Wielded by Italian
Journalism, Public Television, Private Television & Radio
As so many other eighteenth-century thinkers were, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not very partial to Roman culture first and foremost in its decline when most of the world at large—except the natives of Rome themselves—fathomed that the end was forthcoming. To point to the ludicrousness of the state of affairs in the then-capital of the world, Rousseau ironized: “…the very day of its fall was the eve of that on which it conferred on one of its citizens the title of Arbiter of Good Taste.”1 Ancient Rome did not fall in one day; Modern Rome will not, either.
Italy is falling apart at the seams!
Yet again there they are—the Italians themselves—denying any and/or all hints with contrarieties. In fact, one is forked over this disbosoming bromide: “All nations in the world have the same problems that Italy does. We are all stewing in the same sauce: Tutto il mondo è paese. Let’s close Italian businesses in August, go on vacation, and forget it all. Let’s take a ferry from Ancona and go to Croatia where we can at least get a good exchange for our weak lire.”
There are some Italians who think otherwise: Italian Industrial Prince Gianni Agnelli, very close friend of United States’ Department of State guru Henry “Carpet Bomber” Kissinger, put it this way: “Italy has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.”2 And he should know! From 1938 to 1975, his FIAT almost single-handedly brought the Italian automotive head count from 750,000 to 15,000,000 cars! In 1990 there were seventy three cars for every kilometre of road in Italy—the highest density of autos in the world. Every major Italian city is an open-air gas chamber. The pollution is destroying historical monuments and human and animal respiratory systems. La Dolce Vita?
Italy, Inc. is a nation being held together by bubble gum, rubber bands and the occult machinations of international financial and political wizardry—both licit and illicit. Its geographic position and status as the home base of the “Christian Club,” make it very valuable to Western civilization, and all is being done to keep Italy, Inc. attached to life-support systems. That task becomes more difficult every day as Italy, Inc. slides all over the place trying to live up to its rank as being one of the solvent members of the so-called “elite” G7—or is that G8? Italy, Inc. is doing its best to make believe it is equal to the other grand industrial nations, and it is prepared—through its propagandistic mass media—to fudge for the whole world the reality which Italy, Inc. is.
Upon close scrutiny, one discovers that many of Italy’s problems are not truly the world’s. Only three of them—frequently deliberately distorted in the Italian mass media—are these:
I. Italy’s water dilemma is slowly but surely rising to the nightmare level. Droughts in the summer; inundations in autumn and winter. Little by little, the hydraulic golden mean is floating out of sight. Italians, obsessive water users and indifferent water wasters, are unconcerned. Their public works system is so inadequate and outdated that when the flooding seasons arrive, Italians hold their breaths and cross their fingers and light candles praying that disaster will not flow into their homes and factories still again. Water itself is not such a bargain. It is not wise to drink tap water, and here it is already easy to pay Lire 1,500 (.78 Euro) for a half-liter plastic bottle of mineral water. Italian urban planners have failed to take two variables into consideration: water runoff from broken piping and the tendency that Italian climate is forever warming more. To remedy the existing state of affairs, exorbitant sums of money are needed to replace antiquated water duct lines which in some areas occasion as much as a stunning sixty percent squandering. The condition of these conduits worsen as the years pass. Italy is usually “blessed” with abundant rainfall in autumn and winter (“Who needs to repair water pipes?”) but how long will its luck hold out with global warming trends threatening and concrete jungles abrading the fragile Italian ecosystem? Italy is a small country; thirty two Italies are required to make one United States. Even its size is an omen of its vulnerability. From where will come the financing to support the creation of desperately-needed infrastructure development over the next decade—even if it is decided to begin such work? More miracles? Tutto il mondo è paese?
II. Italy’s public debt makes financial analysts at Moody’s and Standard & Poors sprinkle extra peperoncini on their spaghetti to keep their blood flowing when they brood over Italian debt printouts. Italy’s public debt is growing inexorably—and has been for years—with few batting an eyelash. There is no reason to believe that this quandary will right itself in the near future, and only weeks ago—with no real national debate to mark the event—the Italian debt turned the Lire 2,000,000,000,000,000 corner! How long it will take before the 57,000,000 Italian population reaches the point where each and every citizen has to pay more than $50,000 to liquidate the Italian debt? And these figures do not include the value of Italy’s unfounded pension indebtedness! Italy’s public debt is roughly 123% of its GDP. It is not difficult to deduce that inflation is to play an important part in Italy’s economic future. Printing money is big business in Italy, and at this writing, there are three different 50- and 100-lire coins in circulation. Money, paper without value, is all over the place. Forty dollars are needed to buy one hundred aspirins, but Italian journalists headline that the “brakes” the government is applying to runaway inflation are having their effect. Italy is in a quagmire somewhat similar to that of Venezuela’s in the early 1980s. There is an economic time bomb ticking in Rome, “the Eternal Fountain of Cultural and Historical Resources, the Matrix of Western Civilization, the Spiritual Home of Every Westerner.”3 Tutto il mondo è paese?
III. Italians are most incongruous when the subject of natality is broached. Their birthrate is the lowest in the world and 40% of all Italian families have only one child…in Calenzano where I live 20% of the population is over 65 years of age…Italy is becoming the Miami Beach of Europe…the number of residents in all of Italy over 65 years of age is now 15%, but that figure is expected to jump to 17.6% at the beginning of the new century4…Guidalberto Guidi, president of the Industrialists of Emilia Romagna, one of Italy’s most propagable regions says: “Our companies need more than 5000 qualified workers and we just can’t find them. It seems incredible, but it is so.”5…Italian households spend twice as much on prepared pet food as they do on prepared baby food—pet food sales are growing by leaps and bounds annually6…a staggering 20% of Italian births are performed by Caesarean sections! There is an epidemic of them. Why? Two reasons offered by Italian obstetricians: “The hunger of private clinics and obstetricians to make the additional profit that comes with performing Caesarean sections; and the stress trying to organize time and to use fixed hospital hours instead of being called in the middle of the night.”7…. Again Rousseau: “For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark so simple is not recognized, or that men are of so bad faith as not to admit it. What is the end of political association? The preservation and prosperity of its members. And what is the surest mark of their preservation and prosperity? Their numbers and population. Seek then nowhere else this mark that is in dispute. The rest being equal, the government under which, without external aids, without naturalization or colonies, the citizens increase and multiply most is beyond question the best. The government under which a people wanes and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left for you to count, to measure, to compare.”8 Tutto il mondo è paese?
Other subjects worthy of note are these: Why has Italy not complied with dozens upon dozens of European Union directives? Why do not 21 of every 100 households in Italy possess a book? Why is a sports newspaper the one sold mostly in Italy? Why do only 11% of the Italian population buy a newspaper every day? Why are Italy’s beaches so polluted? Why do only 35 of every 100 students who enter the university finish and only 5% of them terminate their courses in the time allocated? Why so few computers in Italian businesses? Why do not Italians speak foreign languages? Why does not any other European country possess the disaster that is the mezzogiorno—the blighted southern part of Italy? Why is Rome red tape and rackets while Milano is trying to be strong, on-the-go and operative? Why did the University of Goettingen in Germany (Italy’s biggest trade partner) classify Italy as one of the top ten corrupt nations in the world? Why do Italians take the longest in Europe to pay their bills? Why did the Italian railway system suggest to their employees that in time of emergency they should throw a roll of toilet paper with a message on it at the nearest station? Why are Italians, who think of themselves as being very particularly individualistic, capable of organizing strikes with a vengeance that bring them to Rome in masses almost reaching a million? Why are the Italian political and judicial systems so corrupt it is impossible to find anyone who believes in them? Why is the only Italian FM radio station, which plays classical music exclusively 24 hours a day, always on the verge of going out of business? Why no Italian language lessons for immigrants from the Third World? Why do bus drivers on the coast of Versilia—when no one is looking—refuse to stop for African people who are waiting for them in the torrid sun at bus stops?
These are questions that not only Italy must ask of itself, they are questions Western Civilization must ask of Italy.
During the reign of the despot Mussolini, still today for millions and millions of elderly Italians “the good old days; anything would be better than the mess we have now,” it was standard operating procedure for fascist clean-up squads to paint white the houses along the routes Mussolini would pass triumphantly. And with a final touch of “class,” flowers were put in front of homes and buildings and shops to highlight for filmmakers the success of the fascist regime which had learnt well from its Nazi counterparts at the Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin. The lie that Fascism was alive and functioning well had to flick across cinema screens throughout Italy to prop up the delusions of grandeur of both the Duce Benito Mussolini and the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler.
Italians are very proud, obstinate people and they are very chauvinistic. It has not been easy for them to digest the defeat they withstood at the end of World War II and many Italians, even today, do not want to believe that that event even ever occurred. While the structure of Fascism has been torn down bomb by bomb, brick by brick, the notion of an extreme nationalism—exalting both race and country above the individual and standing for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader who wields severe economic and social regimentation and the forcible suppression of the opposition—is ever-presently attractive to the subconscious thinking of a vast number of Italian psyches. “Sweet Despotism” is the “leftist” euphemism for this Italian innate character trait.
When pushed, Italians can rise up passionately, fanatically with an excessive devotion to their culture, history and country. For foreigners who have come to Italy to live—not to vacation for a couple of weeks—there is this unwritten law: “Let the Italians speak as badly as they want to about Italy, but don’t you ever agree with them or berate Italy.” Tormented Italy has been subjected to much tribulation in its long history, and that has hardened the Italian ego to all that is tramontane. A very long time is still needed before newcomers will be accepted into any Italian social strata or community. Italians do it best!
Another Italian psychological twitch is the intense desire to be taken seriously and to be treated as one of the “biggies” on the world political and economic mise en scène. Italians are so fervent in their desire to be considered grand, they often come off puerile as a result of their extraordinary efforts to conform. Again, the intense hurt this Lilliputian peninsula has been subjected to through the centuries, has left scars of humiliation and distress upon the consciousnesses of its people, and Italians have had to do much to show that they are just as acceptable as others are. And it is a pity they feel so. Why should they? The whole world says they are one of the seven strongest industrial nations, does it not? Are they indeed? (An English-speaking “joke:” “If Italy is one of the G7, imagine how poor the other countries which are not are?”) When an Italian-American achieves noteworthy success, he is called an Italian in Italian newspapers; but, when he is arrested for mafia dealings, he is relegated to being an “American.” A financial publication that speaks well of the Italian economy is “authoritative, well-known and read by the world’s movers and shakers.” One that does not render homage, is “American, English, controversial….” Or, as this headline demonstrates, there is the subliminal urge to be considered “up there” with the “greats:” THE GREAT NATIONS THREATEN, THE SERBS BOMB, ITALY OFFERS AIRPLANES ( ! ).
Italians are masters of The Look. They are famous all over the world for their automotive designs, furniture, machines, clothing and jewelry—the number one Italian export to the United States!
They were once famous for their art, for their music. Italians would like to believe that their economic and political power is as well-known as their sweaters and dresses, and knowing it is not, they all the more connive to push the idea and the image that it is. Bizarre journalistic declarations often supervene.
Since only a small portion of the population buys a newspaper every day, the obvious whereabouts of the big Italian Stretching of the Truth about the actual state of “Sweet Despotism,” is—you guessed it!—The Italian Idiot Box!
George Orwell, should he be alive today, would have to make a visit to the RAI and FININVEST studios. He would burst out laughing watching Italian television executives, brainwashed to spit out democratic golden coins but biting the bit to be “regimentators” of state affairs, living out their electronic Animal Farm with Laurel and Hardy-like side shows.
On two occasions I had the chance to appear on a FININVEST network (privately owned); another time on RAIUNO (state owned); and, two other times on RAIDUE (state owned). Before we return to 1984, sit back, relax, and grab your channel-zapper! I promise there will be no breaks to sell you soap or insurance during my “show” which will reveal some of the insides of the Italian electronic propaganda pecking order!9
I “got on” because a friend of mine thought I was “simpatico, really simpatico, and intelligent and tuned to the Italian scene,” and she told a friend who told a friend who told a friend who knew the brother of the host of the MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW.
To pass “inspection” before my idiot box debut, I had to undergo an hour’s drilling by telephone by an American lady, Carol, who worked for Maurizio, one of Italy’s favorite Freemasons. The interview, in English (Italian programs are still broadcast in Italian!), gently opened my brain to feel for my political inclinations and my general state of mind. Clever Carol knew what she was doing. She and I both agreed that the new ambassador to Italy from the United States, Peter Secchia, was a dummkopf but “we,” Carol and I, should not say things like that over the air because “that” might cause trouble for all of us. She instructed that I should stick to the format of the show, and the reason I had been called to guest in the first place: I am a Vietnam veteran and February, 1991 was time for the Iraq war, and it was thought my presence would be interesting for all who wanted to know what one United States’ war veteran thought about another war. (War is hell!) It was very wise of me not to tell Carol what I thought about the Vietnam “War” because if I had, I never would have made it to the MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW. As it turned out, hardly anything was talked about Iraq or my impressions about it or Vietnam although behind us, on a huge screen, images from Iraq kept flashing during the program.
My Italian television first time up deadlifted on the nineteenth of February, 1991 in the evening at the Teatro Parioli in the Spiritual Home of Every Westerner. The theatre is not within any of the fenced-in, dog-patrolled, super-surveilled media camps of the FININVEST media citadels, so there some formalities (I.D. badges, guards to accompany guests/visitors to the toilet, anti-mafia
affidavits to sign after one’s performance, bullet-proof glass, et cetera) went by the boards.10
The atmosphere before airtime was deadpan, and after makeup, a FININVEST official came to pay, in cash, the cost of my first-class train trip from Firenze (tourists call it “Florence”) to the Matrix of Western Civilization. I had been lodged in a dingy hotel of their choice and my meals for the overnight stay were free, too. No recompense for my enactment was offered.
Before the beginning of the MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW, I was told to visit Maurizio in his dressing room. As I entered, it crossed my mind that Maurizio is a full-fledged member of a Freemason secret society once investigated by the Italian government. He is a very powerful journalist and prime mover in Italian political circles, is an intimate friend of Silvio Berlusconi, and is credited with having discovered the obnoxious Vittorio Sgarbi thought by Italy’s left to be an intellectual gangster and one who gives sense to that “Sweet Despotism” found on the controversial Berlusconi FININVEST networks for which Maurizio, too, slaves. (A couple of years after my show, Maurizio was “almost killed” in a bomb explosion near Teatro Parioli and said to have been ordered by the mafia. Others have told me it was probably a hoax to get higher viewer ratings. It is impossible to get to the heart of these matters in Italy, unfortunately, and one is best left to think what is the worst.11)
I found this Italian media mogul relaxed, serious, alert. Not an inkling of a sense of humor. My first impression was as heavy as he is: Maurizio is so short and overweight (Buddha-like) one wants to offer up immediately a warning to him: “Please, watch your weight, Maurizio! You’re going to kill yourself if you don’t go on a diet.” When he spoke with me at closed quarters, a horrible odor came from his mouth and I thought right off his liver must be under an enormous stress.
A heavy-hearted man, Maurizio is all nuts and bolts about his program, and he had taken control of it with an iron hand ordering this, then that, and getting his way always within the hectic moments before airtime. No one had to guess who the boss was at Teatro Parioli.
Mine was the kick-off part of the program. The format of the show is interesting. Seven or eight chairs are set in an ovality on stage, facing the audience. Maurizio floats from chair to chair picking out the comments of his guests as he sees fit—if a brawl is not in progress. Visitors vie for their camera time, and more frequently than not, debates boil to the point where insults are hurled not only onstage, but even from the audience itself. Maurizio bluffs that he is contrary to all this childishness, but his efforts to halt it are limp-wristed because—like a good fight—Maurizio knows his ratings (more or less 1-1.5 million people watch him) soar the more—the more blood is spilt.
The show began cordially and I at once steered the way, my way, to the topic of Peter Secchia, the Dream Machine of on-the-take political science professors in Italy. Secchia had encountered resistance in the United States’ Congress to his assignment because he had insulted feminists, was a stentorian, gung-ho ex-Marine, and because he had carried the state of Michigan for President Bush’s White House election victory. He had no diplomatic experience, did not speak Italian, and had difficulty finding Italy on a map. Democrats were gunning for him and rightly so—I surmised. I believed Italy—in the terrible state of affairs it is
fixed in—deserved a professional diplomat at least, and not a political crony out for a payoff. (There was this joke going around Italy at the time: “Secchia is so dumb, even the terrorists don’t want to kill him. With enemies like this, who needs friends!”) Peter was said to be a great party-giver in The Boot’s business circles.
I called Secchia a vulgar incompetent on The Italian Idiot Box to simply restate a common fact I foolishly thought Italians would be familiar with. If Italian folk had known what had been said about Secchia during his nomination hearings, my accusation would not have appeared as provoking as it did on the airwaves. Maurizio, his brow beaded with sweat drops that kept splashing to the floor as he leant towards me to interrogate me, hoped for a break to sell soap. I said it all with a vengeance and waited to hear the applause of the audience which I reckoned—orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano—would break out in joyful bravos happy to hear me make game of the potentate, the United States’ Ambassador Peter Secchia.
The silence in the audience nearly killed me! I raised up my hands gesturing desperately to seek the support of the passionless crowd. Some of them responded weakly, but overall their R.S.V.P. was lacklustre. I retreated in embarrassment, and Maurizio went off to interview other guests one of whom had attempted suicide eight times and had written a book about his experiences which he thought might help others; and, another who had been searching for his father for forty years and believed Maurizio’s show could help him. Some other author who had come to pitch the sale of his book, lent it to me on stage, and I began to read it, on the air, trying to forget how I had failed to rally the Italian television public to my side—against the United States’ ambassador and the war in the Gulf. I felt like an idiot. No more that night about United States ambassadors, no more even about the war in Iraq.
The next morning I called Carol to ask—in English!—how things had gone (“…hhhhmmmmmmmm”), and she told me right off that the United States’ Embassy had called asking for a video-cassette copy of the show. I begged to know if she had given them one. “Of course we did,” she replied nonchalantly.
A week later, 26 February 1991, my next exhibition on The Italian Idiot Box came. The show, I FATTI VOSTRI on RAIDUE, was conducted by Fabrizio Frizzi one of Italy’s most personable and promising television personalities.
Please switch channels to RAIDUE…!!!
I FATTI VOSTRI—again a talk show format—is positioned on stage in the form of an outdoor piazza. Its production facilities in Via Mazzini in the Eternal City are stupendous and in this studio I got an idea of what a gargantuan industry RAI actually is. Much had been invested in the construction of the I FATTI VOSTRI set, and to give the effect of a real piazza, about thirty tables were scattered about it to render the feeling of being truly outdoors. About seventy people occupied the tables and they constituted “an audience” during airtime.
On this occasion I was paid Lire 300,000 for travel and hotel expenses (again I was told what flophouse to go to), and I managed to get still another Lire 300,000 when I explained head-strongly that I would be losing two days’ work by coming for an overnight visit to the Eternal Fountain of Cultural and Historical Resources. (My 600,000 check arrived eight months later!)
Before the show I had three or four long telephone interviews in my home. Questions about Vietnam were asked of me anew, and some queries about my political ideas and thoughts on Italy were also made. (“I’m decidedly to the ‘left’—whatever that means!—my heart beats to the left, and for my notions about Vietnam I’m still considered a ‘pinko communist bastard’ back home in New York!”) The RAIDUE journalist liked my self-assurance and anti-war stance. From all the questions asked of me and answered by me, a television script was composed. A copy was FAXed to me and I was told to memorize it before show time. During the telephone interviews I made some cute comments about the United States’ government and its obtuse Italian ambassador, but these had been neatly excluded from the script along with the revelations I had volunteered concerning the stupidity of the United States Army during the Vietnam conflict. I got the hint.
The same nice lady, Pina, who had interviewed me by telephone, was the individual who came to meet me at the hotel and later escorted me through the RAI fortress’s entrance in Via Mazzini. With her always by my side, we passed through bullet-proof rooms with magnetic plastic passes, and even when I went to the toilet, Pina was right there waiting for me outside the door. The security was impressive.
On my way to the studio where the show was to be presented, we flowed through an Italian Disneyland of beautiful girls, stunning set constructions, expert makeup staff, talented musicians, elegantly dressed RAI executives, uniformed electricians and lighting personnel—all hustling and bustling in the stimulating showbiz milieu. We stopped for a coffee at the RAI bar, and there I recognized some performers and celebrities I had seen at home on my own television for years. I was excited. The atmosphere was exuberant and the fact that in a very short time I would be presented to millions of people in their living rooms and kitchens throughout Italy, made me very, very nervous. The RAI plant was overwhelming; I could feel the power of it.
We moseyed to the I FATTI VOSTRI studio area, and I at once re-identified—this time in the flesh—Fabrizio Frizzi who was presented to me straightaway. Fabrizio, the simpaticone, offered me a drink, a COMPARI soda, and he invited me to sit with him at one of the many tables on the “piazza” set. Then, almost immediately, Fabrizio gave me one of the most precious acts of political freedom I have ever experienced in my life. He had a copy of our script in his hand—the one I had been told to memorize—and he asked me if I had learnt it by heart. I had no sooner began looking for the words to tell him I had not when he tossed his copy up and then over and to the back of his head laughing and saying to me: “Don’t worry, Tony, I didn’t memorize it either! Let’s make our own interview together—you and I!”
Fabrizio did not understand clearly how glad I was to hear those words, and a great deal of tension that had accumulated in me in anticipation of my live presentation, oozed out of me and I began to enjoy myself a lot more in the caverns of the dynast, RAI—the biggest source material at the time for The Italian Idiot Box.
After our short, pleasant powwow I was instructed by a studio hand to wait for my airtime, so I took in more of the exciting goings-on which were percolating about me. The countdown time to show time—something exhilarating in any part of the world—clicked for a nervous me and every so often someone shouted out the minutes remaining to the “on the air” signal. Ten minutes before the “go” sign, the director spoke to the almost two hundred people, crews and visitors from other studios, and when some fidgety girls kept talking and laughing, he threatened, autocratically, to report them to “the office” if they did not remain silent. Silence held sway. Last touches were being made here and there: makeup for Fabrizio; people were being pushed away from the camera line; men with earphones tested microphones; musicians played long practice notes; and, my remote microphone was pinned to my sweater. We were getting ready to blast off into the homes of about four million Italians!
Seated in my interview spot at one of the tables with only about four or five minutes to go, I turned to speak to a young man behind me to help myself break the ice and keep my mind off the fact that in a very short time I would be “live” all over Italy and parts of Switzerland. I was petrified! I asked the gentleman what he did for a living and he told me he worked for “Mamma RAI” in the mornings and attended university in the afternoons.
“What work do you perform for ‘Mamma RAI?’” I quizzed.
“I sit in the audience.”
“You sit in the audience?”
“Yes. All of us here are paid to be part of the audience.”
“Paid to be part of the audience?” I could not believe what I had heard.
The young man continued for me: “We are paid Lire 800,000 a month for ten hours a week sitting in this studio audience,” he went on loquaciously as if to say I should be so lucky. (I was not!)
“Very, very interesting,” I said.
He pointed his hand at a woman seated at another table and told me that she worked for another show, the MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW and she earned Lire 1,600,000 a month working twenty hours a week!
“The MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW?”
“Yes, the MAURIZIO COSTANZO SHOW,” he confirmed.
Eureka! With one minute before air time, I put two and two together and deduced why no one had kicked in to encourage me when I called Ambassador Peter Secchia, the imbecile, a vulgar incompetent! In Italy the television audiences are paid!
After the I FATTI VOSTRI show, which was the best of them all for me, while I was walking to the bus stop, a helmeted Fabrizio Frizzi spotted me, made a huge U-turn on his big blue HONDA, and came to thank me again for appearing on his show. I was really happy he had done so. He said he would call me one day and ask me to go out and have a drink with him. Then he buzzed off. To this day I remember Fabrizio for his thoughtfulness and friendly character and I would have been honored to have been one of his friends. Most importantly, Fabrizio had an instinct to be free—a virtue which many of his colleagues at RAI and FININVEST never even ever thought about possessing.
My third, and the most distasteful of all, staging was on the RAIDUE DOMENICA IN FAMIGLIA show, 27 March 1994. If Fabrizio had been cordial and respectful, Alessandro Cecchi Paone, the show’s host, was just the opposite. Again, the interviews by telephone, the FAXed script sent to my home, and the orders—this time more stony—to be sure to memorize every line. The journalist/interviewer was curt and often rude with me on the telephone, and because I insisted on being paid a measly Lire 800,000 for this show, I almost lost the chance to go on.
After a couple of days the approval to pay me Lire 800,000 (that check arrived five months later) was authorized, and I made plans to go to the Matrix City, not to the Via Mazzini studios, but to the new, really out-of-this-world DEAR (sic) studios.
The transcript for the show had the usual questions about Southeast Asia that I have been hearing ever since I left Vietnam in 1968. Each query could have been answered with a book chapter, and the arrangement of them with their answers, which had been condensed for me by the RAI journalist who composed the script, made for what I thought was a very superficial conversation. So general were the questions, and so abbreviated my ghost-written answers, I could not bring myself to even think to go about putting the transcript to memory. Working around the truth—my truth!—the questions and answers never reached the heart of the verity I had talked about over the telephone with the RAIDUE journalist—id est, the interesting and special insights I wanted to reveal about Vietnam were not included. “Mamma RAI’s” treatment of my version about Vietnam was very evasive and shrewdly constructed and some of my more cuspidate elucidations concerning the United States’ government and its role in fomenting the Vietnam “War,” had been deleted, again, from the script pages FAXed to me.
The DEAR studios were very much more security-clad than were the Via Mazzini ones. The huge complex is similar to a military base, and it is obvious, just looking at it, no one is going to get into it without the proper authorization.
A hotel was assigned to me. It was far from the studios, so a limousine came to pick me up for my morning transmission. The show aired every Sunday—starting at about seven o’clock—when there were not many people in the surrounding studio areas which host many famous “Mamma RAI” television productions. Once more, bullet-proof glass, electronic passes, armed guards, and well-delineated access zones and prohibited areas. Security was extra-heavy 27 March 1994 because it was a national election day in Italy, and the day Silvio Berlusconi, media magnet and owner of FININVEST, won his electronically-manipulated victory shocking the pants off the Italian “left.”
There are two memories—both disagreeable—I have of Alessandro Cecchi Paone. He was autocratic with his co-workers and did not have the smile on his face when he was off-camera that he almost always possessed on-camera—a big difference between him and Fabrizio. Alessandro was constantly, excessively skittish.
When I arrived Cecchi Paone had been already interviewing other guests. Between commercial breaks he came off stage to give orders and complain about how things were progressing. He kept the atmosphere tense and unpleasant for all.
There was a man, mid-forties, all this while standing around waiting for something I could not imagine. He wore a very bright blue-green jacket and he looked strange. I thought he might have been one of the guests but he told me he was not. At a break, Alessandro came off stage to him, sat stiff on the edge of a chair, and pointed to the left side of his neck saying: “I have a kink here. See what you can do to get rid of it!” The man began creating a “magical field,” he told me later, by rotating his hands in circles around the neck area of Cecchi Paone! This “magical field” was supposed to relieve all the tension Cecchi Paone had accumulated in his neck area during his show—and during the break for publicity! When Cecchi Paone went back onstage, I went to the mago to get from him the reasons for his success. “It’s in the hands!” he told me.
My turn came to go before the cameras and because I had not memorized my script Cecchi Paone was furious with me during all the time of our interview. I kept going off the “track” that had been laid out for me by the journalist working for “Mamma RAI.” But whenever the camera was on Cecchi Paone, he smiled as if he were a crazy man.
Having taken a long, hard look at the United States’ Department of State for more than thirty years in an inductive fashion—poking at particulars to arrive at generalities and always remembering that as a being is, so it acts!—and at close range in the United States, Vietnam, Venezuela and Italy, I have come to the conclusion that there exists two confederacies in Washington which tender boundless devotion to the idea that the United States is by far the best available to lead the world we all live in: The Foggy Bottom Cult and The John Foster Dulles Cult.
The first is the more eccentric, egg-headed. Acolytes are the “leftists,” the doves. They are forward-looking, too, and might even have a sense of humor calling for—after three or four Scotch whiskies—a change in the name of the C.I.A. from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Central Stupidity Agency! The Foggy Bottom Cult is more open-minded than their counterparts, and because they are more easy-going, they tend to fly less off the diplomatic handle. Naturally, they are often considered cream puffs.
The other persuasion is the right-wing branch and that which has the final say—usually. These are the pragmatists, the conservatives, the conservators. Nuts and bolts. Characters who do not dwell in an Ivory Tower, nor do they lack concern or interest in urgent problems and practical matters. They are not escapists; they like to confront events directly. They are great players of board games, and they will wait a hundred years to make a move if they think that is the only way they can get their way. They believe—as did once one professor of philosophy at Heidelberg—that the world is constantly evolving, by force, and every system, by itself, causes a reaction to it.
The first bloc has given us The Best and the Brightest myth, and the second has handed over idiosyncrasies such as Barry Goldwater and Jesse Helms, and for Italy, gems such as Clare Boothe Luce and Peter Secchia! (By the way, back in Michigan Secchia, “Pete” to his friends, “Ambassador Pete” when he wants to get at something, is proud to participate in any Independence Day parade where he rides in the back seat of a Cadillac convertible with “Ambassador Peter Secchia” emblazoned on its sides! And people look at him as if he is someone who has benefited mankind with his stay in the United States’ Embassy in the Eternal City!)
Together, The Foggy Bottom Cult and The John Foster Dulles Cult have come up with some really majestic political boo-boos: Cuba, Vietnam, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Venezuela…the list is actually interminable. One is left with the suspicion that the United States’ Department of State is more fatuitous than it is penetrating. (The Worst and The Dullest?) Yet as the case may be, if Southamerica does not turn out to be its most terrible diplomatic faux pas, Europe surely will.
For almost sixty years, the two cults kept the tightest lid possible on a razed Western Europe and checkmated Eastern Europe so cleverly, so successfully, the schismatics have become drunk with delight over their ability to understand the fact that if dominoes are stood on end one slightly behind the other, a slight push on the first will topple the others! Geopolitical genii! They pontificate in Time, in The Economist, in National Review, in Foreign Affairs, in The Times Literary Supplement, et cetera…. They speak with passion and gnaw at the enemy with this conceptualisation: BETTER DEAD THAN RED! They are political missionaries and proselytise all over the world preaching to undemocratic heathens to vote and go to church
on Sundays. Many do. Many are paid very well in dollars.
1989 came along and the victory celebrations appeared never to end. In the euphoria it was realized that Eastern Europe needs to be built, that Eastern Europe wants what it does not have, that Eastern Europe has “everything” to gain. But, it was conveniently forgotten that Southern Europe needs to be rebuilt, that Southern Europe wants more of what it has, that Southern Europe has “everything” to lose.
The genii, for all these years, rode a magic carpet protecting and preserving their crowned checker, Germany, bluffing all the while a very special big move: the United States of Europe. The cute ruse, naturally, was never brought to pass because the intended tactic of this point d’appui was the following: to keep—from their German command posts—Western Europe fragmented into separate constituents, dominoes, guaranteeing that its unification would never be actualised. Divide et impera.
European intellectuals and political scientists frothed at their mouths in anger. Clare Boothe Luce and Peter Secchia went to English-speaking Italian industrialists and political leaders and organized anti-communist cocktail parties. Then, in the same evening, went to the English and Northern European diplomatic brotherhoods and voiced their “off-the-cuff, not-for-the-record” opinions: “Would you be foolish enough to want a European Union with bankrupt members such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece breathing down your necks to pay for their public debts and broken water pipes? You’re not crazy, are you?”
And so, the German-Swiss-Austrian-Hungarian axis takes hold ever so gently, slowly but surely, and strives to reach that point where it will be the political and economic expedient in Western Europe (again!) to be reckoned with. (Is not treuhandanstalt just another Harvard University Business School case study?) The Germans are sitting pretty, and they must be given credit for their efforts in bringing their west and east together—an economic feat planned well before 1989!
Henry Miller said the Germans—the biggest ethnic group in the United States followed by the Irish-Americans and the English-Americans—make the best “Americans” because in the United States they do not feel hemmed in as they are in Europe. Hemmed in? Sandwiched between a hungry Eastern Europe and a devastated Southern Europe? Can the European Germans remain forever serene seated squashed between these two spheres of economic disaster? Are we on the way to World War Three or “Le continent du Chaos”?12 Remember Murphy’s Law?: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong!
Instead of a European Union that stands valiant, that addresses the seriousness of the problem not only as it regards Eastern Europe, but even as it regards, for example, the fact that there are more pension checks cut in Italy every month than there are salary checks, Europeans must now look to the Fatherland, hold their breaths, and live in quiet desperation crossing their fingers that the Germans and the Russians will not have another go at it. (The only issues Western Europe agrees on are that the MARLBORO man smokes the best cigarette and Hollywood and hamburgers are dangerous to your health. Brussels’ legislators cannot even agree on a common shoe size for the European Union. Sure, Northamericans have been dumb for two hundred years; Europeans have been dumb for two thousand years!)
It is to this point—“marshalling” all their forces and planning with all their dominoes—that the two confused cults have lead Western Europe. They have done everything, for sixty years, to keep Europe in a political and economic deep-freeze banking on Italies always, senza dubbio, to help keep any idea of a unified Europe an absurd proposition antecedently supposed and proved as a basis of argument. Italy, et alia, have been used. They have been abused.
Oh, Eternal Fountain of Cultural and Historical Resources, how could you have been so ridiculous? Oh, Matrix of Western Civilization, how could you have been so compliant? Oh, Spiritual Home of Every Westerner, how could you have been so unconceited? What have you got to show for it?
Tutto il mondo è paese?
* * *
Anthony St. John
Casella Postale 38 50041 CALENZANO FI Italia
1 September 1995
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (New York: Everyman’s Library, 1973), p. 8.
Gianni Agnelli, La Stampa, 1995.
The American University of Rome, Admissions Catalog, p. 9.
Franco Torelli, “Gli italiani al 2003,” Largo Consumo, January, 1995, p. 17.
Giuseppe Turani, Affari & Politica,” la Repubblica, 16 July 1995, p. 19.
Jane Williams, “Supreme Champions,” EuroBusiness, May, 1995, p. 82.
Mario Pirani, “Donna partorirai con il cesareo,” la Repubblica, 1995.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (New York : Everyman’s Library, 1973), p. 231.
__________________, “The X against Fininvest,” The Economist, 25 March 1995, p. 85.
John Glover, “Factions and Fiction,” The Guardian, 28 February 1995, p. 10 (Media).
Glover, p. 10.
Alain Minc, Le Nouveau Moyen Age (Paris : Gallimard, 1993), pps. 15-43.