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The Deeper Meaning of Melania’s Jacket Messaging

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COMMENT: Mela­nia Trump gar­nered con­sid­er­able media atten­tion when she vis­it­ed a deten­tion cen­ter for immi­grants, includ­ing chil­dren, wear­ing a jack­et that said “I Real­ly Don’t Care. Do U?”

Taste­less on its sur­face, the state­ment assumes added sig­nif­i­cance when we fac­tor in the fact that  “I don’t care” (“Me Ne Frego” in Ital­ian) was an impor­tant fas­cist slo­gan [5].

Fur­ther­more, the Zara com­pa­ny that made Mela­ni­a’s jack­et has a his­to­ry of mar­ket­ing gar­ments with fascist/racist over­tones. [6] It mar­ket­ed [7] a shirt that mim­ic­ked a con­cen­tra­tion camp inmate’s garb and a swasti­ka-enlaid hand­bag. It also mar­ket­ed a Pepe The Frog skirt [8].

“A Brief (Fas­cist) His­to­ry of ‘I Don’t Care’” by Gio­van­ni Tiso; Over­land; 06/22/2018 [5]

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’.

The echoes of which some­one ought to have been aware, espe­cial­ly in an admin­is­tra­tion that includes – to put it mild­ly – sev­er­al far-right sym­pa­thiz­ers. And also to show that the atti­tude, the the­atri­cal ‘not car­ing’, was an explic­it char­ac­ter trait of Fas­cism.

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 fu ck’ – 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 formed 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 orig­i­nal sym­bol of the ardi­ti and the acronym FERT (which stands for the mot­to of the Roy­al Fam­i­ly). The sell­er calls it ‘bel­lis­si­mo’.
[see image of “me ne frego” pin worn by the Black Shirts [9]]

‘Me ne frego’ was the title of one of the most famous songs of the Fas­cist era.Its orig­i­nal ver­sion [10], 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.
[See image of Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni “me ne frego” quote [11]]

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.

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 aheadIt 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,
[see image of poster [12]]
[see image of t‑shirt [13]]
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’.
[see image of stick­ers [14]]
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.