Notes on Pimp Power in Italy, part 1: Burlesquoni is no Father

by Wu Ming 1


The latest wave of pseudo-scandals and false events had the merit of making unmistakably clear what the «Discourse of Burlesquoni» is and how it operated for all these years. Do you hear the discourse? Everybody does. It goes:

«Italians who voted for me, this is my message: do whatever the fuck you want to! Do like me! You want to drive at 150 kmh on the highway? I’ll abolish speed limits! You want to evade taxes? I’ll pass yet another tax amnesty! When you told me you needed to cook your company’s books, I decriminalized accounting fraud. Wanna hang out with young whores? I’ll join the party! Wanna swear and use cuss words? All together now: MERDA, CAZZO, FICA, ORCO DIO! Do whatever the hell pleases you (as long as it doesn’t damage the interests of the rich) and I’ll also do what I please. Above all, I’m goin’ to issue decrees that are exclusively and blatantly (BLATANTLY, ’cause I can afford it!) to my advantage. You know that, I know that you know, and YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW!»

Of course there are still a few things Burlesquoni must officially deny having done. But he denies only officially, while winking at his followers.

It could be useful to think in terms of what Jacques Lacan called the Symbolic Father. It should be made clear that the Father can also be a woman. As I’m just taking some inspiration from Lacan without embracing all of his theories (I’m not interested in such things as the Oedipus Complex), in order to avoid misunderstandings I will use the phrase «Symbolic Parent».
Lacan famously used the pun «Le nom du pére» (the Father’s name) / «Le non du pére» (the Father’s “no”) / «Les non-dupes errent» (Non-fools wander).
The Symbolic Parent provides a balance between law and desire, that is to say: the Symbolic Parent teaches you that you can’t do whatever the fuck you want to (law), and at the same time tells you that you have to achieve self-determination (desire). Whoever takes this function in your life is your Symbolic Parent, and you may have more than one at different stages.
The tension between your desire to rebel against the Parent (ie to transgress the law) and your need to be «put on your own track» (ie to grow and become yourself a founder, a parent, an originator of something) is a necessary driving force in anyone’s life. It’s part of what psychoanalysis used to call «the Reality Principle». Those who think they’re smarter – or more freedom-loving – than everyone else and can do without the Symbolic Parent are destined to be led astray by desire, condemned to err, to wander around. Les non-dupes errent.

Power has long played the game of Symbolic Fatherhood: monarchs, religious leaders, heads of State, prime ministers, CEOs, secretaries of central committees, they all – consciously, half-consciously or even unconsciously – activated a «family frame» (more on this in a while) in which they occupied the position of the Symbolic father, either strict or nurturant, stern or compassionate. Of course the President-as-Parent is not really your Symbolic Parent: he doesn’t even know you, most likely you saw him only on TV and in newspaper pictures. Here «Symbolic Parent» is a metaphor in which a power figure embodies images, fantasies and stereotypes of parenthood (think of Sarah Palin as «Mama Grizzly») and mocks a function in the Symbolic order.

For those who are ill at ease with psychoanalytical terms (and I confess that I myself don’t like them), let’s switch to cognitive sciences. Parenthood is the metaphor at the basis of what cognitive linguist George Lakoff called the «nation-as-family frame».

«It’s no accident that our political beliefs are structured by our idealizations of the family. Our earliest experience with being governed is in our families. Our parents “govern” us: They protect us, tell us what we can and cannot do, make sure we have enough money and supplies, educate us, and have us do our part in running the house. So it is not at all surprising that many nations are metaphorically seen in terms of families: Mother Russia, Mother India, the Fatherland. In America, we have founding fathers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Uncle Sam, and we send our collective sons and daughters to war [...] As with other aspects of framing, the use of this metaphor lies below the level of consciousness. But unlike other, more modest framings, the nation-as-family metaphor structures entire worldviews, organizing whole systems of frames in our brains [...] the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent.» (G. Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute, Thinking Points, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2006, pp.48-50)

Within this frame two mental models are possible: the «Strict Father model» and the «Nurturant Parent model». The former shapes the worldview of right-wingers and conservatives, the latter shapes the worldview of progressives and leftists (and is of less interest to me in this text). In the Strict Father model

«children are born undisciplined. The father teaches them discipline and right from wrong. When children disobey, the father is obligated to punish, providing an incentive to avoid punishment and helping his children develop the internal discipline to do right. This “tough love” is seen as the only way to teach morality. Children who are disciplined enough to be moral can also use that discipline as adults to seek their selfinterest in the market and become prosperous.» (Thinking Points, pp. 57-58)

It seems to me that most 19th and 20th century radical/revolutionary theories took the forms we all know while reacting to the Strict Father model. That was the conceptual frame they actually had to face, and they devised a counter-rhetoric, ie the anti-authoritarian discourse in all its variants. Revolt against Authority, disobedience to the law, «arm your desire», Eros vs. repression and the Reality Principle, unchain your instincts, liberate your body, sexual freedom, let differences and singularities burst out, rhizome vs. tree, go feral! From Anarchism to a certain kind of Post-Structuralism through Reich, Marcuse, Freudo-Marxism, the Situationists and radical feminism, all strands and currents of anti-state, anti-authoritarian, anti-chauvinist, anti-capitalist radical thought framed their critique in the “non-dupe” terms of creative disorder fighting a repressive order. They were theories for symbolic sons and daughters, in the sense that Power (be it the government, capital, religion etc.) as a Strict Father was the «objective correlative» of their discourses and practices. In some cases the metaphor was reversed: not nation-as-family and boss-as-father, but family-as-nation and father-as-boss. This is a very rough summing-up of the position taken by Deleuze & Guattari in regard to the Oedipus Complex. Yet, to reverse the frame is not to disactivate it, and in fact D&G’s theory is the summa of “non-dupe” attitudes (and “wandering” is explicitly proposed as a radical strategy).

However, in Italy – and Italy has always been an important social laboratory, forewarning the world of what was around the corner – this «objective correlative» has long been in crisis, and Power inhabits the empty space created by the disappearance of the Symbolic Parent.
Take Burlesquoni. He couldn’t care less about posing as a strict father. He may have activated the nation-as-family frame at the beginning of his political career (pictures showing him with his children etc.), but he no longer gives a shit about it. No balance between law and desire. He openly chases pussy. He associates himself with escorts and even underage girls. He swears in public. He tells racist and sexist jokes with no shame at all. More or less, he has come to represent himself as an old-but-still-quite-young satyr. He’s in denial of ageing. He’s gotten more facelifts and hair transplants than any male public figure in the world (and he jokes about it).
Half of Italy’s public opinion loves him not in spite of all this but because of it, and he knows it. That’s exactly the way they want him, they want to hear him shouting his Discourse. Burlesquoni is the Italian king of ethical laissez-faire. Thus there is no law except the «ad personam laws» [laws specifically devised to keep Burlesquoni out of prison, t.n.], then there’s no balance, desire has no counterweights.

Of course, Burlesquoni is just the state-of-the-art anthropomorphosis of a more general tendency to destructive jouissance [enjoyment]. Nowadays the Capital/Super-Ego gives us a precise order: «Enjoy!». I am not saying anything new, it’s a very well known situation.
What are today’s main conceptual frames and dispositifs concerning gender issues and the problem of sexual freedom? Does anyone think that, concerning instincts, the main problem to be faced today in the West (and especially in Italy) has to do with censorship of sexual imagery and sexophobic repression of bodies on part of the powers-that-be?
Power has become pornocratic. Porn has spectacularly overflown the boundaries it occupied as a genre of popular culture. The Burlesquoni-controlled Italian TV is chock full of naked bodies, mountains of tits and asses. Such documentaries as Erik Gandini‘s Videocracy (2009) and – even more so – Lorella Zanardo‘s Women’s Bodies (2009, embedded below with English subtitles) have shown foreigners to what extent Burlesquonism based its power on the hyper-sexualization of daily life.

[To be continued]


Click here for the printable version -
3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. dude says:

    No doubt it’s mainly the relentless and great work of some intellectuals and artists that’s helping the italian “ethnical minorities” abroad to maintain a degree of dignity in their public life.
    Brief anecdote. I was in the South of Italy in September. My origins and my late grandparent’s house are there. Near Angelo Vassallo’s Acciaroli. I was there for a holiday. It was a rainy day. Two days after the killing. There was no sun, so I went for a haircut. The shop was small and fairly busy. Four other customers were sitting around, chatting loudly. All in our thirties or fourties we sat around waiting to be groomed. After more then an hour comes my turn. During the wait there had been jokes and laughing aplenty. Humor is a skill and it seemed that on a miserable day everybody was practicing. I was watching comrades interaction. I laughed with them and sometimes truly from the belly. I was on holiday, I needed to chill and enjoy. I answered a couple, short questions: how I wanted my hair cut, what football team I supported, what’s my name. Did I know anybody around? In this order. Then the jokes continued, mainly about women. Or  inserted within a sexual contest. Some other gags felt like genuine bullying, thrown at each other.  It seemed odd to me, in all the time I had been there, that nobody had mentioned the death of the mayor when all the tv, newspapers and radio stations were blasting about something so tragic, that had happened just a few miles away. I began by wondering if it might be a catarthic exercise. Or, simply, the tragedy had been totally removed, deleted, washed away by the rough sea outside. Suddenly I sensed it: utter apathy.

    Almost as a reaction to this sudden moment of awarness, interrupting the silent contemplations of all the customers, one of the guys quickly fishes his smart phone out of the pocket of his jeans, comes towards the owner that’s cutting my hair, puts his arm around the barber’s shoulder, holds the phone with his other hand in front of both our faces, and says “Watch this”. An amateur three minutes porn clip of him with a young girl. He nudged at his mate a couple of times. I mimed amusement for three minutes. The scissors had trimmed only half of my hair. I couldn’t move. I was paralized by the ordinarity of it all. Nobody noticed anything. A raw piece of pornography forced upon the immagination of a complete stranger in a public place. The rest of the guys had, later, each his own personal broadcast. Final review was that she was a “zoccola” (whore).

    An enormous ammount of work wiill be needed by everybody in Italy to re-learn basic human dignity and re-discover some common values. 

  2. Wu Ming says:

    The Italian (expanded) version of these notes has triggered a huge debate, with hundreds of comments, plenty of re-tweets and pingbacks etc.

  3. [...] and the Italian “equivalent” of Aftonbladet) has written (and translated into English) about Burlesquoni’s [...]

We are the Wu Ming Foundation, a collective of writers based in Italy. We are the authors of several novels and non-fiction books written with literary techniques (which we prefer to describe as UNOs, Unidentified Narrative Objects). As of May 2015, four of our novels are available in English: Q, 54, Manituana and Altai. This used to be our supremely neglected blog in English. Ugly and no longer updated after May 2013. Our livelier, regularly updated blog is in Italian and it's called Giap. For stuff in other languages, check out our blog on Tumblr.

Most Shared Posts