his family. (25) "Ti ispiravano quelle parole?" he asked; "Condividete quella visione?" Erika replied that "i Doors le piacevano, ma niente di piu, erano la passione di Omar." Without any noticeable affect, Erika was non-responsive. (26) Like Verga's short story, the ending to this path of inquiry was inconclusive.

If narrative of various brands and vintages was not blamed as having nourished Erika's morbid and violent tendencies, it curiously marched at the same pace of events of 2001 when adolescent violence appeared relentlessly before the Italian public, on screens large and small alike. For example, Andrea Porporati's Luce negli occhi played in cinemas to some critical acclaim, and the shooting death of Carlo Giuliani during the July G8 summit in Genoa horrified television viewers. (27) In his film, Porporati, best known for his screenplay for Gianni Amelio's award-winning Lamerica (1994), tells the story of Marco (Fabrizio Gifuni), a troubled, violent teen. Like Erika's and Omar's, Marco's weapon of choice is the carving knife, which, if used as an instrument of violence, produces an intimacy a firearm does not. Like Erika's and Omar's, Marco's hostile object is a parent, in the film's case, Marco's father. Concerning the representation of actual events, the footage of Genoa's chaotic Piazza Alimonda in the late afternoon of July 20, 2001, shot by the Reuters cameraman and which Francesca Comencini includes in her short film, "Carlo Giuliani, Ragazzo" (2002), is more detailed than any of the still photographs of the protest. Camera angles, from which the still photos of various news services were taken, tended to collapse distance between the protesters and the carabinieris' jeep. This is particularly the case for the widely diffused photo taken from the rear with a telephoto lens showing Giuliani positioned in the foreground with the jeep behind him. In this photo, Giuliani hoists the fire extinguisher and, because of the lens's characteristic flattening of depth in the visual field, the young man appears closer to the jeep than he does in the video footage, or in any photograph taken from a different position. Still photos, and particularly this one, were employed to rally consensus and support the contention that Giuliani, because of his greater proximity to the vehicle, appeared so menacing and aggressive that the shot the young carabiniere said he fired in defense of his life was accepted as a reasonable response.

The shock at Erika's and Omar's brutal, unexpected violence derived partially from the teens' secrecy but also from their parents' wish to respect the young couple's privacy. Although De Nardo family intimates stated that Susy had expressed concern over what she felt was her daughter's too-consuming relationship with Omar, no outright prohibitions appear to have been made. Establishing a love relationship is a "normal" phase of psychological separation from the parent, as Charmet and myriad other experts observe (Charmet 73-77; Andreoli 125-39). The adolescent's need for privacy on this front, like the teen violence detailed just above, similarly joined the moment of public and cultural articulation with the premiere, several short weeks after the Novi Ligure murders, of Nanni Moretti's La stanza del figlio.

This successful and acclaimed film about the accidental drowning death of a young man and its aftermath for his family revolves around secrecy and revelation. The habitus of privacy is inscribed both by the title and the camera. Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), the son named in the title, occupies his distinct architectural space, the room of the title and, the viewer learns, repository of his secrets. Like son, like father, for Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is often shown in his office where, as a psychoanalyst, he listens to clients' secrets, private wishes, desires, and fears. Numerous tracking shots make clear how separation and union flow seamlessly together and apart in this happy family. Andrea's correspondence with Arianna (Sofia Vigliar), uncovered only after his death, is not his only secret. Although Giovanni has publicly supported his son, insisting on his innocence and another explanation for the disappearance of a fossil from the school laboratory, Andrea confesses to his mother, Paola (Laura Morante), that in fact he did commit the theft. Indeed, Andrea's confidence in Paola as the keeper of one secret proves all the more devastating to her sense of intimate understanding of her son when she learns of the beginnings of the romance he kept privately to himself. The question of whether the family can survive the trauma of Andrea's death suggests that La stanza del figlio could be Moretti's most political film, as Guido Bonsaver has persuasively argued, and not solely the domestic drama that most critics saw and that, however well-acted, marked a retreat from the director's more engage films.

The family, whose position in society makes it rich with transformational potential, is a common thematic in Moretti's oeuvre. In fact, one of the fault-lines of the director's corpus reaches from his role as contrarian 1970s teenager (Io sono un autarchico and Ecce Bombo, 1976 and 1978, respectively) to father (Aprile, 1998); more than one critic has observed that after celebrating his son's birth in Aprile, Moretti was forced to (symbolically) kill him off in his next film. The self-doubt lurking at the edges of Aprile (will he be able to direct the musical? will he be a success as a parent?), yet another film to blend fact with more fanciful representation, sits squarely center-stage in La stanza del figlio.

The transformation from rebellious teen to reflective cultural worker who, in evaluating the socio-cultural legacy of 1968 wonders what long-term changes it spawned, is a trait Moretti shares with Lidia Ravera. Like Moretti, Ravera's debut also dates from 1976 and her celebrated co-authored novel, Porci con le ali: diario sessuo-politico di due adolescenti, explored life from the point of view of two sixteen-year-olds buffeted by the winds of change of the 1970s. In addition to its trenchant social commentary on life and mores, the novel's salient characteristic is its dual, alternating narrative. Rocco and Antonia share the narrative voice which, significantly, corresponds to the novel's actual composition: Porci con le ali is a novel written "a quattro mani" by Ravera and Marco Lombardo Radice. Gender equality is not simply a thematic the book explores through various couples and couplings; rather, it is an aesthetic and ethical practice.

Ravera's 2003 publication, Il freddo dentro, does not feature two teenagers on such even gender terrain, even though she takes, once more, two adolescents as her subject. In this book, her "open letter" to Erika in the Beccaria prison in Milan seeks to fill in the many lacunae in the case concerning motivation, particularly Erika's. Ravera uses a fiction writer's tools to get at what lies beneath Erika's cool exterior as well as the surface of the case, calloused as it is by so much media handling. Il freddo dentro is as much--if not more--about Ravera herself as Erika. During Ravera's July, 2004, appearance on RAI 3's "Gap," audience members, referring to Porci con le ali, asked the writer to compare Italian adolescents from the 1970s with those in contemporary society. Using Erika's as a case in point, Ravera describes her considerable concern over the state of the Italian family, which she described as "un microscosmo di una societa rotta" ("Gap: Generazioni alla prova!" RAI 3, 23 July, 2004, 01:31:35-02:03:17). She finds that "la dialettica tra le generazioni e qualcosa di fondamentale," and that the battles of the 1970s have given way to silence and secrecy of both generations. Toni, an audience member, comments that the sessantottini inveighed against an ossified family structure but, paradoxically, offered nothing in its stead to their own children. That generation, he observes "ha costretto noi a costruire la figura del genitore" ("Gap: Generazioni alla prova!" RAI 3, 23 July, 2004, 01:31:35-02:03:17).

In another work, Sebastiano Vassalli's novel Archeologia del presente, the reader is unambiguously referred to the vicissitudes of the Erika and Omar case. This bitter and ironic novel that telescopes events in Italian society from 1970 onward features an anonymous first-person narrator and his two friends, Leo and Michela Ferrari. All the fictional characters, like their author, hail from the 1968 generation, and their naive embrace of every social cause and movement from that time forward drives Vassalli's narrative. In an act corresponding to their engagement with women's liberation, sexual liberation, gay rights, the rights of the psychiatrically challenged, the rights of animals, the peace movement, the anti-nuclear armaments movement, transcendental meditation, Greenpeace, and so forth, Leo and Michela adopt two children, Marlon (for Marlon Brando) and Aria. Despite the largesse these fundamentally bourgeois do-gooders lavish on them, their children suffer from a kind of reaction formation, Marlon in particular, who becomes a member of the Guardie padane (read: "naziskin leghista") and strays from his parents' social conventions and political inclinations. After various run-ins with the law, Marlon and Gigliola, his unwholesome girlfriend, lay waste to the entire household, killing both parents and his adoptive sister. Given the narrator's longstanding friendship with the Ferraris, and eager to expose the putative underlying pathology in the case, the magistrate asks whether the narrator could visit Marlon in detention:

Forse Marlon le dira qualcosa di nuovo," ha aggiunto il giudice. "Forse le spieghera perche lui e Gigliola hanno deciso di sterminare la famiglia Ferrari. Chi ha avuto l'idea e chi ha sparato. A noi, il ragazzo continua a ripetere sempre la stessa storia [...]. Dice di aver agito in un raptus e che Gigliola, con la strage, non c'entra. Cerca di scagionare la sua compagna, che invece si comporta in modo opposto e non gli risparmia nessuna accusa, pur di tornare libera. (165)

The narrator's meeting with Marlon reveals no weighty epistemology of evil, which turns out to be as banal as Hannah Arendt supposed. The structural similarities of the crimes Vassalli narrates to the Erika and Omar case are too obvious to disregard. The scene of violence is laid at home, a sibling is killed, and initial blame is placed on immigrants. Further, the massacre takes place, as it does "in real life," in the barricaded hinterland of Italy's regional North, where, despite their parents' aim to shelter them, the children nevertheless are deeply familiar with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (28) The protectionist attitude of the bourgeois enclaves of villette like those in Novi Ligure is the very thing Vassalli attacks in his article entitled "Odio e noia di provincia," published four days following the Cassini-De Nardo deaths. The murder weapon differs in Vassalli's novel, where the violent intimacy of Erika's and Omar's knives disappears. And whereas the fictional couple succeeds in killing Leo, by contrast Erika and Omar failed to murder Francesco De Nardo alongside his wife and son, though that was their intention and was in fact the only thing upon which Erika and Omar agreed in their discrepant narratives of the crime. It is worth noting that Vassalli's book appears in June, 2001, before the reports of the psychiatric experts are completed or filed, and during a time when speculation about Erika's and Omar's motives thrives.

Steeped in self-pity, Marlon tells the narrator during their prison interview that "i miei genitori adottivi si sono occupati di me soltanto perche diventassi uguale a loro. Volevano un figlio fotocopia" (166). Ultimately, Vassalli's narrator agrees with Marlon's assessment that his parents were "egoisti." As if his narrative were a film and the narrator a director, Vassalli concludes Archeologia del presente with a radical zoom-out, so that Leo and Michela's deaths are seen as the necessary consequence to the social upheaval of 1968 and its aftermath. No Bertoluccean epochal hagiography here as in the director's most recent film, The Dreamers. At the novel's close the narrator raises a glass in bitter toast:

A tutti quelli che in ogni epoca hanno speso le loro vite per far diventare il mondo perfetto, e a che prezzo di sofferenze e di enormi fatiche sono riusciti a portarlo dov'e adesso, cioe sull'orlo del baratro. Ho scosso la testa. Ho ripetuto: Che idioti.


Vassalli pulls back, taking the long and macroscopic view of the events following 1968 in Italy. Significantly, a similar operation is at work in the photographic image with which I began.

The null at the center of the infinitely reproduced image of Erika and Omar ideates the struggle that often characterizes the formation of identity. What once was clear and identifying is transformed, meaningfully, into a half-presence, a smudged image only partially knowable and, even then, informed by location, perspective, and a host of other qualifiers. The issues devolving from the murders of Susy Cassini and Gianluca De Nardo in 2001 illustrate the ways in which various identities (gendered, generational, regional, and national) vie with one another for prominence, passing from moments of utter clarity (like the certifiable xenophobic panic that seized the area surrounding Novi Ligure from 21-23 February, 2001) into haze.

Vassalli's novel ends in a manner comparable either to a movement of lens (a zoom-out) or of camera (pulling back on the dolly); both retreats back away from the close-up of contemporary events to present a wider frame wherein the grand narrative of Italian social and cultural history after 1968 is also made visible. Drawing back from a small, tightly focused topic reveals, as a tapestry or mosaic might, the imbrications of gendered, generational, regional, and national identities in contemporary Italy. Whereas the Novi Ligure murders horrified Italians across generations, films like Luce negli occhi and La stanza del figlio, in concert with an analysis like Ravera's Il freddo dentro, or the host of other sociological texts concerning parenting, insistently underscore the fissure between adolescents and their parents in contemporary Italian culture and society. Contemporary Italian teens did not invent the generation gap (ironically, their parents helped popularize the problem in the post-1968 era as adolescents themselves). The desire to (symbolically) kill a parent, familiar and durative in mythic form, does not distinguish the current adolescent generation from the one that came before it, but the violence in which contemporary youth offenders engage. The erasure of the formerly familiar, like the photographic encryption of Erika's and Omar's faces, is what the narrative of their homicides exemplifies.

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(1) A version of this print image can be found at http://www.repubblica. it/online/cronaca /novicinque/penti/penti.html

(2) Alan Turing's experimental "gender game" consisted of "a man and a woman in separate rooms conversing only with written messages [who] try to convince each other that they are both women." As Stallabrass notes, "[w]hen video rather than text is exchanged the conventional boundaries of identity may be re-established" (357).

(3) Although the face is still the sine qua non of identification in criminal investigation, increasingly, identity assigned by the State is based equally on a numeric system as well as on a photographic one, as in the form of the passport, for example, used for travel among differing sovereign states. Identity theft, for example, is based almost entirely on numerical identities (social security numbers, access codes, credit card numbers, etc.). For a more postmodern understanding of the ways in which faces may not convey identity, see also Grealy's Autobiography of a Face and the coverage of Isabella Dinoire's face transplant in France in November, 2005.

(4) I elaborate on the fuller range of identity formation, including regional, national, and gendered identity, in a longer treatment in my forthcoming study Making a Killing.

(5) This struggle bears obvious similarities to the struggle toward language and all that language acquisition subtends (entry into society, its laws and practices) that Jacques Lacan describes (1-7).

(6) Victims included, in December, 1999, Luciano Pavarotti's dietologist, whose Modena home was burgled; on 13 January, 2000, Pippo Baudo's physician, Domenico Sparta, who was taken hostage in his villa and forced to open his safe; and, on 13 January, the designer Mariella Burani and her family were surprised by intruders in their home in Emilia-Romagna. Finally, in the same period, three armed robbers shot and killed a man outside Carpi.

(7) Although Manuel Castells observed that cities would "be at the forefront of the waves of racism and xenophobia" (324), the suburbs, at least as witnessed in the recent violent upheaval outside Paris, have emerged as another important proving ground. See Auge 187-89.

(8) Guido Chiesa's 2003 short film for Telepiu, Sono stati loro: 48 ore a Novi Ligure, enumerates various imprecations against the town's immigrant population. Like the clouded identity formation I have been discussing, this short feature-documentary blends actual reportage with staged interviews and commentary, complicating its generic designation.

(9) Sono stati loro illustrates the exact coincidence of the national debate on immigration and the crimes in Novi Ligure: just as Bruno Vespa was staging a debate on immigration between Gianfranco Fini (Alleanza nazionale, or An) and Pietro Fassino (PDS) on the episode of "Porta a porta" of 21 February, another channel, TG Notte, was breaking the news of the double murder in Novi Ligure. While Umberto Bossi and other Lega lombarda leaders decried the crimes wrought "in casa nostra," Francesco Rutelli (of the center-left Margherita Party) accused the media, and in particular Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset conglomerate of submitting "il pubblico a un bombardamento mediatico sui temi della sicurezza." Later Rutelli "ha ammesso che la richiesta di sicurezza risponde a una esigenza reale pero [....] certi tg hanno esasperato i fatti di sangue in cui sono protagonisti gli stranieri" (Il Corriere della sera, 24 February, 2001).

(10) As the headline from the Il Corriere della sera of 23 February reads: "An e Lega contro gli immigrati. Il Viminale: si indaga in tutte le direzioni."

(11) For the indistinct confluence of various regions in the rhetoric of the northern leagues, see Cento Bull 263, and Agnew.

(12) See Anderson 17-49 as well as Dickie 22-23. I will return below to the ways technology aids in the formation of an imagined community.

(13) There may have been some concern for "copycat" crimes stemming from the Novi Ligure homicides: on 4 March the dailies reported on "Effetto Erika: ragazza accoltella la madre con il fidanzato [nel Novarese]." Indeed, as reported by the 5 March, 2001 dailies, three sets of parents (or their daughters), worried about guilt by association, apply for official permission to change their names from "Erika," with that idiosyncratic spelling. I return below to the problem of copycat crime as concerns critical theory.

(14) It is worth noting that the title of one of the latest books on Italian adolescence by psychologist Paolo Crepet, whom I further discuss below, bears a similar split: Voi, noi. Sull'indifferenza di giovani e adulti.

(15) The teens withdrew completely from society during the course of their romance. Friends of the young couple attested to changes in attitudes and behaviors since the time they began dating: other friendships fell away, they spent each afternoon Monday-Saturday together, typically at the Favaro house where his father was absent for work and his mother was perceived as less strict than Susy.

(16) It is a tragic irony that the individual with the greatest need for privacy during the funerals and in the troubling time immediately afterward, Francesco De Nardo, was not accorded the same privilege. And De Nardo's face, arguably his most identifying trait, was broadcast incessantly by every service in all visual media. Contrary to increased reliance on numeric identity, the face is still the sine qua non of corporeal identity. Significantly, the crowd of people waiting outside the Turin courthouse where the murder trial took place were there to "guardarla [Erika] negli occhi."

(17) The gap between parents of the post-'68 generation and their children has given rise to a mini-boom in the publishing of parental guides and in sociological investigations of juvenile distinction. In addition to Crepet's Non siamo capaci di ascoltarli, the genre includes his I figli non crescono piu as well as his co-authored text with magistrate Giancarlo De Cataldo, I giorni dell'ira. Storie di matricidi, concerning juvenile delinquency, De Cataldo's monographs, Teneri assassini, and his more recent Il padre e lo straniero. It takes a wry (and gay) ironist like Aldo Busi in his Il manuale del perfetto papa (beati gli orfani) to lampoon books like the last of De Cataldo's list.

(18) SMS came to stand for "Se mamma sapesse." "Anche Erika pare si sia scambiata degli SMS con il suo fidanzatino, come fanno tutti i ragazzi, sempre piu immersi nel mondo della comunicazione (moda, cinema, tv, radio, cellulari, computer e ogni altro tipo di ombelico elettronico) [...]" (Il corriere della sera, 25 February, 2001).

(19) Ample evidence in support of the ways identity and affiliation are forged from a distance are provided, for example, by the communicative and colonial strategies of the Catholic Church. Mattelart discusses the use of the missionary press to "amplify the faith in all corners of the world" (The Invention of Communication 179-86). For the ways in which these types of affiliative processes are transformed in the Internet age, see Mattelart's Networking the World 75-96.

(20) On the nationhood of "queer nation," see, among other sources, Berlant and Warner 552-64, and Warner 6-11.

(21) In fact, since Erika's and Omar's drug use was deemed habitual, the notion of a "raptus," or drug-induced blackout, was not available as a defense.

(22) The RAI multi-media catalogue discloses 131 "hits" representing coverage of Erika and Omar between 27 February and the end of December, 2001. This does not mean that 131 separate programs aired; records of broadcasts on privately held channels are not reliably available. Mediaset, for example, does not archive its broadcast materials. The RAI extensively archives its broadcasted programs because of its position as the state-sponsored television network, something that establishes a very different relationship with the viewing public than that of Mediaset or other private television networks. In the year 2001, archived material for the RAI radio network shows 398 services concerning the Novi Ligure murders. This is also not to suggest that interest in the case ends with the calendar year 2001, or with Erika's and Omar's penal sentences. Reliably, the Novi Ligure murders are used for programming in February, marking the anniversary of the deaths of Susy and Gianluca. In addition, the events of Novi Ligure are also invoked when exploring violent youth, in domestic violence, in youth "at risk," etc.

(23) For a literary representation of violent indifference like Maso's, see Ammaniti's short story "Rispetto" (Fango 137-47).

(24) The presentation of the Erika and Omar case illustrates the problematic inculpation of violence expressed in cultural practice, most particularly but not exclusively cinema, an approach wherein the consumer of violence, like the viewer of pornography, is impelled to re-enact what she or he views, reads, or thumbs through. For a thorough examination see Seltzer 29-38, and for a critique of pornography's cumbersome association to violence against women, see Kipnis 375-76. Compare also Zizek's critique of this faulty reasoning 73-75.

(25) Some salient lyrics from this song include: "The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on [...]/He came to a door [...] and he looked inside/Father, yes son, I want to kill you/Mother, I want to fuck you."

(26) Lack of affect, so noteworthy in a juvenile offender like Pietro Maso or in myriad pop culture examples of serial killers, recalls Frederic Jameson's stylistic descriptions of postmodernism, which presents the "waning of affect," and exhibits the "emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense--perhaps the supreme formal feature of all postmodernisms" (60).

(27) Porporati's film, also entitled Sole negli occhi, tied for the Gran Prix that year with Tornando a casa at the Annecy Italian Cinema Festival. The Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists also nominated Gifuni for best male lead, Gianni Cavina for best supporting actor for his role as Marco's father, and Porporati for best new director.

(28) As place names are partially censored throughout the novel (e.g., "Comune di ***"), Vassalli obviously wishes the location to be both imprecise and representative.

Ellen Nerenberg

Wesleyan University
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Author:Nerenberg, Ellen
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Date:Jan 1, 2006
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