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Grafica e comunicazione

A mask on your brain

We resume our regularly scheduled Snapshots, which were interrupted at the beginning of 2020 when a book by the same title was published (Snapshots,Helvetika Editions, January 2020). During this long interlude, in addition to focusing on our work and carrying out many projects (for example, those for Upstream, Brado, Officina Botanica, Gaudes, Degusto, 12 Apostoli, and "Evolution and variations of the divine salmon"), we have been helpless spectators of a real change in the planetary paradigm. In fact, we believe that what we are experiencing can no longer be called a simple state of emergency, or rather an exception. We believe that we have entered a new historical period, a new era yet to be named. As advertisers, coming up with new names (for companies and products) is one of the most challenging activities, and we would have a lot of fun devising a suitable one for this new era.

When inventing a name, the first step is to research its context and antecedents. Going back a century, after the First World War, with the dissolution of the central empires, we entered into the era of sovereign states and dictatorships; after the Second World War, we participated in the era of parliamentary democracies; then the era of the Cold War, which divided the planet in two; after the collapse of the Soviet regime, with the demolition of the walls, we had the era of the Maastricht Treaty, remaining within the continental borders and the era of the global market, expanding its meaning and its reach; an era, the latter, marked by a technological speculative financial liberalism with no more rules and borders, neither geographic or temporal, with the excuse of mass distraction intended to the fight against international terrorism (the War on terror, 2001-2008), then the financial crisis (the Great Recession, 2008 and beyond) and lastly environmental awareness (the era of sustainable development, from 2018 on, with Greta's performance as an advertising flywheel).

If we were to name the current age by basing it on the power from which it arises, we might consider, albeit trivially, as age the regime of health, or the therapeutic regime. If we were to shift the focus from the immediate cause (health) to the long-term effect, we might consider the epoch of panoptic control. But - between the serious and the facetious - we consider it more appropriate, for once, to focus on the dominated rather than those who dominant. Our age deserves it all, a view from below, so therefore we would call it the age of the sheep of Panurge. Because what is most astounding about this infinite state of exception isn’t necessarily the role of those who dominate (banks, limitless speculators and multinational affiliates) - who have always operated, either brutally or with sovereign indifference, by using the dominated - but the attitude of the dominated themselves, of the subordinates. It seems impossible that this portion of society is the heir of those decomposed, contradictory, exuberant, variegated and bursting masses that from the Enlightenment onwards had managed to gain more and more freedom, which ultimately resulted, especially after World War II, in dizzying Constitutional Charters, aimed precisely at rebalancing the dominant-dominated relationship. (If you are looking for a psychedelic experience – intended as the temporary evasion of reality - we recommend reading the Italian Constitution in the light of all that is promised to the Italian population, from the sovereignty of the people to the right/duty to work and to vote, from individual freedom to social relations and, in conclusion, the dynamics of the parliamentary and judicial systems, to say nothing about the rest.)

Returning to the concept of the Panurge sheep. The study of history or political philosophy isn’t a requisite to asking oneself some insidious questions in the face of a political system which, in order to deal with the most serious post-war emergency, entrusted its fate in the hands of a banker, Mario Draghi, with alarming applause from all. The fact that he was given a standing ovation before he had lifted a finger or uttered a word in Parliament, would suggest that he is an expert and infallible demiurge of politics, as well as a holy healer. By virtue of what, we ask ourselves, does such a sheepish attitude become acceptable? Is it simply a fashionable trend that leads one to enjoy reassuring conformity? Or is it the consequence of a fear of opposing a messianic figure, created ad hoc? Or maybe because it’s normal to trust a guy who has signed, one by one, the euro bills we have handled in recent years? Or is it something else? Because there aren’t any concrete facts in support of the political standing of this illustrious man being a banker (who looks after the interests of the bank) rather than a politician (who takes care, or rather, should take care of the interests of the people, of all the people, and therefore legislating to impose limits on excessive banking and speculative power, for example). Maybe he will prove to be the best Italian prime minister since De Gasperi, and he will rescue a nation after rescuing a bank. Let’s hope so. But these don’t seem to be strange questions, even in their hyperbolic form, if only because to become a good prime minister he will have to reinvent himself. Unless governing a country, a bank, a television station, a university or a courtroom has become the same thing.

To this day we wonder why the government continues to avoid doing its duty, thus balancing different and often opposing opinions (those of virologists and the working class or the innumerable other examples in a democracy), entrusting what needs to be done, again and again, exclusively in the  hands of doctors, virologists and statisticians, carried out with the ridiculous drifts of martial laws issued on the basis of an incontrovertible RT index, with its beautiful curves explained by the same statistician, doctor, virologist and physicist, always with scary, apocalyptic tones. When, on the other hand, “not fear, but a sincere concern should suggest appropriate cautions without creating panic or losing your head.”

Thus, in this sad time dominated by statistics – those of the infected and the dead – we turn to voices outside the choir for comfort. Most of all, that of Giorgio Agamben (quoted in the paragraph above). He was the first to try to “interpret” this crisis. On February 26, 2020, three days after the areas of Codogno and Vo 'Euganeo (two small towns in Northeastern Italy) were declared centers of Covid-19 outbreaks – he published this scandalous statement online:

“It seems that once terrorism is no longer an acceptable excuse for excessive governmental intervention, the invention of an epidemic can offer the ideal pretext for overriding all limits. The other factor, no less disturbing, is the state of fear which in recent years has evidently spread in the consciences of individuals and which translates into a real need for states of collective panic, to which the epidemic still offers an ideal pretext. Thus, in a perverse vicious circle, the limitation of freedom imposed by governments is accepted in the name of a desire for security that has been induced by the same governments that are now intervening to satisfy it.”

His interpretation is based on an assumption that can’t be demonstrated yet, or that the pandemic is an invention and not an accident, a calamity. Yet we do not consider the questions raised by his interpretation to be harmful, far from it. Because it is only from the dialectic dynamics of opposing readings that one can hope to "reason together,” to get out of this sad age by not dispersing all the values of our civilization - the main one being dialectic, which begins when one starts asking questions.

What is most perplexing when considering the mainstream reaction and observing people with masks on in the streets from afar due to social distancing, is the submissiveness, fatalism, and stupid condescension. If you try to get close enough to the “mainstream” or the average person to the point of being able to actually hear them, you will find that none of the uncomfortable questions are being asked. 

Health has replaced salvation, biological life has taken the place of social life and also of the eternal life, all the rest does not count. If, for example, doubts are raised, if questions of the kind that led Agamben to argue against power are asked, there is a fleeting flash of life in the eyes of those who understand these doubts, these questions, after so much time has been wasted on social media and TV series. But all it takes is a moment to define what is really going on: conspiracy. Yes, in the age of the Sheep of Panurge, simply raising questions leads people to think that you are a conspiracy theorist.

It is useless to explain, as Agamben argues, that - as always in history - even today there are men and organizations that pursue their legitimate or illegal objectives, trying by all means to achieve them. Having said that disasters (wars, pandemics, famines, stock market crashes ...) may not be inventions, however they are always exploited by someone who dominates others. And the more the numbers increase the more the gains increase, the more the distance between dominant and dominated increases, the more cynicism increases. And those who want to understand what happens on the upper floors, while remaining at the bottom, should, in fact, ask themselves questions about the objectives and means in the hands of the powerful, in the hands of those who dominate. He should try to understand them at least in an attempt to defend some glimmer of our civilization, of our culture. “Talking about a conspiracy adds nothing to the reality of the facts,” Agamben affirms, “but to define conspiracy theorists as those who try to know historical events for what they are, is simply infamous.” Although probably, more often than not and more trivially, it is just a vague term to define the gray, gregarious uniformity, between a surfing the web and watching the latest TV series.

09/04/2021 Filippo Maglione