tEstA dI MiNChiA – Part 2
Apparently, I can still be shocked.
Walking with friends through the center of Catania a few days after the recent Italian national elections, I spotted a series of posters like these pasted on the walls of buildings:
There’s essentially no need for a translation, as the tactic of scaring voters with homosexuality is, by now, as American as apple pie, and it’s no surprise that the Italian neofascists should have learned a great lesson from the 2004 American elections, in which Republicans whipped gruel-brained Xians into a frenzy with the terror that homosekshals were at their very door. (Just like Reagan did with communists, remember? “…. ninety miles from Brownsville, Texas….”)
Just the same, here’s a low-res closeup. “We’re voting for Prodi for gay marriage,” says the caption underneath the sadomaso/Rocky Horror Picture Show couple tongue-kissing at (one imagines) a gay pride event somewhere.
What’s so maddening about the thing is…. Well, where to begin? Perhaps more than anything, what’s maddening is that right-wing propaganda works so well precisely because it tells lies that are both (a) very simple and (b) close to the fears that run like crazed hamsters through the minds of stupid people. And that so little can be done to alter that fact.
One often hears how “education and information change minds,” but the older I get, the less I’m convinced. I’m certain that education and information change some minds, and I realize there’s no alternative but to try, but I’m equally certain that providing information to people like the baby nazis at www.maqualimoderati.it is essentially like trying to explain to a rattlesnake that you’re a very nice person who loves reptiles and that you mean him no harm. Honey, he’s going to bite you and there’s no two ways about it.
Maqualimoderati, by the way, is a front for “Azione Giovane,” a Rome-based neofascist youth organization that has a lot in common with the fine human beings at Lega Nord. (See “tEstA dI MiNChiA – Part 1.”) The kids at Azione Giovane are creative and tireless, and if they had t-shirts, they’d probably read: “So many people to hate. So little time.”
Here, for example, is their poster expressing their outrage at the legalization of same-sex unions in Spain (“Excuse us for being normal,” the headline reads):
And, of course, like right-wingers across the country (perhaps across the world), they don’t like ferners either (“Illegal Immigrants Get Out”):
I’m not sure why it’s so much more infuriating (and depressing) that the “We’re Voting for Prodi” misinformation campaign (along with all the other campaigns Azione Giovane is involved in; their website is terrifying) was conceived of and directed by young people. There’s no particular reason why young people should be less hateful and small-minded and bigoted and blockheaded than older people. And yet one sort of hopes they will be. They, after all, have greater access to information and education, at least in theory, and yet what good is it doing?
Meanwhile, I don’t have any reason to think that Italians are more homophobic than Americans. Italian homophobia exists, of course, but it has a different hue. For one thing, it tends to be less physically violent — tends to be, I say, because queer and transsexual people have been attacked and even killed here, though I haven’t seen any indication that Italians have adopted the grand tradition of piling all your friends into a car on a warm weekend evening and driving to the “gay neighborhood” to find a queer to bash.
But Italian homophobia is more deeply rooted in gender terror, I think, than is the American version — the idea that queer people are essentially gender deviants (feminized men and insufficiently-fucked women). Among the normally ignorant here (versus the psychopathically ignorant who profess to hate homosexuality but are simultaneously obsessed with it), the distinction between homosexuality and transsexuality blurs. (Alessandra Mussolini, for example, the Italian pol and granddaughter of Il Duce who is planning to run for mayor of Rome, recently slammed a transsexual candidate for Parliament with the memorable line, “Better a Fascist than a faggot.”)
And, of course, Italian homophobia gets a big helping hand from the Pope, who never misses an opportunity to fan the (you should pardon the expression) flames of hatred via the most vicious rhetoric he can manage without saying actual bad words. Last week, he took time out from piously kissing the ground during his first Easter “Stations of the Cross” observance to remind the world about a “diabolical threat aimed at eliminating the family.” Three guesses what he meant, and the first two don’t count.
Finally, Italian homophobia is, in an odd way, more out of the closet. Azione Giovane’s “We’re Voting for Prodi” campaign probably wouldn’t happen in America — not because we’re nicer, but because we’re more concerned about being sued. The fact is that the poster contains two lies: 1. “gay marriage” was never part of Prodi’s campaign — early on, he spoke about support for PaCS [see “A Gay Couple Invites Prodi for Supper“], which is a far cry from gay “marriage”; and 2. about a month before the elections, even PaCS disappeared from the platform of Prodi’s coalition, L’Unione, thanks to dissent among the member parties, only one of which [Rosa nel Pugno] openly expressed support for PaCS right up until the end. What that means is that there is, arguably, a question of actionable libel in the poster.
Second, the use of an image like the one in “We’re Voting for Prodi” is homophobic on its face, as it is purposely intended to conflate homosexuality with sexual deviance, perversion, immorality, and (not to put too fine a point on things) fucking in the streets. Another reason why a poster like that wouldn’t get wide exposure in the U.S. is that there would be enough protest against a message that was so blatantly bigoted, and the poster would immediately be banned. Or, at the least, bands of rogue queers would go around yanking the posters down, which is actually even better.
Here — I can’t say why the “gay community” allowed the posters to stay up. (Perhaps in part because there isn’t a “gay community.”) I can’t say why the gay community didn’t mount a counter-campaign — perhaps with an image of Paolo Di Canio, the Lazio soccer team captain who gave his “loyal fans” a fascist salute when Lazio beat Rome in March 2005, and the caption: “I’m voting for Berlusconi.”
Di Canio, by the way, has a tattooed homage to Mussolini on his arm and, after the flap over the salute above (which he has repeated at other matches), Alessandra Mussolini declared herself “delighted” with the gesture and promised to send Di Canio a thank-you note.
But Di Canio’s blackshirt howdy and the “We’re Voting for Prodi” poster are all of a piece. On the one hand, there’s the great Italian respect for free speech and the right of individuals to speak their minds. On the other hand, there’s the great Italian fixation with “political correctness,” which strangles efforts to remedy what would be called (correctly, and politically) hate speech in the U.S. (If it comes to that, of course, Papa Ratz is equally guilty of hate speech, though he gets to call his deranged babbling “Christian love” instead.)
Perhaps it scarcely needs to be said that the ability to express oneself freely is essential to democracy. That right seems deeply rooted in Italy, even without any specific First Amendment tradition. But Italy needs a good, open debate over hate speech more than it needs any other American export, because what is consistently missing from the Italian context is a recognition of the moments in which free “expression” constitutes violence.
The “We’re Voting for Prodi” poster is designed to injure, to oppress, to trivialize, to intimidate, to harass. It is meant to hurt, and it does. To walk by those walls plastered with those posters was shocking, but most debilitating of all was to feel that I was the only one who was shocked.