2017, November the proposal of Donald Trump to introduce the Fake News Awards to be given to untrustable media (from Secolo d’Italia) images

Falsehood and truth, a tight bound

In the ‘50s, the filosopher Günther Anders wrote, “No self-respecting  felsehood contains something completely false”. (Old Man). In times of fake news, the mix between falsehood and truth has reached an all-time high which has been increate by the gullibility of people and their very necessity to comprehend how the world works. This desire is linked above all to all those people who have been defeated by the globalisation. Who is at fault if poor people are still poor and the middle class  still can’t improve its conditions? A left wing which is not able to put forward an alternative to the turbo-capitalist system and which is also theorethically fighting for the individual right defense has also the resposability of the inattention forward to marginaliozed people’s priorities. The language spoken by populist is willy-nilly effective. From migrants to reptiles and back  is a short step.

The “sovereign” political wing, Donald  Trump docet, has learned to cut the Gordian knot of the intricacy which has been replaced with a devilish mix of very impressive images and slogan. The surfers of Facebook are now very familiar with both conspirancy meme and their parodies. Bull’s eye: do-gooding people, Europe; the Troika, stranger who invades our territory, the “gender dictatorship”, Hillary Clinton…even without thinking about the fearkish hell of conspirancy, photos are never neutral. Why are some photo more annoying than other? Is it our unconscious knocking at the door? Do we fear they are true? This article deals with the meaning of some pictures. We are not looking for lies, by contrast, according to Anders, we are looking for the part of truth  they contain. Since we are enemies of  the far right, of nativism and of populism, the exclusion of  this possibility of truth from our horizon of knowledge would have disastrous consequances.

imagesSeptember 13, 2018 Matteo Salvini in Bari (from La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno and La Repubblica di Bari)

New power takes shape through images

Let’s take into consideration two pictures concerning the visit of Minister Matteo Salvini in Bari on September 13, 2018. The shoot has been done in the neighborhood “Libertà” which is a red area of the town, here there is a high level of social distress and of criminality. Salvini is in the centre of the circle and he is also   the focus of the situation (he is the favourite bull’s eye of the always there smartphones). Now let’s see the second photo below. It no longer looks like a mob scene and in this pictiure  the meeting seems not to be very successfull. On social networkiong sites, everywhere a battle has stormed between two opposite factions: is this a clear proof of the minister’s political success or is this smart manipulation? The ability of the League’s leader to underrstand the needs of the poorest social classes and the endemic problems of the suburbs, in the opinion of minister’s constituent is  an unquestionable dogma. In the opinion of thier opponents, by contrast, this thesis must be fighted.

Can we put the two pictures on a twin-pan balance in order to verify where the truth is more heavy? Or maybe it depends on wheather a person likes or dislikes Salvini? Regardless of our political opinion, what does the historical period that we are leaving right now tells us? We can dare t ogive you an answer concerning this matter. The two photos taken in Bari from a communicative point of view are true since they are complementary: The circle gives the idea of a community of destination holding, in a very sectarian hugh, the crowd, while the vaccuum alla round the circle is a sign of the lack of meaningfull alternatives. This wilderness is a fertile ground for populism . It is a threshold or a shadow we have to pass through.

imagesMarshall McLuhan, 1965

Photography as the language of truth

Before going on, let’s jump back to the earliest days of the mass media age. Marshall McLuhan, a sociologist and media theorist who was very influent after the Second World War, saw photography as the sign of the transformation of the traditional man, called typographic man, into the new graphic man. Photography basically values the body and its gestures, offering us a non-verbal and non-syntactical way to gain knowledge, based on a grammar which is different from the literary culture. We just need to look at today’s communication, characterised by the triumph of the pictures over the written word.  The success of Instagram is exemplary to appreciate the foresight of McLuhan’s thesis. In politics, those who break down the walls of the traditional linguistic mediation win. This intuition, read today, appears odd: “[Photography] wipes out our national frontiers and cultural barriers, and involves us in The Family of Man, regardless of any particular point of view. A picture of a group of persons of any hue whatever is a picture of people, not of ‘colored people.’” (from Understanding media: The Extensions of Man). The annotation comes in handy as we analyse the following picture, in which a few non-EU foreigners are taking a selfie with Salvini, during his visit to Naples.

imagesMinister Salvini in the district of Vasto (from La Repubblica Napoli)

Civilization and its discontents generate selfies

On 2nd October 2018, the district of Vasto (Naples) was visited by the Minister of the Interior and the Deputy Prime Minister. The city, except a few protests, didn’t show coldness. The picture appeared in the papers and on social media and, compared to those taken in Bari, is uncanny (in the sense given by Freud, unheimliche), both intimate and unknown: it depicts a new “family of man”, indeed.Are we facing a surrealistic idea of brotherhood between white and black people, represented by the banality of a selfie, the latest means of universal belonging to humanity? Are we looking at the rise of a community that we thought was impossible, thanks to the mind of a politician who – according to forecasts– should divide instead of uniting? Let’s keep the two levels apart, as the sociologist suggests. Literary culture can deconstruct the image and figure out the trick: “the black boys had been payed, and in their heart, they hate Salvini, the ultimate racist.” Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there, or they would protest against him. Maybe it is.

But the graphic man supplanted the typographic man. The truth has been absorbed into the vision. We can think of naïve boys, who wished to appear at an event, as most people do: for instance, when they see a rockstar on the street and they can’t resist the temptation to stop him or her to take a selfie together. It’s this frame – to see two subjects who should be antagonists being together – that upsets us. The honest consciousness, as Hegel would say, gives in to the lacerated consciousness, “a concept which gathers the thoughts that are far away from each other” (The Phenomenology of Spirit). Even for a single second, we feel parted from our certainties. It’s us who’s being consulted. Photography conveys concern because it reverses our expectations and disrupts our prospects. The left eye sees a black man conflicting with the extremist white man. Whereas the right eye, the eye of the new right, sees just men belonging to a community plagued by misery, regardless of the colour of their skin.

imagesPetra László, former photojournalist at N1Tv(a tv channel affiliated with the neo-Nazi party Jobbik), then dismissed (from Il FattoQuotidiano)

Kicking chaos to make it spit a new order out

The most serious mistake of current progressivism lies in the inability to grasp this innovation of language. Populist sovereigntism doesn’t postulate an a priori division between black and white people for biological reasons (the skin); on the contrary, it tries to establish a cultural hegemony over the masses, putting itself forward as the solution to the previous chaos. We all know the mantra: liberal permissiveness brought about a liquid confusion of ethnic groups, customs, religious believes. A situation of instability determined by an elusive and pervasive power (finance, algorithms, lobbies), which will be followed by a stable, solid order, also inclusive of differences and minorities that can be accepted only if placed on the lowest level of society. An immobile hierarchy, whose strength lies in values considered to be the direct expression of the popular body. A body which has, in turn, emancipated from invisible powers and the cosmopolitan “barbarism”.

“National” language, religious “roots”, “traditional” familyare all local variables of a wider Black International pattern adopted by extreme right parties, which have made Security, Order, Identity its authentic and “universal” ideological strongholds. On the background there is the dream of an ethical State, made of small patriotic middle-class men, fed up by an even more devious nationalism than the one of the XIXth century. The dividing line is set up between what/who isin and what/who isout. The double-edged principle of supervision and punishment is the other side of the coin of this government pattern. In other words, it is the duty to organise a collective neighbourhood watch perfectly embodied by the well-known Hungarian photographer caught by cameras in 2015 while she was kicking a migrant away of the border. This image does not only record a single person’s cruelty. Indeed, it is a tragic photo, the photo representing our time, the grotesque symbol of subdued and accomplice mass media, which soak into the crude logic of power and become its loyal operating arm.

images18 August 2018, Genoa, State funerals

The barbed wire behind the caress

And so all those Salvini, Kurz, Orban, Trump take advantage of the racism growing among the classes impoverished by the economic crisis and cut off from the processes of modernisation in order to justify closing the borders by giving a tautological reason: “we act in this way just in order to prevent further racism”. The fact that Viktor Orban moved his first steps into politics thanks to his now sworn enemy, the billionaire George Soros, or that the League (Salvini’s extreme-right wing party) wrote the immigration law in force at the present time in Italy (this law was never abolished by the left wing!) does not matter. The British historic John F. Drinkwater, talking about the permanent threat to the Roman border that Franks and Alemanni represented in the IVth century, said there was a mystification of the Imperial establishment which served to justify the maintenance of Rome’s whole military apparatus in the West. Nothing more than the idea of an ongoing or imminent invasion strengthens the power.

Populism hides its primary aim, which is the gradual sterilisation of any form of “mongrelisation”, the cancer of our society according to the world’s right wings, with a veil of common sense. When Salvini caresses a black woman in Genoa (is it true? Is it false? Did it happen for real?) on the day ofMorandi bridge collapse victims’ State funerals, he is communicating something: “I am order and security even for you”. Protection requires a compensation in terms of barbed wire and social rigidity. A hand caresses you, the other unwinds the barbed wire…

images28 September 2018 – M5S Ministers on the balcony of Palazzo Chigi (official residence of the Prime Minister of the Italian Republic)

Luigi di Maio’s balcony and Salvini’s road: a comparison

The image of Luigi di Maio together with the other M5S ministers, standing on the balcony after having reached an agreement on Debt-to-GDP ratio set to 2,4% (a fresh new tradition in the history of our Republic) represents a visual answer to Salvini’s, the pushy partner of the coalition government, mediatic populism, as defined by McLuhan.Doing so, Di Maio is trying to plant his flag in the collective imagination. This is the direct message he wants to convey: “here’s the change, let’s show it also through a physical act, in D’Annunzio’s style. Let’s violate what’s inviolate”. Exegimonumentumaereperennius…(I have built a monument which will last more years than bronze – from Horas, Ode 3, 30),However, what emerges is a substantial difference between the two Deputy Prime Ministers’ modus comunicandi. I don’t think Di Maio is trying to ape Benito Mussolini, as many maintained, on the contrary he looks like he’s been through the parody of a revolution, as if he stormed the Winter Palace, also at the iconographic level. Under the Ministers’ feet, a large group of M5S members of Parliament, specially called for the occasion. crowded the street.

Despite the triumphalism, this bottom-up photograph, which seals the climb to the top, hides a communicative and political effort. By contrast, Salvini is always photographed on the road, among people, doomed by the unstoppable propaganda for “his people”, or he posts live-videos on Facebook, placed in front of and face to face with his virtual interlocutor using a straightforward and simple language.Today Salvini’s actions shift the balance, burst banks and mediations, taking advantage of the desert at the opposition. Right, the opposition… We will talk about it in another article.


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