From Renzi to Rocco, and back: Ideology and Politics in Italy (by Matteo Capasso, March 2015)

BIO: Matteo Capasso is a PhD student in International Relations at Durham University, UK. His focus is on power and resistance in Libya. He is editor assistant of Middle East Critique.

 From Renzi to Rocco, and back: Ideology and Politics in Italy

The stories a society tells about itself are a measure of how it values itself, its children, the ideals of democracy and its future, as Henry A. Giroux commented in reference to recent Academy Awards ceremony for motion pictures released in 2014. In fact, the stories that television and cinema tell often offer us a powerful way to investigate critically the current status of politics. If we look at the Italian case, it does not take too long to realize how the ‘reality’ of Italian politics is enmeshed in a web of masculinity, melodrama and – obviously – neo-liberal capitalist ideology at its purest.

From Renzi

This week the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and his post-socialist party (Partito Democratico) happily celebrated the implementation of the Jobs Act, the most rigorous operation of a right-wing policy that one could remember in the last 70 years, as Angelo Cannatà aptly describes it.

The Jobs Act tackles a great number of issues that ranges from fixed-term contracts to the role of apprenticeship. There is nothing particularly striking in the program that Renzi and the Democratic Party (PD) issued: governmental precarization – to borrow Isabell Lorey’s terminology – is simply turned into a State law, although the existing practice hardly differs.

Among many, I would argue, there are three fundamental manouvereus that this law carries out: the overcoming or the abolition – it depends on what perspective one approaches – of Article 18, the de-mansionamento and the exercise of tighter control of workers. Let us analyze each point.

Article 18: divide and rule

On the one hand, the leaders of Confindustria, which is the collective organization of Italian manufacturers and companies, gladly welcomed the Jobs Act and what they called the ‘overcoming’ of the obsolete Article 18 in such conditions of economic crisis. On the other hand, the workers and most of the trade unions loudly protested against this law. In fact, protests and clashes broke out at the end of last year. The Jobs Act abolished Article 18, which had guaranteed monetary compensation and reintegration or compensation in lieu of reintegration in case of illegitimate dismissal (that made ​​no notice of grounds, unjustified or discriminatory), for new employees. Yet it introduces a contract with ‘increasing protection’ (a tutele crescenti). The latter does not provide any reintegration in case of illegitimate dismissal for new employees, but a monetary compensation that relates to the years of seniority that one has accumulated. In other words, new employees no longer have the same rights of those with seniority.

Now, according to the Renzi government, the Italian companies should choose this type of contract because it provides tax relief on the cost of the worker for the first three years. However, one cannot help but to note how such a contract with ‘increasing protection’ – for the mass of young unemployed people (44,2%)– can become a perfect tool both to reduce the possibility to get a permanent contract– which will be delayed even further by the initial apprenticeship contracts– and to blackmail the workers. In fact, new employees hardly will confront their employers in order to demand better wages or working conditions. Moreover, this measure is designed to divide the workers among themselves, between those who have rights and those who do not.

Dequalification and tighter control

The de-mansionamento or dequalification is the downgrading of the qualifications that were assigned to an employee in the initial contract, which can be operated on the basis of a ‘needed’ re-organization or restructuring of the company. Inevitably, this entails a low wage salary. As Andrea Lassandari affirms, “There is an assumption that is all in the hands of the company. The overall design of the Jobs Act is that, there is only the unilateral power of the entrepreneur.” And if the decree facilitates the downgrading of the workers, – at the same time – it slows their switching to a higher level of skill.

The last point of analysis is the cancellation of Article 4 of the Statute of the Workers that used to ban distance monitoring of employees with audiovisual or other equipment. Article 4, while recognizing the right of the employer to exercise its power of control, severely limited the use of audiovisual equipment and other equipment in compliance with two basic workers’ rights: privacy and dignity. However, Renzi’s politics is more and more directed toward the so-called ‘fannulloni’ (slackers), particularly lazy and opportunistic individuals. Paradoxically, in the Italian collective imaginary, those ‘fannulloni’ tend to be identified precisely with the politicians.

Ideology? Basta!

Matteo Renzi, in an online blog-posts (dated 8 January 2014) on his personal website, concludes his remarkable arguments on how to create jobs with a clear and simple statement: “So, enough with ideology and let’s start working.” (Allora basta con l’ideologia e mettiamoci sotto). However, what the Jobs Act really reveals is how enmeshed it is in capitalst ideology. The future of the workers is left in the hands of the employers who sell it (the future) miserably in the present of the workers.

If one wants to interpret Renzi’s government policies, there is no need to read the intricate text of the law. To provide a valid point of interpretation, there is a quite simple sentence that shines through another Renzi’s online blog-post: “There are no legislative measures that can create jobs, only entrepreneurs can. They have the willingness to jump, to invest, to innovate.” It might seem that the citation is taken out of context, but in fact, Matteo Renzi has insisted on a vision of a country that discovers itself as the leader of Europe, emphazising how a mediocre leadership has brought Italy to the brink of unemployment and stagnant crisis. According to Renzi, Italy already has misseed a chance with the crisis, and it cannot do the same with the reprisal.

This situation exposes two fundamental issues of how capitalist ideology functions. The former is that Renzi, as many other European leaders, fully has embraced the paradigm of the state of emergency and crisis, which is now dominant in Western European states. The latter, which, in turn, links to the former point, proves another smooth aspect of capitalism: the acceptance of structural impossibility to make radical change. Hence, it is better to accept these measures in order to face the ‘crisis.’

A famous Italian Lacanian psychoanalyst, Massimo Recalcati, has deemed Matteo Renzi as one who belongs to the Telemaco generation. According to Recalcati, Renzi represents Telemaco, the son of Ulysses, because he does not inherit a kingdom. Rather he is left in an uncertain world, without future and hope, without knowing whether his father will come back. Thus, the right heir is he who assumes his own responsibility through and through. Despite his admirable comprehension of Lacanian concepts, Recalcati’s understanding still is quite limited. In fact, he misses completely how Telemaco (Renzi) is re-producing the same discourse that was put into place during the last twenty years by the Proci (the suitors of Penelope), whether they are Berlusconi, Prodi, etc. The responsibility of Telemaco should entail a radical restructuring of the coordinates of the socio-symbolic level, using Lacanian terminology, in order to confront the naked Real of capitalism. In other words, if today’s capitalism wants to make us accept the ‘impossibility’ of radical change, an act is much more than an intervention in the domain of the possible but, as Slavoj Zizek argues, it aims to change the same coordinates of what is possible.

…to Rocco…

 Despite the crucial importance of labor reform, the Italian media and its audience also present another interesting story, which stems from the latest performances of Rocco Siffredi. Rocco is a world famous Italian porn-actor, who also is remembered for having flushed a woman’s head in a toilet during one of his pornographic performances, and currently he is participating in the reality show ‘L’Isola dei Famosi’ (the Italian format for ‘The Celebrity Island’).

The latest episode of the show registered more than 5 million viewers and the absolute protagonist is the Italian Stallion. In particular, as FattoQuotidiano.it describes, 5 million viewers witnessed “an outburst of sincerity and truth which paradoxically is rarer than one might think in a ‘reality’ show program, but it has proven – once again – how Rocco is the only ‘real’ character worthy of this name.”

In fact, bursting into tears during a studio-connection with his wife, Rocco Siffredi has recognized his mistakes as husband and father, promising to change his attitude toward the family. However, he also confessed that he could not abandon the career that made him famous all over the world.

What does Rocco’s performance signify? What can we problematize through the figure of Rocco Siffredi in a reality show? I would argue that the fame and appeal that he has reaped so far is indicative of the current entrapment of our society into capitalist ideology and also corresponds to an ideological frame within which the media promotes the false premises of ‘reality.’ Rocco is a clear symptom of our capitalist ideology that tells us a story of a ‘reality’ within which someone wants to change but he cannot renounce sexual pleasure (promiscuity) – with thousands of other women — or profit.

…and back: Italian political reality

Rocco is worthy of ‘reality’ because his status sustains precisely the ideological fantasy within which Italian politics are constructed. The stories that television tell represent a particularly powerful form of public pedagogy, as Henry Giroux aptly argues, “that is integral to how people imagine themselves, their relations to others and their relationship to a larger global landscape.” The case of Rocco tells us how much accustomed we have grown to the model of the macho figure who equates with the masculine penetrating order and the urgent need of market virility/competiveness and maximization of profit. In other words, television programs hold a false mirror through which we come to perceive our own subjectivities, mobilizing and unfolding certain identifications and narratives about sociey’s current status. But what remains invisible?

The media function in order to make us believe that it is Rocco, so the government makes us believe that the Jobs Act is what we really want. But, is this what we really want? Do we really want our future to be controlled more and more by powerful companies?

On the one hand, Rocco comes to be perceived as a star through the women with whom he flirts– in the reality show – and those he penetrates – in his movies. His fame is based on the violence that is rendered invisible, on the violence that is enacted on these same women. On the other hand, Renzi tells us not to be ideological, to be rational and start working in order to get out of this crisis. What we are missing is how this rational logic of profit produces the huge mass of precarious and unemployed people. Yet all this is made invisible by the Italian state, and the Jobs Act is glorified. The more one needs to penetrate women in order to maintain his social status, the more it is necessary to make precariousness an existential condition of our life to make profit.

Here, I believe, we are confronted by the question of either to act ‘as if’ this is what we really want for our future or to act in order to change the domain of the possible rules of politics. To these questions, one cannot but quote Bertolt Brecht’s ‘poem ‘An Den Schwankenden’ (To those who hesitate), “don’t wait for an answer, other than your own.” Otherwise, keep enjoying Rocco!

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