Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A brief (fascist) history of 'I don't care'


Originally published at Overland

This article was sparked by the jacket that Melania Trump wore as she travelled to a detention camp for migrant children, but my intent isn’t to argue that she or her staff chose that jacket in order to send a coded message to the president’s far-right followers. It is, rather, to highlight some of the historical echoes of that phrase – ‘I don’t care’: echoes of which someone ought to have been aware, especially in an administration that includes – to put it mildly – several far-right sympathisers. And also to show that the attitude, the theatrical ‘not caring’, was an explicit character trait of Fascism.

Which, at the very least, seems a troubling coincidence.

Fascism lay its roots in the campaign for Italy’s late entry in the First World War, of which Mussolini was one of the leaders. It was at this time that the phrase ‘me ne frego’ – which at the time was still considered quite vulgar, along the lines of the English ‘I don’t give a fuck’ – was sung by members of the special force known as arditi (literally: ‘the daring ones’) who volunteered for the front, to signify that they didn’t care if they should lose their lives.

The arditi were disbanded after the war, but many of them volunteered in 1919 for an expedition led by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio to capture the city of Fiume (Rijeka, in present-day Croatia) and claim it for Italy during the vacuum created by the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire. At the time of this occupation, former arditi also supplied the backbone of the original Black Squads during the terror campaigns that began in 1919 and culminated with the ‘March on Rome’ of 1922, which completed Fascism’s swift rise to power.

This lapel pin worn by an original member of the Black Shirts was recently sold on a website devoted to military memorabilia. It is emblazoned with the words ‘Me ne frego’ underneath the symbol of the arditi and the acronym FERT (which stands for the motto of the Royal Family). The seller calls it ‘bellissimo’.


‘Me ne frego’ was the title of one of the most famous songs of the Fascist era. Its original version, dating around 1920, hails D’Annunzio and Mussolini as the fathers of the fascist movement, recycling the old war song of the arditi as the third stanza.
Me ne frego    I don’t care
me ne frego    I don’t care
me ne frego è il nostro motto,    I don’t care is our motto
me ne frego di morire    I don’t care if I should die
per la santa libertà!…    For our sacred freedom! …
Later versions removed mentions of D’Annunzio, who faded fairly quickly into the background. In the meantime, Mussolini made the slogan his own, and explicitly elevated it to the philosophy of the regime.


The meaning of ‘Me ne frego’

The proud Black-Shirt motto ‘I don’t care’ written on the bandages that cover a wound isn’t just an act of stoic philosophy or the summary of a political doctrine. It’s an education to fighting, and the acceptance of the risks it implies. It’s a new Italian lifestyle. This is how the Fascist welcomes and loves life, while rejecting and regarding suicide as an act of cowardice; this is how the Fascist understands life as duty, exaltation, conquest. A life that must be lived highly and fully, both for oneself but especially for others, near and far, present and future.

(Benito Mussolini)
The connotations of altruism at the end of the quote are in direct contrast with the meaning taken on by the word menefreghismo (literally, ‘Idontcareism’), which ever since the regime has meant in common parlance a kind of detached self-reliance, or moral autocracy. Just as Italy broke with its former allies and charted a stubborn path towards the ruin and devastation of the Second World War, so too the Fascist citizen was encouraged to reject the judgement of others and look straight ahead. It should be remembered in this regard that the regime treated ignorance and proclivity to violence as desirable qualities to be rewarded with positions of influence and power. This required a swift redrawing of the old social norms, and of the language used to signify the moral worth of individuals. ‘Me ne frego’ was the perfect slogan for the people in charge of overseeing such a program.

Four years ago, speaking at a First World War commemoration in the small town of Redipuglia, Pope Francis linked ‘me ne frego’ not only with the carnage of that conflict, but also with the horrors of Fascism, recognising its ideological and propaganda value for Mussolini’s project. This is the form in which the slogan has survived until the present day, as a linguistic signifier not of generic indifference, but of ideological nostalgia. And because the attempts in Italy and beyond to stem the spread of such signifiers have been comprehensively abandoned, we readily find those words appearing not just on seemingly ubiquitous Fascist-era memorabilia but also on posters,


t-shirts,


or this line of stickers that can be purchased for $.193 from Redbubble (motto ‘awesome products designed by independent artists’), where it was uploaded by user ‘fashdivision’.


The international neofascist movement is of course well aware of this lineage. By way of example, if you search for it online you’ll find a long-running English-language podcast called Me ne frego which recycles this imagery in support of arguments against immigration and multiculturalism, or to opine on the subject of ‘the Jewish question’. I don’t doubt that people close both to the Trump administration and this world are similarly cognisant of the uses to which those three words have been put. But even for those who aren’t, claims to indifference have a history which we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget.



Image: jacket Melania Trump wore to US detention camps.

20 comments:

Stephanie Chilcott said...

Thank you Giovanni. We have problems in NZ with knowing our histories without learning about nuances of Eurpoean history not directly related to WW II. Today's post was illuminating and clarified so much about today's fascists.

Unknown said...

A while back - maybe in the 80s and 90s - notorious supporters of one of the London football teams, Millwall, were some of the most violent and racists. Their chant was 'Nobody likes us and we don't care'. They came from an area of SE London (where I lived) with close links to the docks that closed down in the 70s, and with a history of racist violence and policing (New Cross fire, 1981). In fact, Millwall football club, to its credit, worked really hard to change this - I don't know the latest, but I think it's changed. (A lot of the racists went east to the coast where UKIP and Brexit voters are strongest.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for presenting this. In the history of the world, tyranny and demagogues were not defeated by taking the high road. I hope that people other than Maxine Waters know this.

Unknown said...

Very enlightening! I am planning to research the rise of fascism in Europe. What we're witnessing with 45 and the present Congress is comparable to the early signs of the overturning of governments. Our Democracy is facing insidious destruction by its present majority governing bodies. Paying attention to the smallest sign is crucial to our survival. While we cannot know, for sure,Malania's intent, we do know the origin of these words and the type of government they fostered.We cannot pretend that her wearing the jacket,so inscribbed,is not important.

Anonymous said...

If the signs are that we're on our way to destruction and Hell, should we be thinking seriously of alternatives, more rational, possible, real alternatives?

Anonymous said...

Don't know that Melania is smart enough or educated enough to understand what the jacket
symbolized, but I'm even more upset upon reading this article...and I'm becoming AFRAID! What is happening?? It seems fascism is creeping up and we're like the frog in the soup pot...

4Youalone3 said...

Yes indeed. So many blind and unaware of so much swirling around us, 911 inside job to make excuse for war, Geoengineering/Chemtrails sprayed overhead to keep us sick,dumbed down, pacified and to steer storms, mass shooters as distraction and reason to "regulate" guns, divide and conquor political and racial gactics, police acting more and more like goon squads......We are indeed frogs in a witches cauldron on slow boil.

Unknown said...

This is what my WW2 navy fighter pilot father fought for. I'm not going to sit out and let them take over what he fought for. And he was also a fullblood Native American who fought for the country he loved. Too bad they never fought for him.

Marc Fogarty said...

Look the history of it as a phrase is great and interesting, but people need to remember that context is everything, this jacket has nothing to do with Facism. It is a question or rather a fashion statement and is not meant to mean anything more than that, all that you have really done with this information in this context is created a group of rather loose links for those that want to assign a false narrative.

It is like the game of seven degrees of separation, enough slender connections and anyone can be connected to anyone else through seven people.

It is my understanding that the message "I really don't care, do U?" is a stab at the fashionistas of the world it is a comment about the style,type and cost of the jacket and that particular clothing line as being cheap and practical. Effectively I like it it, if you don't that's really your problem not mine.

Shall we start reading tea leaves for portents of the future next?

horsewoman said...

Thank you and your father.

Dave said...

I lived in New Cross in the 90s. We had a skylight window in our stairwell & when open you could hear that chant echoing through the house. The was another one that went 'We're gonna kick your fooken head in'. At the end of a game the riot police would herd them to one tube line and the opposition fans to another. It was dangerous to come across them.

Anonymous said...

Regardless, it’s bizzarre, to say the least! If she wore it walking down the street, perhaps not worth reading in to. But she wore it to the border camps, where all eyes were on her! Just mind boggling! Even if it didn’t have a Fascist connotation. The words themselves are pretty insensitive.

Anonymous said...

Marc, the context in which she wore it was a visit to a detention center where her fascist husband is having children separated from their parents and kept in cages, was it not?

Anonymous said...

Methinks folks are reading far too much into this. My thoughts (for what they're worth): People who come into this country illegally, by definition, are criminals - foreign criminals! What happens to criminals who are NOT foreign? - i.e., American citizens - they are tried and
sent to prison - and if they are parents, they can't take their children with them. OMG! thousands of American children being separated from their criminal parents!

(I have a distant relative who entered the U.K illegally (had been on a student visa, quit school and was working illegally). Was caught re-entering illegally at the airport (after a brief visit home), handcuffed and IMMEDIATELY deported and will not be allowed to enter the U.K again. Every country has border control and immigration laws that need to be upheld and enforced.

Anonymous said...

Reading too much? Given other major fascist moves by your heroes, it would be irresponsible not to scrutinize everything they are doing. Political asylum seekers are not criminals and border jumping is a misdemeanor. Tell me, are children of imprisoned people not handed to grandparents and other relations and secondarily into foster care? Are they used for ransom? Do they disappear, losing links to parents? Are they placed in tent cities and detention camps? At the rate things are going, people will soon start seeking asylum in Canada and Mexico.

DO YOU CARE?

Anonymous said...

Take solace in the fact that you know your father was a hero, in the end that's what really matters.

krew09 said...

no evidence her jacket said that...besides fascism is great

Anonymous said...

She's into fashion, not politics. Its no wonder we now talk about "fake news"! I guarantee she didn't even consider how it would be viewed, she's only been involved in politics for 2 years.

Zeke said...

a fascist regime is being consolidated in the US. There is a plan to stop them before it is too late, but not enough people know about it. please read, sign, share, organize at refusefascism.org

Anonymous said...

It's not creeping at all. It's in plain sight. You just have to understand where the loyalty really lies. That goes for the politicians as well as the people. This has never been about policy. This was always about philosophy. That's why the only time there's push back, it's when they are moving the boundaries of what we consider inhumane. Make no mistake, this is the reaping. Over the next few months you will have distractions of different types. Then you will hear of legal citizens being encaged and or deported.some will push back. More distractions will happen, then they will push the line again. People will die as a distraction. They will be innocent. You just have to understand, it is a distraction and a very sad one.