Pompeii's outstanding discovery: a semi-taroque to promote a French documentary?

The outstanding discovery of Pompeii's thermopolis? According to journalist Giorgio Gandola, it is a 'semi-taroque' that served to promote the (French) documentary about the park.

Talk about an exceptional discovery. The picture of the Boxing Day breaking news began to emerge, when all the media broke the news of what had been widely described as an “exceptional discovery,” the decorated thermopolis resurfaced from the excavation of Regio V in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. In reality, this was nothing new: the thermopolis, as we explained in our article on the morning of December 26 (among the first to spread the news), had simply been explored more thoroughly (and this actually led to the revelation of new decorations, images of which were first released on December 26), but it had already been discovered a year and a half earlier. This is without calculating that there are about eighty thermopoliums in Pompeii: perhaps not as lavish as the one found in 2019, but still the discovery of a thermopolis in itself does not represent anything exceptional. The exceptionality lies, if anything, in the study possibilities offered by the materials unearthed, since, according to park technicians, such an environment has never been excavated as deeply.

Few newspapers have emphasized these aspects: Artslife stood out above all, which, in an article by Massimo Mattioli, in addition to stigmatizing the “superficiality of journalists who [...] are careful not to verify communications,” wondered how it was possible to find images of the thermopolis “’sold’ as a sensational discovery” in a “documentary that certainly took months to produce.” Indeed, the news of the discovery came the day before the airing, on Rai Due, of the docu-film Pompeii ultima scoperta, a documentary that featured the Park’s director (now acting) himself, Massimo Osanna, as protagonist and narrator, in which he gave an account, with some emphasis, of Pompeii’s discoveries in recent years. And then again the association Mi Riconosci according to which the hype diverts attention from the magagne, and Il Manifesto, with an article by Valentina Porcheddu, which related the so-called “discovery” to the workers’ protest of a few days earlier: “the images of the thermopoly,” the journalist wrote on Dec. 27, “rebounded in the media a short distance from the protest of the workers of the ticket offices of the Archaeological Parks of Pompeii and Herculaneum, who (due to the prolonged closure of the sites due to the pandemic) have not received their unemployment benefits for months. Thus, while astonishing with vacuous sensationalism, Pompeii Archaeology tries to conceal once again the onerous problems that plague cultural workers.”

In any case, communicatively, this is nothing particularly new for the Park’s current leadership: even on the occasion of a recent discovery (the remains of two victims) much sensationalism had been made over a piece of news that other experts have called “ridiculous” in relation to the uproar it has caused. Yet, even then, great waste of headlines in the newspapers.

There was thus a feeling that the “news” of the already discovered thermopoly was a kind of bombastic “trailer” for the documentary that would be broadcast the following day. To complete the picture now also comes an article by Giorgio Gandola in the newspaper La Verità, which focuses on the correlation between the... repeated discovery a year and a half later (a “stale brioche,” Gandola called it), and the documentary. “It seemed as if the Thermopolium,” Gandola wrote, “had been unearthed by Santa Claus himself and delivered as a cadeau to the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, who in statements and interviews in recent days forgot to point out a fact sagaciously noted yesterday by Italia Oggi: the find is at least a year and a half old and has been used to clockwork to launch a French documentary on Rai2.”

For Gandola, therefore, it is a “semi-tarocco,” a “cunning publicity battage” that nevertheless managed to get the documentary a share of 11.4 percent, with 2,976,000 viewers glued to their televisions as the images of Pompeii scrolled by. Of course, some will be able to say that it was good to make hype and sensationalism if the purpose was to publicize the Park. Of course, from a journalistic point of view, information should always be correct, even if the intent of the “semi-tarocco” is to spread culture (however, one cannot derogate from the correctness of information on the basis of the nobility of intent). But according to Gandola, there are also other aspects that should be investigated, starting with the fact that Pompeii ultima scoperta is not an Italian production: it is in fact Les dernières heures de Pompéi, which, moreover, has already been broadcast in France in March 2020. The same film was shown again on Rai2, with in addition the initial introductory minutes, which made use of the new images, those released in the media on December 26. A docu-film produced by Gedeon Programmes, in co-production with Rai, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, the American company CuriosityStream, Belgium’s AT Prod, RTBF (i.e., Belgium’s public television), and the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) co-production fund. And broadcast in several countries (France, Belgium, Germany) many months earlier than in Italy, where it arrived only last December 27.

RAI, “Italy’s top cultural corporation,” Gandola writes, “bought the documentary, constructed the incipit about fast food in the first century A.D., aired it, and went on to cash in on the compliments. Technically, as director Giammaria explained, ’we actualized it with the in-house team.’” And it is curious, Gandola says, “to note that a section such as Rai Documentaries, dedicated and financed with public money, limits itself to actualizing other people’s initiatives after having lavishly paid for them. Signs of awakening are awaited from the Parliamentary Supervisory Commission.” All this, moreover, comes at a time when we learn that the famous “Netflix of culture,” Minister Franceschini’s pet project, is being implemented outside Rai, in collaboration with a private company and with costs that are not exactly low. “Franceschini,” Gandola chimes in, “is thinking about his Netflix outside Rai, or at any rate exploiting its internal resources only minimally. Proud of his legion of honor, he has an eye for French cinematography even when it comes to illustrating Pompeii. As a result, public costs rise and the facility murmurs.”

Pictured (credit Pompeii Archaeological Park), technicians at work on the thermopolis discovered in 2019.

Pompeii's outstanding discovery: a semi-taroque to promote a French documentary?
Pompeii's outstanding discovery: a semi-taroque to promote a French documentary?

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.