Tuesday, 15 December 2009

political discourse all'italiano

so someone has clumped Berlusconi in the face with a model of the Duomo in Milan, as you doubtless have seen on TV or in a paper somewhere. The greatest example of Italian Gothic, the Duomo is an almost uniquely spiky building and thus ideal for smashing people in the head with. Indeed it is in many ways the idea weapon since no-one is going to confiscate it from you when they search your bag, especially not if you are stood in Piazza del Duomo clutching your souvenir. Really it is a miracle that more people have not been smacked in the gob with great Gothic churches over the years. Thump Sarko with a miniature marble Chartres! Biff Thatcher with a scale model of Salisbury Cathedral! Fling Santa Maria del Mar at Aznar!

Perhaps not. Actually my sympathies lie more with Noel Godin, the Belgian custard pie-throwing anarchist. A pie to the face is messy, takes the recipient down a peg or two, and is both harmless and entertaining. Whatever you think of Berlusca I don't feel that throwing metal objects in the face of 73 year olds (even ones made substantially out of plastic) is particularly big or clever. He has broken two front teeth and a bone in his nose, and is still in hospital where apparently he is struggling to eat. I imagine that partly this is due to the ceaseless flow of visitors from all sides of the political spectrum who have been falling over themselves to be photographed caringly visiting the prime minister and sanctimoniously eschewing all violence in grave and measured tones. (Violence against politicians, that is. Violence against immigrants, Afghanis, epilectics on bail for drug possession, ultras etc is all fine and dandy). Members of Berlusconi's Popolo della Libertà have been assiduous in never leaving the injured man alone for more than 2 seconds, presumably in the (entirely well-founded) fear that a political rival will somehow nip in and secure a vital bedside moment of intimacy.

Mud is of course being thrown in all directions over the vexed question of the 'political climate' and whether the 'avvelenato' (poisonous) tone of political discourse in Italy is not at least partially responsible for this event. It should be noted that the man presumed responsible has been in psychiatric treatment for the last ten years (perhaps this was a unique moment of clarity). But Rosy Bindi of the Partito Democratico and Berlusconi's arch-enemy Antonio Di Pietro, leader of Italia dei Valori, have both suggested that the prime minister himself is at least partially to blame for creating a culture of rhetorical violence characterised by the routine demonstration of opponents, highly aggressive posturing and a continued escalation of ritual hostilities.

This argument interests me a lot. Certainly it is clear that Berlusconi and the right have helped to contribute to this political climate - which undoubtedly exists - though I would say that plenty of politicians on the left have also done so. What I think is more interesting though is the relationship which this posits between language and violence. Does aggressive rhetoric and violent language directly lead to acts of violence, and how can we trace that relationship? This is one of the themes I am interested in, in the context of my research, and I have been to a couple of workshops & conferences dedicated to this theme. It is very generally accepted that verbal incitement to violence can be highly effective. Witness the principle of laws against incitement to racial hatred; or more poetically consider this:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!

Henry V (III,i)

This speech only works if we accept the basic premise that words can lead to actions - and specifically that rhetorical violence spoken by one man can lead to actual violence on the part of others. But how this actually works remains, I think, to be interrogated more fully. How does a climate of political aggression incite psychologically unstable men to throw cheap replicas of architectural wonders at elderly politicians? Some of the government are reading this as a clear attempt to assassinate Berlusconi but myself I wonder if we shouldn't be reading this symbolically. It is, after all, the image of Berlusconi with a bleeding face which will linger in the public mind after this event, just as Berlusconi was attacked not only as an individual but as a symbol of what he and his government stand for.

Apparently, from his hospital bed, he has asked (rather plainively, it must be said) "I don't understand why they hate me so much." If he has contributed to creating this poisoned political discourse of hatred, demonisation, good vs evil and ultimately violence, it seems that the results are not quite what he was expecting.


MJ said...

Hey princess, Its sad what happened to berlusconi no-one deserves that no matter how much shoddy illegal mafia business he is connected to. However he is probbaly happy with the women linked to him he probbaly has the best looking, bella nurses around italy tending to his every needs probably multiple of them. Where are my beautifull nurses lol anyway did u respond to my comment about u, must be one of those beautiful bambina's at the olimpico i see on tv are you one of them cos those girls are molto bella!

Spangly Princess said...

Bambina is possibly the least appropriate description ever for me, I had decided to tactfully ignore this rather rude comment the first time round but if you insist on a reply then no, no I'm not. Because no-one over the age of 10 is a bambina. Bella si, bambina no.

Terry said...

Pssssst, I think he's coming on to you.

bernardlion said...

MJ, are you really as big a twat as your post makes you seem or did something get lost in translation?


It has crossed my mind that Tartaglia might have been paid to attack Berlusconi by someone close to the man himself, and what went wrong was that he actually succeeded (I doubt that Berlusconi or his henchmen actually intended for him to be injured).

Too cynical? Maybe, but the timing couldn't have been better - what a way to distract attention from all the political, personal and legal problems that have been dogging our illustrious leader. It would also explain why the bodyguards weren't more on the ball (and why Tartaglia is still alive and apparently intact - you'd've thought he'd be shot on the spot after an atack like that).

MJ said...

Ok i wasn't trying to insult you and i only know a few italian words and people have told me thats a common italian word to call a beautiful italian girl. Then what word would u suggest for we to use to describe a beautiful girl in italian?

Andy H said...

He can hardly be upset about a climate of violence when his government (or prominent members of it) provoked and cheerled an attack and razing of a Rroma community near Napoli.

Vastly wealthy 73 year old man who can afford the best reconstructive surgery money can buy, loses a couple of teeth - international tragedy

Poverty stricken community of Gypsies are attacked, lose their homes and meagre possessions and in many cases are badly injured - Woohoo, Go vigilante mob!

I'm not about to condone this, but I certainly don't feel any sympathy for the corrupt racist priapic old bastard

bernardlion said...

I would suggest you limit your comments to the content and omit any speculation as to Spangly's youth, beauty or whatever as being completely irrelevant and potentially offensive. But that's just my personal opinion.

And FWIW, although unfortunately it might be considered complimentary in the superficial Italian world which considers becoming a velina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striscia_la_notizia) to be a suitable and indeed admirable ambition for a young girl, you're not going to get anywhere with anyone with two brain cells by calling them a bella bambina. If you really want a suggestion (and part of me is pissed off by how you've managed to hijack what was a really interesting post), then mine would be to leave compliments in a foreign language to those who actually speak it and stick to your own language.

But seriously. You comment on a blog post discussing a serious political issue and call the blogger a "bella bambina"? That's offensive in so many ways I don't know where to start.

Spangly Princess said...

Andy, very true. In my list of people against whom violence is entirely acceptable to this government I had neglected to mention the Roma & Sinti. Apparently we are supposed to believe that burning the hovels of the extremely poor and excluded is a great benefit for the community. It's also pretty hard to be sympathetic to the architects of fingerprinting children.

MJ said...

Bernardlion, I guess your name is spangly princess too since your getting involved in an issue that doesn't involve you. I don't know why you keep persisting in involving yourself in this issue I haven’t used any insults, I haven’t criticised anyone and I haven’t even mentioned you once in this conversation. So what am trying to get my head around is why you keep getting involved, ah this must be it, do you dress up as a princess in your spare-time? Are you a cross-dressing weirdo hiding behind your computer screen? But anyway I don’t want to get into your twisted private life. So would you refrain from calling me a “twat”.

When I was directed to this post it was primarily a AS ROMA blog, that maybe boarders into more serious issues such as this one. And I saw this article which is interesting and I gave my opinion on it in my first sentence: “Its sad what’s happened to Berlusconi no-one deserves that no matter how much shoddy illegal mafia business he is connected to”. So I haven’t hijacked anything apart from you getting involved in things that haven’t been addressed to you, hasn’t your mother taught you any manners or anything?!. Then you finish your post with a hint of typical Italian fascism/racism: “leave compliments in a foreign language to those who actually speak it and stick to your own language”. Oh great bernardlion the cross-dresser is a racist, I don’t know if your Italian with that lame screen name like that but your comment is overtly racist, so your saying Italians should only be spoken by Italians and English should only be spoken by the English. Therefore you don’t want different countrymen to communicate and integrate in society by sharing a common language, thus in having normal conversations so Spangly princess here, would not even have a blog and I wouldn’t need to have a conversation with you and your fascist/racist values. Its 2009 buddy go back to a cave where you belong you Neo-Nazist cross-dressing Hitler lover! Therefore making you the most offensive ignorant idiot posting here! (Which in turn fits the exact characteristics of a Lazio fan)

patcook said...

lol wtf happened to this comment section...?

bernardlion said...

MJ, you're so far off the mark it's funny. Nice speculation, thoughbut. I'll refrain from commenting further, because you're right, it takes two to hijack a thread, and I'm guilty of being the second one.

bernardlion said...

So spangles, what do you think of my conspiracy theory? A serious possibility or am I in cloud cuckoo land?

Spangly Princess said...

interesting that this has all kicked off in the comments on a post about violent language.

I would prefer personal remarks to be kept out of this discussion since they have no place here. I nearly deleted this entire discussion but thought instead I would leave it up & offer a brief comment.

MJ, Bernardlion is the pseudonym of a very close friend of mine, who is neither Italian nor a Fascist, and certainly not a Lazio fan. She has reacted perhaps rather protectively towards me which is sweet but wholly unnecessary. My friends, family & partner are among the people who leave me comments and they are liable to be hostile to people they feel to have been inappropriate towards me.

Dear commentators, please don't be offensive towards one another, or me. Especially not when you are newly arrived such that I don't know you well enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Bern, I think your theory is evidence of living in Italy for too long.