My Dreadful Experience Interviewing Italian Academics


Podcasts are not popular in Italy yet. If you walk around and ask random people, you hardly find one who is even familiar with the term. But I’ve been listening to them for a long time so, recently, I’ve started one with the goal of approaching intellectually today problems.
After having spent more than 7 years living abroad, following my period of recovery from a serious accident that forced me back in my country, left in despair for almoust a year, and gave me time to discover the new form of dialogue emerged from Podcasts, I convinced myself that creating a platform where a careful analysis of the many problems that Italy is facing could be of great value.
All I had to do was find the right people to invite. And who better than Academics I thought, they must be perfect for this.
Well so far, it has been the greatest disappointment of my life.
Why? Before I answer that let me tell you something about my Country, and a bit more about the idea.

Italy is facing many problems on different fronts.
Everyone knows it. From an economic perspective all the way to a political instability.
Is that all? No. In my opinion, it goes much deeper, and much worse.
The vast majority of people have a careless mentality and an often resigned attitude.
Let’s start with elderly people. The chances the you hear the following if you engage with one on the streets, is close to a 100 percent.
– “Ahhh! Come si stava bene in Italia!” (Oh! How good life used to be in Italy!)
Elderly people don’t normally hesitate to express their nostalgia when thinking of the “good old days”. The 70’s, the 80’s and apparently even the 90’s.
Now. Was it? Was it actually as good as they remember? I don’t know, I wasn’t around back then to testify. But that’s not even the point. The point – clearly – is that it doesn’t help anyone.
Nostalgia can be a good thing when looking at a set of pictures from a special day of your life, but when it comes to the country quality of life? Not good.
– “Fine. I get it. Italy used to be the country of La Bella Vita and now it ain’t anymore. How nice of you to let me know…”

Looking back, seeing nothing but wonderful things, and then tell that to – especially – young people, can only make the future look hopeless for those who wish to improve it.
Not to mention the feeling of ungratefulness that can cause for what little good there’s still left.
Plus. I bet the same is going through your mind:
– “Is not that,by chance, you also happen to have a solution for that? You know… To bring back the good old days.”
– “No? Let me guess… Didn’t find the time to think of one uh?”
Right.. Of course they don’t. If they had one, they probably wouldn’t be concerned with letting everyone know that “There Is a Problem”, and being busy proposing such “Solutions” instead.
But anyway, elderly people who kind of “live in the past” isn’t that uncommon neither. It’s actually almost like an “Archetype” once you think about it!
So. As I said, discovering that they are not putting too much effort into being of service to the homeland wasn’t at all surprising. Nor was the next fact.

Most middle aged people are not too worried neither.
They might say they are, they certainly don’t back down when it’s time to complain about the country situation (complaining is a favorite of italians in general if you never happen to notice), but very few are seriously sitting down and having an honest and possibly useful debate about them. And those who do, are generally shouting.
So basically, pretty much everyone seems to know what the problems are, they are all pretty willing to let others know what they are, but when it comes to discussing what to do about them?
– “Nah, let’s make some something good to eat!”
Roughly speaking. That’s another favorite of italians which, one way or another, I’m certain you’ve noticed before!
I mean it’s not like we’re trying to hide it. If you ever talked to one, the chances that the conversation shifted into “food talks” in the first 3 minutes, are pretty much, still a 100 goddamn percent.
– “Eeeee! You liiiike italian food, aa?”
Rings any bell? I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing! Italian cousine is, after all, one of those things that the whole world appreciate about us. One of those things that makes people grateful for our “existance”. And – unfortunately – it’s also one of those things that, it’s almost impossible to resist. And that’s a problem.

Italians simply can’t resist, not only eating our undoubtedly high quality food, but also talking about it. Also when something else should definitely have the priority. And this are only the first problems that comes to mind. So far, pretty obvious ones too. But are they the only ones? No.
Now, let’s leave aside the other “crystal clear” ones, like; Politicians are more worried about status than results (cliché). Citizens tend to point fingers and assume they’re innocent victims (dangerously common). Most italians seems to be addicted to fashion and appearances (ok maybe not such a big deal but bad nonethless). Young people? Well, I’ve been posting from time to time on University Facebook groups asking for suggestions, and received mostly cheap sarcasm, so; bitter and resentful.
Again, nothing that “uncommon”. But in my opinion? There’s something much worse.
Which I absolutely detest to the core…
The typical italian does not attribute any importance to the words he chooses.

Since I’ve moved out of Italy when I was 19, I’ve been observing Italian culture almost as an outsider.
But when I came back, when I decided it was time to take some responsabilities and figure what I could do about it, I had to first – obviously – take a closer look at what was going on. And (you might rightfully object to this), what better place to do that than on TV?
What I discovered, was horrifying.
Alright. I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t turn on the damn TV. But I did type “Debate” on YouTube, and ended up watching a clip where Salvini – now deputy prime minister – was being interviewed by a journalist on national TV after one of his party members referred to the Italian people as – and I quote –Us, the white race.”
In the clip, immidiately after showing the moment where the politician said such thing, Salvini was asked by the journalist to justify the nature of the comment, since – for obvious reasons – created plenty of controversy. His answer? Uff, I’m ashamed just to translate this.
Salvini (gesticulating with his hands) – “Yess, I mean, wite Race… So to speak!”
Journalist (agreeing with his face expressions) – “Yes. Right. He was just saying, basically.”

Mystery solved…
Now. This has nothing to do with my personal opinion on Salvini’s politics, nor am I taking a stand against those who regard immigrants as a problem (they definitely are one), but what I’m simply pointing out, is this: the silly tendency of Italians to simply accept a poorly – and clearly dubious – explanation.
– “Yeah, I mean… Come on, he was just saying!”
– “Oh ok! Now I get it…”
Really?! That’s all? Is that enough? Does that settle things for good? Again, it isn’t about the comment itself, but for real? Are we going to accept on national television, in front of millions of people, a head of a party using “So to speak” as a justification?! Sad.

You want to prove that it wasn’t racism and that your party doesn’t embrace “Nazi” philosophy?
Fine. Do a better job.
You want to help the politician to prove that it wasn’t?
Well, first of all, you’re an unprofessional and corrupted journalist. But at least, prepare some sofisticated questions for Christ sake! I mean, can you imagine someone saying “So to speak” at the Bill Maher’s? Or during an interview with Jeremy Paxman?
If one of your politicians (if you’re british or from north america) walks into a room with any journalist, and even dares to say something like “I was just saying” to justify himself, Hes’ dead, Right? Like, his credibility is gone (righteously), so it’s his reputation along with his presumed integrity. All gone with one simple question. Being:
– “So let me get this straight… You don’t really mean what you say then?”
Bam. He’s lucky if he gets interviewed by a sport magazine after that.

So, there you go. That was my first “catch-up interview” with my country. That was when I realized that the biggest problem of all is that: The choice of words don’t matter.
And even worse, nobody seems to think it’s a problem.

(Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Ok. So that was a few months ago.
After that, when I decided that maybe a platform where problems are discussed with particular attention to details could be of help, all there was left to do was finding someone who’s willing to do that. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And that’s when I thought of Academics.
– “University professors can’t possibly like that!” I thought to myself.
Now, being used to listen to thinkers like Jordan B. Peterson, or someone like Sam Harris for that matter, I knew I wasn’t going to find anyone on their same intellectual level and capacity for articulation. But…
– “They’re teaching Psychology and Philosophy at the Universites! How bad can they be?”
They must certainly understand the importance of cautiously choosing words. They must also understand the enormous complexity of our societies and their relative problems (again thinking to myself), and, most importantly, since I naively gave all of that for granted…
– “As soon as I tell them what the idea is about, they must at least encourage me!”
Well. Let aside the fact that they didn’t even seem to think is a big problem (or at least that was my impression), I guess you pretty much know where we’re going with this…
Skepticism, carelessness, bitterness, resentfulness, crustiness, arrogance, pride and selfishness. That’s what I’ve got.

On the phone:
Academic no. 1;
Me: – “Yes am I speaking with Professor *****? Hi my name is Mark Granza, I’m the founder of (etc etc) the goal is to create a platform where serious discussions about today’s problems can take place, and provide a more sophisticated and careful narrative than the one of the mainstream media. As I understand you teach Y at Z, would you like to participate and come to talk about subject X?”
Answer: “No thank you I’m busy lately so…”
Academic no. 2:
Me: – “Yes am I speaking with Professor *****? Hi my name is (etc etc)
Answer: – “Send me an-email and I’ll let you know…”
no. 3:
– “Thank you, but I’m not really interested…”
no. 4:
– “Yes, yes, I know, that’s the way it is. Thanks… But good luck!”

Now that’s only for those who didn’t agree to come, which – by the way – fair enough you know, who am I after all? They don’t know me.
It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the fact that they might be already busy with their work, nor was I certainly expecting every single one of them to participate! But, that’s it?? Good luck?! How about:
– “Yes I know it’s like that, but since I’m very busy lately and I don’t think I can make it, let me give you X/Y number he/she might be interested!”
Or I don’t know…
– “Oh that’s sounds like a good idea! Unfortunately I can’t come, but tell me something more about it via e-mail and maybe I can suggest someone who could!”

Any of that was supposed to be a more likely outcome, considered that their primary job is to encourage young people to do something productive in the world.
Especially when most of italian youth is whining that they can’t get a job. But no. “Thank you but I’m busy” is what I mostly received.
Which also showed a bit of arrogance in my opinion, since I clearly stated it wasn’t about them (clearer then how it’s written above). Like;
– “Thank you for what? I’m doing this to provide educational value, not to have the immense privilege of having YOU as a guest!”
Clearly they didn’t saw it as such. What they saw, was a request to show how much “they know”. As indeed, I soon find out.

Recording episodes:

First one;
I’m not even gonna talk about it.

Second one;
A socioligist and self proclaimed “Death Expert” – around 60-65 – teaching at the most prestigious Psychology department in the country.
Her CV online is the longest I have ever seen, I didn’t read it all, but I’m pretty sure by the end she must have included her “pep talk” to her daughter’s wedding day.
By the way, don’t ask me what a “Death Expert” is ‘cause I can’t tell you, since to me it doesn’t sound that different from saying “I’m a Life Expert” considered the slight complexity of the topic.
But she claimed she was one.
She e-mail me twice before the interview. The first time to let me know that she wanted an official invitation on a letterhead. Ok, fair enough.
The second time, after I send it to her,  telling me – since the letter said the scope of the episode was to talk about the nature of her work – to send it again. And this time it must say instead that, and I quote; the purpose is to Promote My Master in Death Studies & the End of Life.
Wow! So much for the Educational Spirit professor!

Then. Here’s the kicker; During the recording of the episode, after I struggled for a good half an hour to make her understand it wasn’t an actual interview but more like a conversation (since as soon as I began with an ice-breaking question she started with her monologue and went on for what seemed like an eternity), in the middle of it – talking about Death as a taboo – I brought up the mass murdering Columbine duo.
As I was trying to expose their Satanic and purely Evil motivation behind the killing spree (“I will make as many people as I can suffer before I leave this place”) and pointing out that people should be warned about the existance of such motivations, her interpretation was that, and I quote again;
– “Yes, that’s true. That is a problem indeed. We (as a society) Don’t recognize other people suffering…”
Let me translate that in case you’re confused. (Talking about the Mass Murderers motivations) I’m paraphrasing;
Me – “Wouldn’t you say that the fact that people are not educated on how someone can end up contemplating such monstrosities is a problem?”
Her – “Yes it is, people should know and have more empathy for their suffering…”
I let you guys make up your mind about that. One thing though, I feel free to say: Fair enough but, she totally missed the point. Badly.

Third episode;
A young Mathematician.
This one was actually alright. Probably due to the fact that the topic was “A.I. dangers” and we soon end up talking about “photons” and “quantum physics” (still out of my league) and I think that made him have some fun.

Fourth one;
Miss “Let’s have some compassion for mass murderers” husband.
HE kept telling me for half an hour – before recording – that I should send him a document ensuring that “the material of the episode cannot be used for other teaching purposes”. What does that mean…?
Something like:
– “… Who cares about the possible educational value provided in this conversation, what really matter is that I make sure noone can teach what I know, because I’m the one who knows it, and I only should have the credit for knowing it.”
Sad. Plus I wasn’t in my best shape, so I ended up doing a poor job during recording. Didn’t even release it.

Fifth (and probably last);
Get ready. I wouldn’t even know where to begin so, I’ll just summarize the whole thing with this: “University Philosophy Professor refused to wear headphones since he’s going to be fimed too.”
– “You are going to tape me on camera, I’m not wearing those…”
He probably thought he was too important to do such thing. I was speechless.
Just so we’re clear. He was around 45 years old, never published a single book, never been interviewed before, barely even appear on a google search, yet apparently still thought he was too important to wear headphones on camera.
Plus he sat the whole time like he was at a nightclub eyeing for chicks,  did nothing but placing fancy words randomly one after the other without there being a context, and began his boring pseudo-intellectual monologue – again – before I could even finish my first “ice-breaking” question! Very sad.

So. What have I learn from all this?
1. They don’t seem to thrilled about good/productive initiatives. No big deal right?
2. They don’t seem to care about education, but only status. Might be a cliché from politicians, but University Professors?
3. They don’t know how to have a dialogue, because they are not used to have one. Just in front of a camera…?
4. They are surely happy to come and speak, as long as you only let them speak, because what they are really interested in is to show how well they can speak. That’s for sure.
5. Well, they are not going to solve what – I believe – is the biggest problem of all, ‘cause: they’re part of the damn problem!
So logically, I might as well stop asking them! And, since I’m surely not gonna just sit and whine about it:
– “Enough with them, I’ll find someone else.”


Thanks for reading.

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