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The Art of Making Do in Naples

2012
Author:

Jason Pine

The Art of Making Do in Naples

An American anthropologist traverses the contact zones between organized crime and everyday life in Naples

The Art of Making Do in Naples offers a riveting ethnography of the lives of men seeking personal sovereignty in a shadow economy dominated by violent organized crime networks. Jason Pine’s trenchant observations and his own improvised attempts at “making do” provide a fascinating look into the lives of people in the gray zones where organized crime blends into ordinary life.

Exploring musical performance as a pathway to the Neapolitan underworld, Jason Pine shows how the improbable becomes persuasive as he passionately embraces the challenges of uncertainty and vagueness that mark a highly stylized but passionate arena of social interaction. In the intense theatricality of their shape-shifting kaleidoscope of relationships and identities, Pine’s vivid interlocutors challenge the realism of anthropological description through an aesthetic realism of their own, one that dissolves the boundary between art and life.

Michael Herzfeld, author of Evicted from Eternity

“In Naples, there are more singers than there are unemployed people.” These words echo through the neomelodica music scene, a vast undocumented economy animated by wedding singers, pirate TV, and tens of thousands of fans throughout southern Italy and beyond. In a city with chronic unemployment, this setting has attracted hundreds of aspiring singers trying to make a living—or even a fortune. In the process, they brush up against affiliates of the region’s violent organized crime networks, the camorra. In The Art of Making Do in Naples, Jason Pine explores the murky neomelodica music scene and finds himself on uncertain ground.

The “art of making do” refers to the informal and sometimes illicit entrepreneurial tactics of some Neapolitans who are pursuing a better life for themselves and their families. In the neomelodica music scene, the art of making do involves operating do-it-yourself recording studios and performing at the private parties of crime bosses. It can also require associating with crime boss-impresarios who guarantee their success by underwriting it with extortion, drug trafficking, and territorial influence. Pine, likewise “making do,” gradually realized that the completion of his ethnographic work also depended on the aid of forbidding figures.

The Art of Making Do in Naples offers a riveting ethnography of the lives of men who seek personal sovereignty in a shadow economy dominated, in incalculable ways, by the camorra. Pine navigates situations suffused with secrecy, moral ambiguity, and fears of ruin that undermine the anthropologist’s sense of autonomy. Making his way through Naples’s spectacular historic center and outer slums, on the trail of charmingly evasive neomelodici singers and unsettlingly elusive camorristi, Pine becomes a music video director and falls into the orbit of a shadowy music promoter who may or may not be a camorra affiliate.

Pine’s trenchant observations and his own improvised attempts at “making do” provide a fascinating look into the lives of people in the gray zones where organized crime blends into ordinary life.

The Art of Making Do in Naples

Jason Pine is assistant professor of anthropology and media, society, and the arts at Purchase College, State University of New York. His next ethnographic research topic is methamphetamine and the biopolitics of performance enhancement in the rural Midwest of the United States.

The Art of Making Do in Naples

Exploring musical performance as a pathway to the Neapolitan underworld, Jason Pine shows how the improbable becomes persuasive as he passionately embraces the challenges of uncertainty and vagueness that mark a highly stylized but passionate arena of social interaction. In the intense theatricality of their shape-shifting kaleidoscope of relationships and identities, Pine’s vivid interlocutors challenge the realism of anthropological description through an aesthetic realism of their own, one that dissolves the boundary between art and life.

Michael Herzfeld, author of Evicted from Eternity

Jason Pine finds treasure in one city’s ‘a munezz’, or what some people of Naples call trash—referring to neomelodica music. A great companion to Saviano’s Gomorrah, Pine’s outsider perspective enables us all to safely witness this dangerous art of making do. With the eye of a cunning journalist and the descriptive skills of a fine novelist, Pine illuminates the murky world of the Camorra and Naples’ neomelodica scene. This is writing culture at its best.

Fred Gardaphe, author of From Wiseguys to Wise Men: The Gangster and Italian American Masculinities

Befuddling and even dangerous ethnographic research can be an engrossing read. . . . For ethnographers, danger often seems to accompany sticking one’s beak in—taking the side of subjects whose lifestyles, and lives, are threatened. Of course, in anthropology and other social-science disciplines, the ruling view has been that such partisanship is suspect, although it’s been a less-discussed concern that such partisanship risks losing scholars in action.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Jason Pine’s ethnography, The Art of Making Do in Naples, is a fascinating, original read about an unusual segment of Italian culture. This book is an ambitious undertaking jam-packed with descriptions and insights. It needs to be read slowly to be savored. It may even need a second read. But, just like the spectacle that is Napoli, the effort is worth it.

H-ItAm

Writing in a descriptive, narrative style appealing to general readers and students as well as scholars, Pine becomes a participant-observer in recording studios, festivals, and even the homes of singers and producers.

Book News, Inc.

The greatest merit of Pine’s work is to have penetrated deep into the folds of this heterogeneous culture by eschewing the distance of the opinionated intellectual immersing himself for more than ten years in its complex social web. His book offers research methods that serve as a counterpoint to the many writings that have approached neomelodica music by either labeling it ‘criminal-camorristic’ or depicting it with casual exoticism.

II Manifesto

Pine reveals his gift as a writer as he describes the frame within which his protagonists move, offering -- as much as to the reader who already knows these places and behaviors as to anyone who is less or not at all familiar with them -- careful and delicately recounted analyses of the urban spaces and interpersonal relations in which the naked gaze of the outsider and the mastery of the anthropologist unite in rich, elegant and very enjoyable writing.

ANUAC - Rivista dell’Associazione Nazionale Universitaria Antropologi Culturali

In The Art of Making Do in Naples, Pine’s... fieldwork in the metropolitan area of Naples has once again demonstrated that ethnographic research in western urban settings with the holistic orientation of classical social and cultural anthropology is not only possible. but extremely productive, and that its results open interesting new perspectives in urban studies.

Urbanites

Pine’s attention to these ‘affective-aesthetic’ relations, not only among the various agents of the neomelodica scene but also between them and the anthropologist, is what makes his study of neomelodica music particularly interesting. Faced with the problem of writing about a city that has been too often written about in a stereotypical, folkloric way, Pine brings the notion of gaze to the fore and illustrates the ways that the neomelodica milieu uses this notion to succeed in the art of making do.

Journal of Folklore Research

Overall, Pine provides a fine example of how to study networks like the camorra in Naples. Refreshingly, the author shies away from the distinction between North and South, placing his study squarely in Naples by focusing on an industry entrenched in Neapolitan fields of practical interaction.

Anthropology Review Database

The Art of Making Do in Naples is a sensitive portrayal of the neomelodica music scene in Naples and its surroundings. The book is clearly based on long periods of painstaking field work by the anthropologist in and around Naples and in close proximity not only to the performers of neomelodica but also to individuals close to, or involved in, Naples’ well-entrenched organized crime structures.

Mediterranean Quarterly

In his study, Pine meticulously reconstructs the specificity of meridionale and Neapolitan subalternity, beginning with the peculiar historical events leading up to the territorial and political unification of Italy.

Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa

The Art of Making Do in Naples

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction. The Contact Zone: Where Organized Crime and Everyday Life Comingle

1. Where There’s Money, There’s the Camorra

2. Making Do with Art: Counterfeit Music, Pirated TV, and Crime Clan Weddings

3. The Sceneggiata: Melodramas of Manhood, Allegories of Violence

4. Family Affairs: Coming of Age on Stage
Act One: The Ventriloquist’s Ventriloquist
Act Two: Betraying Secrets
Act Three: The Erotics of Exposure

5. Ethnographic Imbroglios

6. Who Am I and Who Are You? The Promise and Threat of Contact with the Camorra
Act One: Lying Together
Act Two: Seduction and Colonization
Act Three: Eye of the Storm

Conclusion: Making Do with Indeterminacy


Notes
Bibliography
Index

The Art of Making Do in Naples

UMP blog - Counterfeit capitalism and the neomelodica scene in Naples

In 2001, the beloved Italian singer Mina ended a near quarter-century absence from public view when she released footage from her recording sessions, Mina in Studio, on the Internet. In the midst of fieldwork in Naples in 2002, I watched on a pirate TV broadcast an alluring music video in which a young boy, Giulio, sang the Neapolitan language song “Passione,” written in 1938 by Libero Bovio. Clearly referencing Mina, the boy’s music video was set in a recording studio. Like Mina, he wore headphones and sung into a mic, but he lip-synched the lyrics, staging liveness.

The gesture was endearing to me. The boy, with his pre-pubescent
voce bianca (white voice), pulled it off well. He sang the classic Neapolitan canzone soul-style, set to a slow synth beat and peppered with auto-tuned flourishes at the end. He sang with confidence and verve. He was talented.

Read the full article.