A Critique of the VCE History Curriculum

02/05/2020

Author: Dr Gerardo Papalia, Research Affiliate at Monash University.

Contact: gerardo.papalia@monash.edu

The VCE History Curriculum

This critical reflection will examine the VCE Twentieth Century History subject: Unit 4: ‘Transformations: Old Certainties and New Visions’ developed by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). This unit covers the development of the Australian nation in twentieth century. In the first area of study ‘Crises that tested the nation 1929–1945’, students are asked to choose from one of the two following periods: “The Great Depression” and ‘World War Two 1939–1945’. The relative Outcome Statement asks students to “analyse the social, economic and political consequences of a crisis on the nation.”

In this area of study four significant events or processes are specified as ‘Key Knowledge’ items. Students are asked to demonstrate seven ‘Historical Thinking Skills’: Ask historical questions; Establish historical significance; Use sources as evidence; Identify continuity and change; Analyse cause and consequence; Explore historical perspectives; Examine ethical dimensions of history; Construct historical arguments. Students must also engage in ‘Historical Interpretation”. They are not required to analyse historiography, rather they are asked to focus on the historical interpretations of Key Knowledge items.

The history curriculum states that “History is a disciplined process of inquiry into the past that develops students’ curiosity and imagination” and is “interpretative in nature, promotes debate and encourages thinking about human values, including present and future challenges” (ACARA, 2019). Its articulation derives from the works of pedagogists Peter Lee and Peter Seixas whose ideas are based on developmental considerations regarding reasoning processes in children (Hoepper, 205-6; Lee and Seixas). The history curriculum is premised on the assumption that the past can be separated into conceptually discrete elements amenable to elaboration into an argument. Epistemologically the history curriculum embodies the empirical paradigm that deploys inductive reasoning to reconstruct an ‘objective’ past on the basis of ‘evidence’. The history curriculum largely omits historiography (VCAA). This omission represents an implicit ideological signal that ‘objective’ significance and truth actually exist in reality and that what varies is how historians use them to construct their arguments.

The Poststructural Turn in History

The advent of postmodernism with its poststructualist analyses has innovated contemporary historical scholarship. One of the most powerful poststructuralist approaches is discourse analysis based on the decoding of signs (Brown, 55-6, 72). The following proposes a re-elaboration of the history curriculum in the specified unit that incorporates poststructural analysis. In contrast to the Historical Thinking Skills outlined, poststructural processes extend beyond the verification of empiricist aspects to the decoding of textual signs, the identification and analysis of discourse in terms of intertextuality, trope, emplotment, argument and ideology, and the isolation of foundational metanarratives (Brown, 99).

Poststructuralist Methodology in the History Classroom

To exemplify this type of analysis we can sketch out its possible deployment in a classroom setting. This approach encourages students reflect on history as a discourse and to critique the history curriculum. Students are empowered to contribute their own narratives drawn from their respective subject positions. This enables hidden perspectives and approaches to emerge, which are currently buried under the subject’s substantial Key Knowledge items. This approach strengthens student engagement as well as independent and original thinking.

The point of departure is Benedetto Croce’s maxim: “All history is contemporary history.” After being briefly introduced to Croce, who argued that history was a philosophical exercise, students reflect on the possible meanings embedded in this statement. The salient point would be that the past has no structure or form and such as history exists as a discipline, it is a specifically philosophical preoccupation (Allan). Ultimately, Croce’s dictum implies that history is inevitably written and re-written with contemporary concerns in mind. For instance, today we have the emerging histories focused on LGBTIQA+ identities and presences in the past. Students are invited to consider how the representation of historical events has changed over time.

The students are then introduced to the analysis of signs, drawing from the semiotic theories of Roland Barthes, in particular, those elaborated his essay ‘Myth Today’ in Mythologies. The following scheme illustrates how meaning is created in language through the association of signifier to signified in what Barthes called the ‘first order semiological system’, and how the resulting sign can become a signifier in the ‘second order semiological system’ to craft mythological discourse.

To illustrate this process, the students examine the following image taken from the cover of a French magazine used by Barthes to illustrate mythology in action. This exemplifies how French imperialism in Africa was made to appear ‘natural’ in public discourse.


Figure 1: Source: https://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elljwp/parismatch.htm
(Accessed
02-05-2020)

The students then deconstruct a similar image drawn from the mythologies informing Australian history, such as the ANZAC legend. The second image below was taken during the Gallipoli campaign in World War 1, and since used to illustrate the heroism and ‘mateship’ considered emblematic of ANZAC soldiers. However, if one consults the link associated with the image, which relates the actual testimonies of those who participated, a very different story emerges.

This decoding process also begs the question of audience: for whom are the image and the associated mythologies/ideologies intended? What do these images imply about their intended audiences? Could these images actually construct their audiences?

We can extend these considerations to the discipline of history itself by drawing on the analogy of the fiction novel. Some have argued that the realistic novel, such as we know it today, could only have come into existence with the nation-state because it presumes a cohesive and co-existent society (Watt, 59-61). One could argue that the same applies to history writing. All histories could be seen as embodying discourses that express particular ideological and social contexts, each with a particular audience in mind.

Figure 2: Source https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/pm/the-diggers-that-wanted-gallipoli-remembered-but/6017620 (Accessed 02/05/2020)


Students could be invited to examine a famous work of history such as Edward Gibbon’s TheDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire. They could be asked questions such as: What was the author’s background? Why did he chose this topic? What were his concerns? How does this work reflect the social and political context of its writing? Is this work still significant and, if so, why?

Deconstructing the Australian Curriculum

This analysis brings us back to Croce’s dictum: one must be very careful about what we consider to be significant in the past, what terms we use to discuss it and what we attribute to it. The best way to take this care is to establish the definitions of the key terms we wish to use to discuss the past. For example, if one looks at the title of Unit 4: “Crises that tested the nation 1929–1945”, what meanings can be unpacked from the key terms it contains: “crisis” and “nation”? How would one define these terms? Much discussion could be devoted to the term “nation”. Who or what does this word exclude or include? For example, would it include Aboriginal or Asian Australians? Decoding this term will inevitably also impact on the interpretation of “crisis”.

Decoding the assumptions embedded in these terms opens the door to other knowledges and perspectives. The Key Knowledge item: “The causes of Australia’s involvement in World War Two, including loyalty to Britain and the threat of Japanese invasion”, pertaining to the first area of study of this unit, begs the question of who felt loyalty to Britain, who could be suspected of disloyalty, and who felt ‘threatened’ by the Japanese. Deconstruction encourages students to contribute their own perspectives and understandings by enabling other, less recognised, knowledges to enter the classroom discussion. These could include the forcible relocation of Indigenous Australians from the front line when Japanese forces drew near, the anti-colonial aspects of the Japanese occupation of South East Asia and the switching in loyalty by Indian British Empire troops to Japan. Through this decoding process, much more analysis could be brought to bear on the other Key Knowledge items and re-elaborated.

Similar considerations apply to the Historical Thinking categories. Concepts such as historical significance, evidence, case and consequence, can all be subjected to discourse analysis and critiqued. Historiography would be restored to the curriculum.

The increasing pluralism of Australian society facilitates the application of poststructural analysis to the history curriculum and its teaching, as has already occurred in other academic disciplines. Teachers can no longer make any assumptions regarding the identities, backgrounds and knowledges of their students. Nor, one could argue, is the current curriculum sufficiently articulated to accommodate these perspectives. Rather than prescribe key knowledge and categories of thinking, the future of the curriculum is to empower students by encouraging the elaboration of poststructural analyses to critique existent discourses and, if necessary, overturn them.

Bibliography:

Allan, G. (Summer 1972) Croce and Whitehead On Concrescence. Process Studies, Vol. 2, Number 2: 95-111. https://web.archive.org/web/20111102045431/http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2328 (Accessed 02-05-2020)

Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA). https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/humanities-and-social-sciences/history/rationale/ (Accessed 02-05-2020)

Barthes, R. (1993). Mythologies. London: Vintage Books.

Brown, C. G. (2004). Postmodernism for Historians. Edinburgh: Pearson.

Gilbert, R., Hoepper, B. (Eds.) (2016). Teaching Humanities and Social Sciences History, Geography, Economics & Citizenship in the Australian Curriculum. (6th ed.). Melbourne: Cengage Australia.

Lee, P., & Shemilt, D. (2003). ‘A scaffold, not a cage: progression and progression models in history.’ Teaching History, 113: 13-23.

Seixas, P. (2006). Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: A framework for assessment in Canada. Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness. https://historicalthinking.ca/sites/default/files/files/docs/Framework_EN.pdf (Accessed 02-05-2020)

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA), Victorian Certificate of Education HISTORY STUDY DESIGN, Accreditation Period 2016-2020. https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/curriculum/vce/vce-study-designs/australianhistory/Pages/index.aspx (Accessed 02-05-2020)

Watt, I. (1957). The Rise of the Novel. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

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Is Russia Losing the Information War?

04/04/2022

Laura Ruggeri

March 31, 2022

The current conflict in Ukraine shows that restoring a sense of reality exacts a heavy and bloody toll, writes Laura Ruggeri.

On March 10 when CIA director Bill Burns addressed the U.S. Senate and declared “Russia is losing the information war over Ukraine”, he repeated a claim that had already been amplified by Anglo-American media since the start of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Though his statement is factually true, it doesn’t tell us why and mainly reflects the West’s perspective. As usual the reality is a lot more complicated.

The U.S. information warfare capability is unparalleled: when it comes to manipulating perceptions, producing an alternate reality and weaponizing minds, the U.S. has no rivals. The U.S. coercive deployment of non-military instruments of power to bolster its hegemony, and attack any state that challenges it, is also undeniable. And that’s precisely why Russia was left with no other option than the military one to defend its interests and national security.

Hybrid warfare, and information warfare as an integral part of it, evolved into standard U.S. and NATO doctrine, but it hasn’t made military force redundant, as proxy wars demonstrate. With more limited hybrid warfare capabilities, Russia has to rely on its army to influence the outcome of a confrontation with the West that Moscow regards as an existential one. And when your existence as a nation is at risk, winning or losing the information war in the Western metaverse becomes rather irrelevant. Winning it at home and ensuring that your partners and allies understand your position and the rationale behind your actions inevitably takes precedence.

Russia’s approach to the Ukraine question is remarkably different from the West’s. As far as Russia is concerned Ukraine is not a pawn on the chessboard but rather a member of the family with whom communication has become impossible due to protracted foreign interference and influence operations. According to Andrei Ilnitsky, an advisor to the Russian Ministry of Defence, Ukraine is the territory where the Russian world lost one of the strategic battles in the cognitive war. Having lost the battle, Russia feels all the more obliged to win the war – a war to undo the damage to a country that historically has always been part of the Russian world and to prevent the same damage at home. It is rather telling that what U.S.-NATO call an “information war” is referred to as “mental’naya voina”, that is a cognitive war, by this prominent Russian strategist. Being mainly on the receiving end of information/influence operations, Russia has been studying their deleterious effects.

While it is too early to predict the trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its political outcomes, one of the main takeaways is that the U.S. employment of all instruments of hybrid warfare to instigate and fuel this conflict, left Russia no alternative than the recourse to military power to solve it. You can’t win the battle for hearts and minds when your opponent controls them. You first need to restore the conditions that will make it possible to reach them and even then it will take years to heal wounds, undo the psychological conditioning.

Though disinformation and deception have always been a part of warfare, and information has long been used to support combat operations, within the framework of hybrid warfare information plays a central role, so much so that in the West combat is seen as taking place primarily through it and vast resources are assigned to influence operations both online and offline. In 2006 retired U.S. Maj. General Robert H. Scales explained a new combat philosophy that would later be enshrined in NATO’s doctrine: “Victory will be defined more in terms of capturing the psycho-cultural rather than the geographical high ground.”

In the U.S.-NATO lexicon, information and influence are interchangeable words. “Information comprises and aggregates numerous social, cultural, cognitive, technical, and physical attributes that act upon and impact knowledge, understanding, beliefs, world views, and, ultimately, actions of an individual, group, system, community, or organization.”

The U.S. information war arsenal is unmatched because it controls the Internet and its main gatekeepers of content such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia… It means the U.S. can exercise control over the noosphere, that “globe-spanning realm of the mind” that RAND in 1999 was already presenting as integral to the American information strategy. For this reason no government can ignore the profound impact of the Internet on public opinion, statecraft and national sovereignty. Because neither Russia nor China can beat the U.S. in a game where it holds all the cards, the smart thing to do is to leave the gaming table, which is exactly what both powers are doing, each drawing on its specific strengths.

The “information war over Ukraine” didn’t start in response to Russia’s military operations in 2022. It was initially unleashed in Ukraine. Since 1991 the U.S. spent billions of dollars, and the EU tens of millions, to tear this country apart from Russia, not to mention the money spent by Soros’ Open Society. No price was deemed too high due to the importance of Ukraine on the geopolitical chessboard. U.S. influence operations led to two colour revolutions, the Orange Revolution (2004-05) and EuroMaidan (2013-14). After the 2014 bloody coup, with the removal of any counterweight, U.S.-NATO influence turned into full control and violent repression of dissent: those who had opposed Maidan lived in fear – the Odessa massacre being a constant reminder of the fate that would befall anyone who dared to resist the new regime.

The promotion of Neo-Nazi tendencies intensified, together with the cult of Nazi collaborationist Stepan Bandera; members of terrorist organizations such as the Azov Battalion and other ultranationalist groups joined government and the Ukranian National Guard, the past was erased and history re-written, Soviet monuments were destroyed, Russian-speakers faced daily threats and discrimination, pro-Russian parties and information outlets were banned, Russophobia was inculcated in children starting from kindergarten. In 2020 alone ultranationalist projects, such as the “Young Banderite Course”, “Banderstadt Festival of Ukrainian Spirit”, etc. received almost half of all the funds allocated by the Ukrainian government for children’s and youth organisations.

Ukrainians who lived in the separatist People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk and couldn’t be targeted by influence operations were targeted by rockets, bombs and bullets: the former compatriots had been recast as enemies almost overnight. While all quality of life indicators revealed a marked decline, large segments of the population lived in a permanent state of cognitive dissonance: they were told that discriminating LGBT is wrong but discriminating Russian speakers is right, remembering Soviet soldiers who had fought Nazism in WW2 and liberated Auschwitz is wrong, remembering the Holocaust is right. Because cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling, people resorted to denial and self-deception, embraced whatever opinion was dominant in their social environment to seek relief.

Since the mindset of an entire population cannot be changed overnight, even with an army of cognitive behaviour specialists, the groundwork was laid in stages. The Orange Revolution helped foster Ukrainian national identity but precisely because it leveraged on existing cultural and linguistic differences it ended up being the most regionally divided of all colour revolutions: western Ukrainians dominated the protests and eastern Ukrainians largely opposed them. The Orange Revolution had a profound effect on the way Ukrainians perceived themselves and their national identity but it didn’t succeed in severing the political, cultural, social, and economic ties between Ukraine and Russia. Most people on both sides of the border continued to regard the two countries as inextricably intertwined.

A second revolution, Euromaidan, would finish the job started in 2004. This time the narrative had a wider appeal: its proponents identified corruption and lack of economic prospects as the main grievances of the population, indicated Ukraine’s leadership and its ties to Russia as the main cause of the country’s troubles and proposed integration into the EU as a cure-all solution.

Turning Russia into a scapegoat for all societal and economic problems, fuelling an anti-Russian sentiment was exactly what a myriad of U.S. and U.S.-funded players had been doing since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, like the rest of post-Soviet countries, was teeming with media outlets, NGOs, educators, diaspora groups, political activists, business and community leaders whose status was artificially inflated by their access to foreign resources and international networks.

These “vectors of influence” introduced themselves as purveyors of “global standards and best practices”, “democratic rules”, “participatory development and accountability”, used marketing buzzwords for their work of demolition of existing practices, frames of reference and their sostitution with new ones, often of inferior quality. Under the guise of fighting corruption, offering a path to modernization and development these players became entrenched in Ukraine’s civil society, shaped its collective consciousness and demonized both Russia, local politicians and public figures who advocated closer relations with Moscow.

The work of these agents of influence was instrumental in demolishing worldviews, beliefs, values and perceptions that dated back to Soviet times, thus altering the population’s self-understanding. It ensured that younger generations would be ignorant about their country’s history and embrace a new fictional identity.

But colour revolutions require both brain and brawn to topple governments and defend the power of the new ruling class. The brute force that was necessary to intimidate and attack those who were impervious to influence operations could only be provided by fringe elements in society who had been seduced by the ultra-nationalist rhetoric.

These violent fringe groups were organized and empowered to exercise greater influence in Ukraine and thus attract more followers. A romanticized, imaginary identity was radicalized by absurd claims that Ukrainians and Russians cannot be called brotherly nations because Ukrainians are “pure-blood Slavs”, while Russians are “mixed-blood barbarians”. Nothing was beyond the pale: sleek re-enactments of Nazi propaganda tropes like torchlight parades that looked impressive on social media, speeches that echoed Hitler’s, xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, the cult of Bandera and those who fought with the Nazis against the Soviet Army.

While foreign groups sharing the same ideological tool box were labelled extremist and terrorist organizations just across the border, in Ukraine they received advice, financial and military support by the U.S. military and the CIA. At the same time the CIA presentable spin-off, NED, was giving out funds, grants, scholarships and media awards to their globalist, politically-correct, “freedom, democracy and human rights” country fellows. The latter cohort would whitewash the crimes of the former. After all, if members of Al-Qaeda donning white helmets in Syria became the darlings of Western media and even won an Oscar, Neo-Nazis could be marketed as defenders of democracy just as easily.

Ukraine’s population was subjected to the sort of psychological operations that would make it want more of a medicine that not only didn’t cure the disease but could kill the patient. In order to turn the country into a beachhead from which to launch hostile operations aimed at weakening Russia and creating a rift between Moscow and Europe, Russophobia had to become a sort of state religion, anyone who didn’t practise it was to be marginalized and eventually excluded from public discourse. The pressure to conform was so strong that it impaired judgement.

The discursive construction of an enemy required the constant demonization of Russia (Mordor), Russians (uncivilized Eurasian barbarians) and Donbass separatists (savages, subhumans).

When neo-Nazi narratives and Russophobia are normalized and allowed to shape both policies and dominant discourse, when people are “weaned” from critical thinking, from their own history, and wage an 8-year long war against their fellow countrymen, that’s a sign people’s minds have been weaponized.

Public consciousness was actively manipulated both at the level of meaning and at the level of emotions. Selective perception and consolatory fantasies were some of the psychological mechanisms ensuring that the population would manage the stress of living in a state of cognitive dissonance where facts and fiction could no longer be separated. By offering cheap passage through a complex world, these narratives provided emotional certainty at the cost of rational understanding.

The emotionally satisfying decision to believe, to have faith, inoculated individuals against counter-arguments and inconvenient facts. The election of an actor on the basis of his convincing performance as a president in a TV series titled “Servant of the People” confirmed the successful substitution of politics with its spectacular simulation: it wasn’t simply the blurring of illusion and reality, but the authentication of illusion as more real than the real itself. The majority of Ukrainians voted for a brand new party that was named after the TV fiction and was the brainchild of the same people. A party that even used billboards advertising the series for Zelensky’s election campaign.

With the global streaming of the TV series by Netflix and its broadcasting by more than a dozen TV channels in Europe we see the marketing of Zelensky to foreign audiences as an image-object whose immediate reality is its symbolic function in a semiotic system of abstract signifiers that take on a life of their own and generate a parallel, virtual reality. This virtual reality in turn generates its own discourse.

For instance, to foreign audiences the 8-year long war in Donbass that caused 14,000 deaths is less real than images extrapolated from a videogame and passed off as “the bombing of Kiev.” That’s because the war in Donbass has been largely ignored by international media.

Images of atrocities, whether taken from other contexts or fabricated, have become free-floating signifiers that can be repurposed according to the needs of propagandists, while real atrocities must be hidden from view. After all it doesn’t matter whether the narrative is true or false, as long as it is convincing.

In post-Maidan Ukraine one could see an anticipation of the fate that awaited the rest of Europe, almost as if Ukraine had been not only a laboratory for colour revolutions, but also a testing ground for the kind of cognitive warfare operations that are leading to the rapid destruction of whatever vestige of civility, logic and rationality is left in the West.

Cognitive warfare integrates cyber, information, education, psychological, and social engineering capabilities to achieve its ends. Social media play a central role as a force multiplier and are a powerful tool for exploiting emotions and reinforcing cognitive biases. Unprecedented information volume and velocity overwhelms individual cognitive capabilities and encourages “thinking fast” (reflexively and emotionally) as opposed to “thinking slow” (rationally and judiciously). Social media also induce social proofing, wherein the individual mimics and affirms others’ actions and beliefs to fit in, thus creating echo chambers of conformism and groupthink. Shaping perceptions is all that matters; critical opinions, inconvenient truths, facts that contradict the dominant narrative can be cancelled with a click, or by tweaking the algorithm. NATO uses machine learning and pattern recognition to quickly identify the locations in which social media posts, messages, and news articles originate, the topics under discussion, sentiment and linguistic identifiers, pacing of releases, links between social media accounts etc.

Such system allows real-time monitoring and provides alerts to NATO and its social media partners, who invariably comply with its requests to remove or ‘shadow ban’ content and accounts deemed problematic.

A polarized, cognitively disoriented population is a ripe target for a type of emotional manipulation known as thought-scripting and mind-boxing. A person’s thinking comes to congeal around increasingly set scripts. And if the script is arguable, it is unlikely to be changed through argument. The well-boxed brain is impervious to information that doesn’t conform to the script and defenceless against powerful falsehoods or simplifications that it has been primed to believe. The more boxed a mind, the more polarized the political environment and public dialogue. This cognitive damage makes all efforts to promote balance and compromise unattractive, in the worst cases even impossible. The totalitarian turn of Western liberal regimes and the insular mentality of Western political elites seem to confirm this sad state of affairs.

With the ban on Russian information outlets, the exclusion and bullying of anyone who seeks to explain Russia’s position, the equivalent of ethnic cleansing of public discourse has been achieved and its cheerleaders have a mad grin on their face that doesn’t bode well.

Examples of irrational mob frenzy are too many to list, those who have fallen victims to this pseudo-religious fervour demand that Russia and Russians be cancelled. For that matter you don’t even need to be human or alive to become a target of mass hysteria: Russian cats and dogs have been banned from competitions, Russian classics banned from universities, Russian products taken off the shelves.

The relentless manipulation of people’s emotions has unleashed a dangerous whirlwind of mass insanity. As in Ukraine, so in Europe citizens are supporting decisions and calling for measures against their own interests, prosperity and future. “I’ll freeze for Ukraine!” is the new epitome of virtue-signalling among those who access only U.S.- approved information, the kind of script compatible with a frame of reference that excludes complexity. In this fictional, parallel universe, a sort of safe, reassuring, compensatory metaverse that has broken free from the messiness of reality, the West always occupies the moral high-ground.

By and large international media coverage of the war in Ukraine has been not only fictional but also completely aligned with narratives provided by Ukrainian propaganda units that were set up and funded by USAID, NED, Open Society, Pierre Omidyar Network, the European Endowment for Democracy et al.

Dan Cohen in an article published by Mint Press News described in detail how the system of Ukrainian strategic information works. Ukraine, with the help of foreign consultants and key media partners, built an effective network of PR-media agencies that actively churn out and promote fake news. In NATO countries whoever dares to question the correctness of this information is accused of being a “Putin’s agent”, attacked and excluded from public debate. The information space is so heavily guarded that it resembles an echo-chamber.

Ukrainian disinformation campaigns affect the judgment of both Western audiences and lawmakers. On March 8 when Ukrainian President Zelensky addressed the British House of Commons remotely, many members of parliament had no earphones to listen to the simultaneous translation of his speech. It didn’t matter. They liked the show and applauded enthusiastically. In their boxed-minds Zelensky had already been framed as “our good guy in Kiev”, and any script, even an incomprehensible one, would do. On March 1 diplomats from Western countries and their allies walked out during a video link address by Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Boxed-brains are cognitively incapable to engage in discussions with those who hold different views, making diplomacy impossible. That’s why in lieu of diplomatic skills we see theatrics and media stunts, empty suits who deliver script lines and project moral superiority.

The West has found refuge in this media-generated make-believe world because it can no longer solve its systemic problems: instead of development and progress we see economic, social, intellectual and political regression, anxiety, frustration, delusions of grandeur and irrationality. The West has become completely self-referential.

Dystopian ideological and social-engineering projects such as Trans-humanism and the Great Reset are the only solutions Western elites can offer to address the inevitable implosion of a system they contributed to wreck.

These “solutions” require the suppression of pluralism, the curtailing of freedom of information and expression, the widespread use of violence to intimidate critical thinkers, disinformation and emotional manipulation, in short, the destruction of the very foundations of modern democracy, public discourse, rational debate and informed participation in decision-making processes. The cherry on top is that it is cynically packaged and marketed as a “victory of democracy against authoritarianism.” To project democracy first they had to kill it and then replace it with its simulation.

But a global communication and information space that doesn’t respect the principle of pluralism and mutual respect inevitably produces its own gravediggers. We already see how this global space is fragmenting into heavily defended information spaces along the lines of geopolitical spheres of influence. The U.S.-led globalization project is unravelling and that’s mainly due to its overambition.

The U.S. might be winning the information war in the West but any victory in the parallel universe created by the media could easily turn into a Pyrrhic one when reality reasserts itself.

Recent history tells us that carefully crafted narratives, disinformation and demonization of the opponent radicalize and polarize public opinion, but victory in the information battlefield doesn’t necessarily translate into military or political victory, as we have seen in Syria and Afghanistan.

While the collective West revels in its success after the nuclear option of banning all Russian media from the global infosphere it controls, it’s too blinded by hubris to even notice the inevitable fallout. Total control over the narrative is achieved through authoritarian measures and the repression of dissenting voices, that is a reversal of those inclusive democracy and universalist values that the West hypocritically claims to defend and is actively projecting in the Global South. In the ideological confrontation with countries it defines “authoritarian” the West is losing the edge it claimed to possess.

The unipolar, U.S.-led world order is coming to an end and the West is fast losing its influence. Russia is paying attention and in the future it might invest more energy in reaching non-Western audiences instead, that is people who aren’t as indoctrinated and impervious to truth, facts and reason as their Western counterparts.

While at the beginning of the information revolution China took measures to protect its digital sovereignty, for many reasons it took Russia longer to recognize the danger posed by a communication and information system that despite initial claims of being an open, level playing field, was actually rigged in favour of those who controlled it.

Russia’s initiative in Ukraine is not only a response to attacks on the population of Donbass and a way to forestall Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Its avowed goal to denazify Ukraine is a defensive response to the intense cognitive war operations that the U.S. has been conducting both inside Russia and in neighbouring countries. NATO’s eastward expansion wasn’t simply a military expansion, it led to the occupation of the psycho-cultural, information and political space as well.

After losing a strategic battle in the cognitive war, watching the normalization of Neo-Nazi Russophobia and realizing that hostile forces, both domestic and foreign, have become entrenched in Ukraine, Russia feels all the more obliged to win the war, as Andrei Ilnitsky explained in an interview to Zvezda. Ilnitsky recognized that “The main danger of cognitive warfare is that its consequences are irreversible and can manifest themselves through generations. People who speak the same language as us, suddenly became our enemies.” The erection of monuments to Stepan Bandera while those of Soviet soldiers were being destroyed, was not only an intolerable provocation for Russia – a country that lost 26.6 million people fighting Nazism in WW2 – it was also a tangible expression of the kind of erasure and rewriting of history that is not limited to Ukraine.

The current conflict in Ukraine shows that restoring a sense of reality exacts a heavy and bloody toll. Unfortunately in matters of national security painful decisions cannot be postponed indefinitely.

Il mito

08/04/2020

Il Mito Nasce

“La compagnia del fil di ferro”

Li ho conosciuti nella sala d’attesa prima dell’imbarco sull’aereo per l’Australia.

Cercatori di opale

pietra dura più dell’acciaio: non bastavano le cariche di esplosivo per rimuovere le pietre, a fila dovevano metterle per staccarne un pezzo.

Anni di deserto a più di 40° gradi all’ombra, vivere in caverne sotterranee. 

All’aeroporto gli anziani cercatori di opale si raccontavano di chi era vivo e chi era morto.

Un incontro casuale, un destino comune, due uomini errabondi sulla terra arsa, l’uno di Rivoli alle porte di Torino, l’altro di un paese vicino a Treviso. Uomini anziani ma ancora prestanti con la schiene dritta, il primo che era partito nel 1950 e il secondo nel 1955. 

Il primo metalmeccanico in pensione con i figli in due continenti. Il secondo con ancora il portamento duro e i baffi grigio ferro da ex-carabiniere. 

Chi racconterà la loro storia ?

Il Mito Cresce

Il viaggio

Mario, mio cugino: ancora con il fisico asciutto e aitante del ragazzo malgrado i suoi sessant’anni. Si sussurrava in famiglia che una volta aveva anche fatto il pugile. Le sue grandi e possenti mani sembravano darne conferma. Eravamo a cena in famiglia davanti un tavolo imbandito con prelibatezze locali-calabresi, soppressata, capocollo, tanto più apprezzati quanto più rari in quella nitida notte invernale di Adelaide. Mario aveva solo 16 anni quando disse a sua madre “Voglio andare in Australia a raggiungere mio padre !” La madre in risposta: “Sei troppo giovane! Tuo padre è partito, tuo fratello è partito, almeno tu rimani qui con me!” Però l’ardore giovanile e forte di Mario vinse sulle rimostranze della madre, e alla fine prese il fatale piroscafo da Messina. Mentre mangiava, Mario continuò il suo racconto: “All’inizio ero felice. Ma dopo due settimane in mezzo al mare che sembrava non finire più, capii di aver sbagliato: mi resi conto di quanto era lontana quest’Australia! Pensai chissà quando potrò rivedere mia madre, i miei fratelli, i miei amici.” A metà boccone la prelibatezza gli rimase in gola proprio dove le lacrime la fermarono.

Lo sfioramento

Gianni: era allora un giovanotto di 20 anni, emigrato a cercare il padre negli anni 50 in Western Australia. A Pasqua decide con un gruppo di amici di fare un viaggio su un camioncino scassato verso l’Est: le strade non c’erano, solo polvere alla ricerca della via. Raggiunsero Geelong, alle Porte occidentali di Melbourne, nuotarono nelle acque di Port Phillip Bay, e forse scorgevano già nella lontananza le torri della città. (Come fu per Ulisse di Dante quando racconta, mentre naviga nell’emisfero meridionale di vedere lontananza una solitaria montagna – il Purgatorio – poco prima di naufragare). Ma era troppo tardi: dovettero tornare perché ci avevano impiegato troppo tempo per il viaggio. Gianni, che tornò in Italia pochi anni dopo e rimase in Calabria, ci pensa ancora, si duole di non essere riuscito a raggiungere Melbourne, e sogna di provarci ancora.

La Verità del Mito

La Liberazione
Mio padre partì nel 1952 dopo la sconfitta dell’Italia nella Seconda Guerra mondiale. In quel periodo lavorava le ciocche delle pipe: era allora una grande industria in Calabria che esportava in tutto il mondo, e che nessuno oggi commemora. Si dice che quando piove la radica strappata al terreno gema e rilasci una linfa rossa come il sangue che cola sulla testa dei portatori.

Lavorava sei mesi l’anno e poi era a spasso: decise di partire per l’Australia a seguire suo fratello il quale era fuggito dalle fila della RSI, anche lui marchiato di fuoco e di sangue. Sognava di comprarsi un albergo e il dolce far niente con una Comare di Locri di cui si sussurrava fosse innamorato. Lui sì che riuscì ad arrivare a Melbourne, ma direttamente, non rimase solo a meta agognata. Iniziò a lavorare per la General Motors, presso Fishermen’s Bend in Salmon Street. La rete del capitalismo mondiale raccoglieva i pesci annaspanti e sconfitti sulla riva e gli apriva le porte degli acquari industriali. Passò trentadue anni a limare brandelli di ferro che, quando fuggivano, gli entravo negli occhi e nei polmoni. Non tornò mai più in Italia per non dover rinnovare il dolore di una gioventù e di una bellezza ormai perduta.

Il Mito Muore

Nonna Marerosa

“Attraversato l’uscio, il primo benvenuto, col suo dolce e accogliente sorriso, me lo ha dato la Madonna del Rosario, e , poi, la padrona di casa. “E’ più bella quella vera”, mi fece osservare nonna Marerosa, mentre i suoi occhi si erano già illuminati alla sola vista di qualcuno che, dal paese dove lei era nata e vissuta per tanto tempo, era venuto a trovarla nella sua casa, nel “suo” paese. Volle sapere di tutto di Benestare facendo a raffica una domanda dietro l’altra come se il tempo improvvisamente le stava per mancare, e col tempo, le veniva meno anche la possibilità di chiedere tutto quello che avrebbe voluto ancora sapere. Traboccante d’orgoglio e sorridente negli occhi, tirandomi per un braccio, mi fece visitare l’intera bellissima, casa; quindi, con un rimarcato accenno di malinconia: “Nescimma, si poti diri, ‘nta ‘nu catoju” ricordò più a se stessa che agli ospiti, cummari Marerosa. “Ed ora!…”. In un battibaleno andò a porsi come il Bambinello, in un catoju buoi fra un bue e un asinello, accosciati, che fumavano vapore carico di amore. Poi, piano piano, mentre, premurosa, mi trascinava nel giardino fiorito di tutto punto, mi accorsi che il sorriso nei suoi occhi si andava spegnendo e due lacrime le erano sfuggite sulle gote rinsecchite dagli anni. Feci violenza a me stesso e non interruppi quel suo momento di immenso piacere di piangere, in ciò confortato da una delle sue tante nipoti. “Fa sempre così quando qualcuno di Benestare la viene a trovare.” La vecchia chiese un sorso d’acqua. “Volete assaggiare l’acqua dell’Australia?” disse porgendomi il bicchiere. “Non è come quella di Frandina.” “E’ certamente migliore”. “No!” rispose semplicemente. Fuori, per mano, mi condusse da un’aiuola all’altra, da un fiore all’altro. Mi fece annusare tutti i profumi del suo giardino; poi, con gli occhi, mi diresse verso le case e i giardini intorno. Mi additò le loro aiuole, i loro fiori. Mi fece sentire i loro profumi, e con voce che apparentemente sapeva di gioiosità mi informò: “Vedete quant’è bello qua. Quante case belle ci sono. Vedete quanti fiori. Sentite quanti profumi. L’Australia è bella. E’ molto bella, e si sta anche molto bene qui, perché da queste parti, forse una volta, tanto tempo fa, sono passati centinaia di angeli e dall’alto del cielo vi hanno pisciato sopra l’abbondanza: mai io…io…è da cinquant’anni che sono in galere senza aver mai ammazzato nessuno.” Per un po’ di tempo si chiuse in un ostinato silenzio, con gli occhi assenti ed il pensiero fuori di quel mondo, lontano, quindi disse solamente: “Era bello pur’ ‘u catoju.”

(Tratto dal libro Ti regalo una favola, o quasi, di Francesco Guidace – Arti Grafiche edizioni 2003 Ardore Marina, Reggio Calabria, pp. 29-30).

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The French thinker that inspired Brenton Tarrant

15/03/2019

Brenton Tarrant inspired by Renaud Camus’s “replacement theory”
15 March 2019
The author of the Christchurch massacre gave the same title to his manifesto as the book by French writer Renaud Camus, “Le Grand Remplacement” or the “The Great Replacement”

Correspondent ANAIS GINORI, from La Repubblica newspaper.

Who is Renaud Camus, the author of the “Grand Remplacement” theory cited in the Christchurch killer’s manifesto? His name says little to those who don’t frequent far-right circles.  He is a French intellectual, a former professor of literature in the United States, who attended Roland Barthes’s lectures in the 1970s, and advocated in favour of homosexual rights. Despite being accused of anti-Semitism Camus continues to organize cultural debates in a castle in the Toulouse region where he lives. He founded the Party of In-nocence and ran for the 2012 French presidential election before deciding to back Marine Le Pen.

It is in 2010, with the publication of the essay “L’Abécédaire de l’In-noncence”, that he elaborates his theory of the “Grand Remplacement”, or “the great substitution”, which has since became a book, cited in Bretton Tarant’s Christchurch manifesto.

In this theory, Camus describes an alleged substitution of whites with “extra-European” immigration. Camus evokes a “genocide by substitution, a crime against humanity in the twenty-first century”. His theses highlight a presumed threat of Islam against Christian culture which, in his conspiratorial view, corresponds to a plan orchestrated by “globalist elites”.

Camus’s controversial theory has become current in French political and cultural debate, and has been taken up by popular essayists like Eric Zemmour, and the expression “Grand Remplacement” has been used by some leaders of the Front National and other sovereignists.

Tarrant says in his manifesto that he “became aware” of Camus’s theories during his travels in France, observing “the great substitution” in small villages. Tarrant then admits to his “desperation” after the defeat of Le Pen the 2017 presidential elections that led to the election of Emmanuel Macron.

On his Twitter profile, Camus has distanced himself from the New Zealand massacre. “Violence can be symbolic, emblematic,” he writes. “It cannot be blind or murderous. Strike the spirit, not bodies.” But for many of his adversaries the attack that took place thousands of kilometers away confirms the dangerousness of his ideas.

Translated from Italian article by ANAIS GINORI found here: https://rep.repubblica.it/pwa/generale/2019/03/15/news/bretton_tarrant_renaud_camus_grande_sostituzione-221670085/?ref=RHPPLF-BH-I0-C8-P2-S1.8-T1

The resistible rise of the Lega in the South of Italy

01/03/2019

The “differentiated autonomy” bill is the largest and most radical anti-democratic project in the history of republican Italy. Yet Salvini’s Lega party still wins electoral breakthroughs in Abruzzo and Sardinia.

The electoral victory of the Lega in Abruzzo was seized and commented upon by the commentators as indicating the collapse of the 5Star Movement. But it was scarcely analysed on its own merits, as a historic marker in Italy’s electoral geography.

Abruzzo is a region of the South, the same part of Italy that the first leader of the Lega Nord party Umberto Bossi, criminalized and mocked to build his first political fortunes. For decades the South’s inhabitants have been stereotyped as thieves and parasites. Starting in the 80s Bossi’s campaign of hatred and mockery undermined, and made appear as fraudulent, state funding and public investments in Italy’s southern regions.

Today these prejudices have continued.

In many areas of Italy’s northern regions, anti-southern prejudices and anger have become latent, since the Lega’s new leader Matteo Salvini identified Italy’s recently arrived immigrants as the new enemy.

Salvini’s recent electoral successes, including breakthroughs in southern regions, most recently in Sardinia, can be partly explained by his great ability to state falsehoods under the political cover provided by the leaders of the 5 Star Movement, and partly by the complicity and deafening silence of the Democratic Party.

Salvini’s slogan, “First the Italians”, embodies an implicit subtext, “but even before them, the Venetians and the Lombards”. The inhabitants of these two regions of the North – to which we can add, as a mark of shame of their glorious civil history, the residents of the Emilia Romagna region, are in fact considered more ‘Italian’ than the rest of the country. Most of the tax revenue from these wealthy Northern regions will be given back to them, to spend in full administrative autonomy across 23 services.

The ‘differentiated autonomy bill’ in reality the largest and most radical anti-immigration bill in the history of republican Italy, directed against the country’s own Southern citizens who are fleeing the South to the north in unprecedented numbers to seek work. Is it possible that none of Salvini’s opponents has been able to tell Southern Italian voters that his government will soon pass a law that will redistribute tax money to make the richest regions even richer and those that are poor even poorer?

This will result in a first class health care system in the North of Italy and a second class one in Southern Italy. Patients needing operations or specialist care will no longer be able to transfer move from hospitals in Southern Italy to those in the North. The schools and universities of the South will have fewer and fewer resources, in contrast to the ‘hyper-Italian’ institutions of the Veneto and Lombardy, whose teachers will also have salaries higher than their colleagues in Southern Italy regions.

How can it happen that so many southern voters are increasingly voting for a party that is their most determined enemy? A party that will create and consolidate areas of territorial advantage whose privileges will be inversely proportional to the marginalisation of the South?

The explanation is that these electors are ill informed and have been betrayed in silence. But those responsible for keeping them in the dark are not only Salvini and the leaders of the 5 Star Movement, who will soon lose their consensus in the South – just the time it will take for the electors to realise how they have been deceived.

Also solemnly silent are the leaders of the Democratic Party, who could have used powerful arguments to oppose the success of the League, otherwise destined to spread, and instead preferred to privilege their own electoral manoeuvrings.

How much infantile blindness! Do they not realise that if the autonomy bill becomes law, in a short time the conditions of many areas in the South will become desperate where no party will even have an office. The protest of Sardinian shepherds today is a signal of what is to come.

What type of country does the Democratic Party think it will be able to govern, fragmented into a broken puzzle of regions, which within the next ten years will take Italy back to its pre-unification state? And does the Democratic Party really believe that they can erase the traces of their irresponsibility by changing the their ‘company’ name? Do not they realise that their names and their faces will become the focus of the hatred of the people and disappear forever from the face of Italy?

This incredible myopia of the country’s middle classes – so obvious from the muzzle that middle-class papers such as Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa have placed on this topic – that deludes itself that it will have greater success by ceding command to the stronger Northern regions, forgetting that without having behind them the whole country, a united Italy, the nation will be weaker, and the good luck enjoyed by some will be paid for with the certain decline of all.

Original Article: https://ilmanifesto.it/la-resistibile-ascesa-della-lega-nel-sud-2/

by Piero Bevilacqua, eminent social historian

To the red flag

05/04/2018

 

bandiera rossa milano

Those that know your colour, red flag,

know that you must exist for them to be:

Those once covered in scabs are covered in wounds,

the labourer becomes a beggar,

the Neapolitan becomes a Calabrian, the Calabrian an African,

the illiterate become buffaloes or dogs.

Those that hardly knew your colour, red flag,

are about to forget you, even with their senses:

you who can boast of so many middle and working class glories,

become a rag once more for the poorest to wave.

(Pier Paolo Pasolini, La religione del mio tempo, 1961)

Alla bandiera rossa

Per chi conosce solo il tuo colore, bandiera rossa,

tu devi realmente esistere, perché lui esista:

chi era coperto di croste è coperto di piaghe,

il bracciante diventa mendicante,

il napoletano calabrese, il calabrese africano,

l’analfabeta una bufala o un cane.

Chi conosceva appena il tuo colore, bandiera rossa,

sta per non conoscerti più, neanche coi sensi:

tu che già vanti tante glorie borghesi e operaie,

ridiventa straccio, e il più povero ti sventoli.

The Afterbirth of a Nation

20/08/2017

Imagine this scene: a clutch of old bearded white men with tobacco stained teeth talking at each other across a table from starch stiffened necks in a smoke filled room. Outside their stern stone building with its faux fluted columns and classical pretensions, tired horses momentarily relieved of their carriages, drink from iron troughs, and give out the odd snort or two.

The Australian Constitution is about to be born, there directly on this drawing room table, in all its gore, old before its time.

These quarrelling men are the scions and and signs of Empire, the greatest the world had ever seen: their peers and colleagues could be found in smoke filled rooms across the globe, from New Zealand, closest at hand, further away, to Africa and India, then all the way to Canada and the Caribbean in the Americas and finally to the Mother of them all, the United Kingdom.

Of this new nation that these men were delivering, they reserved for themselves and their colleagues throughout the world, its citizenship in perpetuity: not a black skin, nay even a dark tan amongst them. And with the same pen they disenfranchised anyone who was not of their ilk, in particular the indigenous of the land, who had inhabited it from time immemorial. Blessed in their acute conservatism, they could never have foreseen the time when their Empire would break into several clods, riven by the cloudbursts of war and independence. They would never have envisaged that the British race and its attendant forelock tugging subjecthood, would, once sown across the globe, become a menagerie of exotic yet oddly reminiscent creatures, each sporting nationhoods of their own. Never would they have thought that the indigenous would step ahead to stand in front of them with the title: the First Peoples of the Land.

Even so, their child, the Australian Constitution, remained. It was dragged on from parliament to parliament on squealing wooden wheels, maturing from old age to decrepitude, to end up dead but strapped upright to a rough wooden plank, assized on a saddle and paraded between the serried ranks of acclaiming white men.

And those clever grooms who painted pupils on its rotting eyelids never thought to ask to whom and to where they belonged. After all, who would question this, their prerogative of nationhood? They may not have inherited the Empire intact, but they certainly bore its arrogance.

And now they have been revealed for what they are, lackeys to a long dead ideal, no longer lords of the earth but outcasts from their own home.

And at whose hand?

At the stern bony direction of the very Constitution meant to enshrine the privileges of their imperial forebears, their own and those of their descendants.

Section 44: the Afterbirth of a Nation.

Gerardo Papalia

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‘Epic’ Sundays and Wog Boyhood Dreamings

07/07/2017

There is an experience that many of us who grew up in Australia as male children of migrant parents in the 1960s and 1970s will recognise: that sense of expectation that surrounded our Sunday lunch. This feeling was not just about the food that our mothers had spent most of the morning preparing, sandwiching religious devotion between layers of pasta and ragu. An essential condiment to our lunch of lasagne or tagliatelle crowned by unsteady meatballs would be our television fare. From 12.00 to about 1.00 clock the family would be able to enjoy the multicultural antipasto offered by World Championship Wrestling on Channel 9. Never was the signifier ‘world’ more appropriate. Even though the broadcast was from Melbourne’s very own Festival Hall, the protagonists came from all over the globe. Depending on our ethnic allegiance, our heroes would be Mario Milano, with his dark complexion and movie star looks, the equally handsome Spiros Arion a.k.a. the Golden Greek, or the fair Larry O’Dea who played the flexible mercurial Irishman. Their foils were as bad as our heroes were good: Killer Kowalski, as his epithet itself suggests, was the eternal villain. By never pitting Mario against Spiros and by keeping the fighting (mostly) within the ring, the managers of World Championship Wrestling performed a great service to our nascent multiculturalism and kept peace on the city’s streets.

And this was only the first half of the meal. The interval or the comedic relief – depending on one’s political beliefs – would come in the form of an annoyingly earnest middle aged and bald headed politician called Bob Santamaria. In his five minute dedicated slot titled ‘Point of View’ he frequently railed against secret plots by Communists to take over Australia. His Italian name and appearance did not deceive anyone. Why he had the exclusive right to those interminable 5 minutes we as children would never know. Instead our parents probably did, which is why they took this opportunity go back to the kitchen to make strong espresso coffee. The dawning and setting of Bob’s shiny pate had another important function: it gave some of us the chance to finally break out of the head-lock our uncle had put us in.

After Santamaria finally shuffled off the television coil at precisely 1.05, our minds would begin once more to salivate in expectation. On screen would appear the words in colonnaded lettering: ‘Epic Theatre’. This title said it all: it was a slot dedicated to films set in the Ancient Rome or inspired by Greek mythology. Cinema buffs use the condescending term ‘sword-and-sandal’ or ‘peplum’ (plural: ‘pepla’) to describe these works of cinematographic prowess. And today they are considered masterpieces of camp cinema.

These films were mostly shot in Italy at the famous Cinecittà studios of Rome, or in the surrounding countryside populated with ruins, grass huts and Mediterranean pines. Impassioned viewers of the genre as we were, we ignored the fact that the settings or the scenery seemed to reappear in film after film. For many of us these fields and pines represented ideal representations of our ancestral homeland, not the poor and deprived villages depicted in our parents’ accounts. These settings only further fed the mystique of these films, as did their stereotypical characters and story-lines. Set in a ‘mythological’ time or the heroic ancient era, their larger than life protagonists crowded the polar extremes of behaviour and aesthetics: they were either virtuous and beautiful or ugly and evil. Not surprisingly for a film industry seeking broad appeal, these films starred handsome (often American) body-builders in the lead roles. After being spoken in Italian the films were imperfectly dubbed into English for international audiences. While this brings hilarity today, at the time we hardly noticed. We were not listening to the words so much as instinctively decoding and absorbing the body language of the Italian casts that was so familiar to us. The same could be said for the dominant masculine body types, which the short tunics amply highlighted: bronzed bodies with muscular legs and arms. The film plots began with an injustice committed and ended in a righting of wrongs – a righteous revenge – played out on the grandest scale and painted abundantly in red blood. Almost invariably a reluctant male hero would be drawn into a political intrigue by his attraction for the virtuous and beautiful daughter of a king or an emperor who had been deprived of their rank by some evil usurper. The hero would seek to put right to this wrong and overcome the terrible snares laid out to entrap him. At the same time he would usually have to resist the whiles of the evil usurper’s adulterous consort. Ultimately the hero would succeed, often legitimated by the last minute intervention of the oppressed masses who stormed the usurper’s palace. Their arrival always sealed the destinies of the protagonists. They would restore the throne to its rightful occupant if still alive, or hand it over to the hero himself, now the beloved of the virtuous woman mentioned above, whose rule would usher in an era of peace and sunny prosperity.

While it may be easy to laugh today at such naiveties, in the eyes of young Italian-Australian spectators, these films represented cultural vindication in technicolour. For we had been brought up on the staple fare of Hollywood films that invariably cast thin lanky white Anglo-Saxon men as heroes who always won out against the ‘Other’, whether they were Native-American, soldiers from non-English speaking countries, or spies with strange accents. We found it difficult to suspend our selfhoods to the point where we could identify with these ‘heroes’, so similar to the very same people who called us ‘wog’ or ‘dago’ in the streets. Instinctively, we identified with Native-Americans, the soldiers from non-English speaking countries, and the spies with accents, which to us were only ‘strange’ when they were inauthentic. And when the masses arrived on the final scene, they did not appear to us to be extras in recycled peasant garments carrying pitchforks: their faces reflected back to us our own sense of who we were and where we had come from. And they gave us hope.

The sword-and-sandal genre presented on ‘Epic Theatre’ was the first to posit Italians, Greeks, and Mediterranean people more generally, as heroes and protagonists of their own destinies. They spoke to we Italian-Australian boys of a world whose symbolic order was entirely and proudly our own. These films portrayed heroic deeds, larger than life events, ennobling myths, infinitely greater and more captivating than the insipid procession of British monarchs whose starchy complexions stared at us from our schoolbooks. What was more their stories belonged to us: they were part of our cultural patrimony and they proved our greatness. With all their bad dubbing, campness and repetition, these films blended into a single reverie lasting our entire childhood and made us feel that we too could be heroes. Back in Italy it was the Western genre that wove the fabric of children’s desires, in Australia it was these pepla that became the stuff of our Italian-Australian boyhood dreams.

Gerardo Papalia

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Trump: Just a Berlusclone?

15/11/2016

 

donald-berlustrump

Is Donald Trump just a clone of Silvio Berlusconi? The initial evidence is compelling, but not in the way many may have imagined.

To read more click here: https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/portal (Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies.) 

 

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Il sorpasso or The (not so) Easy Life of Italian-Australians

08/10/2016

“Hey Roberto, forget about being sad. Do you know what the best time in life is? I’ll tell you, it is the one you are in now.”

sorpasso

Imagine this: you have some tedious work to do on a midsummer’s public holiday: a university exam to prepare, some work left over from a week at the office, a tap to fix. And, everyone in your neighbourhood has left for the beach or the countryside. You are struggling to concentrate on the task at hand by trying not to think of the long lonely day ahead of you. Then you hear the roar of a sports car draw closer and closer. It stops right outside your apartment. A tall dark handsome guy gets out from a Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider, a powerful sports car, both a little worse for wear. He sees you staring at him from the window and asks if he can use your telephone. He is so charming you let him in. On the point of leaving, he asks: “What are you doing here closed up in your apartment? It’s a public holiday, and my plans for the day have gone awry. How about going out for an aperitif in town?” You are 22 and you are in a Roman suburb. It is going to be the hottest day in 1962 and Italy has just reached the cusp of its post-war economic “miracle”. Anyone who is able to move is either on the road or at their destination, anxious to enjoy their new found and fragile prosperity.

What would you have done?

What happens afterwards is the story of this film. Its title is Il Sorpasso, literally meaning “The Overtaking”, but transposed into English as The Easy Life. Its original title references the aspirations of Italians to shake off their past by overtaking the cultural road blocks separating them from what they hoped would be a radiant and prosperous future. Directed by Dino Risi at his artistic peak, it is a key film that moves beyond neorealism to become one of the first examples of the “commedia all’italiana”. It will consolidate the road movie genre and inspire films like Easy Rider.

Those of us who descend from the post-War Italian diaspora can easily recognise the stories told in neorealist films such as Roma città aperta, Sciuscià and Ladri di biciclette, because they belonged to the generation that left a war ravaged country to make a new life outside of Italy. Instead, the films of the “commedia all’italiana” speak of a different Italy, one that can be hard to decipher for Italian-Australians.

Many of us have crossed the oceans, attracted by Italy’s siren call, often in the hope of making sense of our fragmented identities: to connect the ‘Italian’ part of ourselves with Italy through our own private “sorpassi” over our own cultural road blocks. However, on our arrival it is the Italy of the “commedia all’italiana” that we encounter, not the ‘neorealist’ Italy of the stories handed down by our families. To bridge this gap many of us have sought to eke out the traces of this older more familiar Italy, to read the lingering ruins, to encourage our relatives to talk about a past that once bound all our families together. But it is a difficult if not impossible task and our relatives, even if they lived through those times, are reluctant to dwell on them. They have moved on. We realise that we are orphans of our own ‘Italian’ identities. On our return to Australia we try to explain to our families what we found only to be met with blank stares or a dismissive wave of the hand accompanied by the words: “Italy is not what it once was.” But if Italy is not what it once was, where does that leave us?

Watching Il Sorpasso may help us fill this gap. It crosses the cultural divide from the Italy our parents or our grandparents knew to the Italy of today. We will be able to identify with the diligent young protagonist of the story, naively loyal to his parents expectations and desires, before he is seduced away by the spirit of the dawning age. Just like the protagonist, we will be unable to resist the invitation to bite deeply into the fruit of knowledge. And if we survive this rite of passage, we may even end up identifying with our seducer. In the end, the only Italy we will be able to relate to is the Italy of today that we have discovered for ourselves, as tragic-comic as it often is. We may have to forge another understanding of who we are. In this process what we thought were our exclusively ‘Australian’ parts will become indispensable. Perhaps we may learn to appreciate our separate and ephemeral “best times in life”. Either way, as happens to the two protagonists, our lives will be changed forever.

Gerardo Papalia

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