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Scrolling through a long list of titles of tv series on the most well-known streaming platform, I was struck by the number of shows currently available in so-called dystopian genre. Since a tv series is a consumer product with major costs, which therefore need to satisfy the tastes of a large audience, the abundance of dystopian shows tells us more about the demand rather than the supply. How can the continuing demand for dystopia be justified today? What can draw a huge mass of people to watch disasters unfold as a form of recreation? Is it a masochistic form of catharsis? A clumsy attempt to make one's existential reality seem less terrible by comparison? It’s difficult to say. In any case, I don’t think we can escape the fact that dystopia, in the form of a tv series, can represent, in the long run, a form of education capable of making otherwise frightening life experiences desirable, or at least acceptable. It’s a sliding process or removal and distraction capable of molding individuals who are already addicted to the genre of disaster and pessimism. Individuals unable to translate anxiety into political action of dissent.
On the contrary, in recent months I have dedicated time to the study of Italian cinema produced during fascism, and in particular to the movies of the Telefoni bianchi (or white phones),long considered by prejudice film critics to be a waste, cinematic abortions, vulgar works of the fascist government. Watching these movies turned out to be an enjoyable and surprising voyage with regards to the treatment of some sacred, or at least fundamental, subjects for both the centers of power at the time, the Catholic Church and the fascist regime. The themes vary from the family (often, and in any case, almost always dealing with terrible crisis), to the role of the father (almost always irrelevant), from the role of women (almost always dominant, as well as eccentric and unconventional) to the relationship with authority (incredibly informal, even ironic, bordering on ridiculous). The films produced between 1938 and 1943 are of particular interest, that is, in the years between the tightening of restrictive measures, including racial laws, and the catastrophic war ending in the collapse of the regime. When describing the films of the Telefoni bianchi, a young Italo Calvino defined them as the films of elsewhere, for their absolute geographical and temporal indeterminacy, for the total absence of any reference to the world outside the movie theater, much less to the Church, to the regime and to the war, and for their ability to transfer spectators into a parallel dimension, suspended in midair. A process of sliding, removal and distraction capable of shaping individuals addicted to dreams and fictitious optimism. Individuals certainly unable to translate their sweet alienation into a political action of dissent.
In the recent decades of presumed liberal democracy, we have allowed the principle of consumption to become a virtue and internalized the concept of fashion, so as to make it immanent to the web, therefore immanent to ourselves. We are inaugurating the era in which fashion will always be timeless, without seasons, without a duration. The minute a new collection appears on social media, potential billions of users all over the world have seen it, thus making it immediately dated, irremediably dated, from the moment of its appearance. It must be added, thanks to the so-called pandemic, that retail stores are disappearing; retail stores otherwise known as temples of the consumerist religion, the physical but also symbolic places where fashion in the recent past has consecrated itself in the presence of the world of markets. Without anything concrete, and everything now virtual, how are we going to distinguish what is fashionable from what is no longer fashionable, or what has never been? In our opinion, the main distinction will be obsolescence. If something comes out and immediately vanishes, it passes, it does not last, it will have been fashionable (what persists will, on the other hand, be irremediably and forever out of fashion). We will therefore be destined for post-mortem recognition. We will recognize fashion only once it is lying on the cold table of the morgue.
What wait is more enjoyable than waiting for a good book to be released? In the next few days, we will finally receive a copy of "I colloqui" by Guido Gozzano printed by Alberto Tallone in 1970 (470 copies made by hand on Miliani Fabriano paper with Tallone font, size 12). In the past, we have already described the emotion of opening a new book, quivering with excitement and gratitude upon seeing the verses of an inspired author and the artifact of an enlightened printer combined in a single object. Therefore, we won’t go into it any further. But in this case, with regards to this precise book, we believe we can recognize the greatest ideal and moral concordance between a poet and his printer. Edoardo Sanguineti helps us define it. "Instead of manufacturing a modern book intended to age, that is, the obsolescent, Gozzano manufactures the obsolete directly, completely aware of his choices. He considers what’s fashionable as already unfashionable.” There is no better way to describe this than "things dressed in time" produced by Gozzano and reiterated in the form of an artifact by Tallone. Something admittedly obsolete, but simple and perfect, that is ancient, modern, contemporary, futuristic, therefore without duration, for instant assimilation of all possible durations into a single object to be held in one’s hand, read, sipped and smelled and internalized, in all moments of life. Something that will never change, even if it changes every time it’s read. Can there be anything more reassuring than that which isn’t perfectible, and will never be perfected?
Let's start with the etymology of resilience, therefore from the Latin, which refers to "withdraw," "contract," and the primary meaning, which does not refer to people but to things: "materials that bounce back, absorbing violent blows." In recent years, a new narrative has been superimposed on the original meanings. Amid the Great Recession, Italians were suddenly bombarded, thanks to the media, by a new, seductive vocabulary that gradually became ridiculous. The word resilience became a collective delusion, so much so that it has become a trending hashtag in a variety of fields: economics, psychology, construction, football, catering, weightlifting, etc. A term that has spurred training courses, webinars, workshops, theses, t-shirts, gadgets and elegant tattoos. But in the profound meaning of words, we always find revealing signs. If it’s true that the resilient are those who accept a crisis by adapting without imagining an alternative, and if it is true that instead of dialogue - or rather, protest – the resilient prefers to suffer adversity in silence, then it’s clear that more than a sentient being we are referring to "malleable matter that bounces back, absorbing violent blows." From the point of view of the dominant we are talking about the ideal subject, the most perfect exemplar of the dominated. In the past, the word servant, from the Latin servusor "slave," was a humiliating, non-explicit noun and even as an adjective, "subjected, submissive"; subsequently servant was replaced with an equally demeaning meaning: slave, from medieval Latin sclavus, slavus, or "Slavic prisoner of war." The term resilient, on the other hand, while expressing the same frustration as the previous two (perhaps even more crudely), immediately established itself with the authority of a prestigious luxury brand, which became more and more charming over the years thanks to a host of willing and not always dispassionate opinion leaders. Today resilience has evolved to the point that our meritorious, infallible and already legendary Prime Minister has seen fit to use the word to describe his latest titanic undertaking: the National Recovery Plan and, in fact, Resilience.
I am not resilient and request not to follow mainstream news. I believe that the two are related but I could be wrong, as it is perhaps only my congenital riotous nature. Once a month, I scroll through the home page of the Corriere della Sera website to get a sense of general overview of what’s going on in the world; I am simply amazed with how the press is reporting the inane spectacle which is the pandemic. But it’s not a typical reaction, due only to inconstancy. There is a huge difference between looking at your face in the mirror every day and looking at it once every decade - like witnessing the imperceptible movement of a glacier versus an avalanche. Those who follow the news every day (almost everybody during the pandemic, since no one can resist the death bulletin and the speech of the virologist on duty) find it difficult to understand or see the collapse taking place. They are receiving invaluable signals every day without ever being able to envision the full picture. If you look in the mirror every day, it’s impossible to notice the incipient wrinkle. But those who are not addicted to mainstream media, those who read it only once a month cannot but be dismayed by the chilling crashes of the landslide that is currently taking place, which stand out in the silence like hunger pangs when fasting.
“Power is nothing without control,” reads a famous adv campaign of a multinational company that produces car wheels. It’s the perfect slogan that can be applied ironically to the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and their efficient political police apparatuses used for the capillary control of their subjects. Just think about the exploits of the Stasi in the GDR and the KGB in the Soviet Union, but also of the OVRA, the political police active in Italy founded in the late twenties; "power is nothing without control" seems to be the perfect fit. However today, we have really outdone ourselves. The control of subjectsusing shady methods by shady figures, typical of any serious regime of the past, has been supplanted by the clean management of the individual subject through apparently neutral technological devices. Today "power is nothing without management."
And real life?
Ideas, adapted to be politically correct, are imposed and then managed from above using the gadgets that we always have in our hand or right in front of our eyes, to keep us company and console us at all hours of the day and night. How can you not believe in these gadgets, our faithful companions? In addition to abandoning oneself uncritically to the mainstream media, one limits his or her interaction with well-selected, virtual group of users, rather than real people. (It’s much more convenient and rewarding to receive virtual admiration than risk a real-life interaction and possible refusal). On the web, you choose your interlocutor. You choose whether you want to virtually love him or her, or whether you want to virtually hate him or her - to love and hate at a distance and in a clean way, avoiding risks, responsibilities and frustration, or maybe even a punch in the face. What if this was the cornerstone of the whole affair? Have our so-called real lives so bearable? Are they really that boring? An uncomfortable and precarious real life is a disappointing substitute for virtual life.
07/05/2021 Filippo Maglione