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Radical Chic

From Tom Wolfe to today

 

Born in a place where things are never how they look. Where you have to do things with the proper moderation and say words without telling them “completely”, to love each other keeping the right distance and thumb your nose without being seen. Despite my humble beginnings, one day I finally managed to enter into a radical chic ring, even if, when you don’t get born into it, you never really enter it. I’ve always been fascinated by that world and its elegant fine audacity, so, at the first opportunity, I got it. It was amazing, at times, exhilarating, but it didn’t last so long. Once realized all the sadness, dissatisfaction and hypocrisy that the experience was hiding to someone like me, coming from a slightly more “direct” reality, I just wanted to get out of it.

Coined by journalist Tom Wolfe in his 1970 essay Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s to describe the adoption and promotion of radical political causes by celebrities, socialites, and high society, the term “Radical Chic” has been well described by Michael Bracewell in his Molotov Cocktails article as “an exercise in double-tracking one’s public image: on the one hand, defining oneself through committed allegiance to a radical cause, but on the other, vitally, demonstrating this allegiance because it is the fashionable, au courant way to be seen in moneyed, name-conscious Society.”

What is happening in Europe today, especially in a country like Italy, is not only dealing with a high contest, it’s just the burning of an ideological and generational fracture that has striking implications both on a political and social level. An entire generation of privileged people who managed to get away with it for years, on the shoulders of those who tried in every way to break through their ranks, perhaps on the basis of the illusion that this was only a matter of merit, that factors such as birthplace, social class or income — for heaven’s sake ! — did not count at all. A generation of parents, and political and managerial classes, who raised their boys sheltered from the “cruel mechanisms” of the world, hoping that they would learn to fend for themselves — just by applying the sound principles learned in the severity of four walls — before denigrate and accuse them of being lazy or “big babies”.

Unfortunately, not everyone had their ass well-covered, not everyone was so nice, smart or desperate. And finally, among the survivors of this destruction, a feeling of hatred started to take over from discouragement. Why should I lower my head and feel guilty after being treated like that? Insult and injury together are not always so easy to swallow. Plus, should you even pass for a good man, a benefactor, while I for a rabid envious dog? Oh my, no! This is not envy, as someone is trying to make it look like, jumping knowledge of centuries, millennia of exploitation history, with both feet.

It’s today’s story, how people, newspapers, or usual names as writers, directors and singers — all veterans of ’68 or the failure of “the left” in all its forms — are still fighting their crazy battle, not realizing how their hypocrisy has already been unmasked for a while and, above all, how this can only strengthen their enemies’ beliefs. The fight against racism of the last few days — as if such tragedies like the landings of immigrants were never real at all —, is but the latest easy ruse to persuade people about their own moral integrity, through a sad funny advertising at the expense of the weakest — a rainbow Rolex to say no to the humanity hemorrhaging. Initiatives smelling fake from a mile away, hiding fear of losing their own comfort zones, certainties and private circles.

It’s no longer a question of merit, it is less and less, or maybe it never was, it’s rather a matter of birth. “Once you’re born you can no longer hide” — as in the title of a Marco Tullio Giordana’s movie about migration to Italy via the Mediterranean — and today nobody seems to want to hide anymore, neither from a chic society, nor from hypocrisy.

www.amazon.com

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