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22 Jan

Italy, where sinking happens

If used with a grain of salt, Twitter could provide a significant amount of snapshots of the public understanding of an issue. Being the more instinctive among all the blogs, it recently opened a window to both Italians’ broken hearts and their disillusioned minds.

#Vadaabordocazzo has been a viral Trending Topic in Italy immediately after the disclosure of the phone call between the Captain Francesco Schettino and Livorno Port Authority Gregorio De Falco. It literally means, “Go on board, damn it!” and was the desperate and passionate cry by De Falco when he realized that dozens were still in the hands of a run-away coward. Despite the expletive term, the De Falco’s sentence was quoted by all newspapers and played on television without censure.

Driven by the popularity on social media, “Go on board” has been elected as ultimate epitome of the drama and triggered a much broader debate. After few days when the attention of the public was on the mere chronicle of the tragedy itself, the focus shifted to the ominous metaphor of Concordia as the quintessence of Italy itself.

Schettino became an easy target for many. He was inexplicably incautious, passing 500 meters from the coast instead of cruising 2,5 miles away as expected; he proved to be inexcusably incapable, waiting 68 long minutes before declaring the evacuation of the ship and organizing the procedure; and last but not least, he acted like a textbook coward, fleeing Costa Concordia with many passengers still in need of help and guidance. {pullquote}“It’s dark outside” was the pathetic excuse provided by a lost Schettino to justify the fact he couldn’t get back aboard.{/pullquote} De Falco became an instant role model by popular acclamation.

He was competent and focused striving to coordinate the operations from the mainland. He showed guts and charisma, you don’t need to speak Italian to get it.

Now he is vigorously declining his “15 minutes of fame”, claiming he had only done his job. Whereas Schettino seemed to have perfect resume to star in a hypothetical “Italian Next Scapegoat”, De Falco’s magnetic fascination entitled him to become the positive hero needed to give a sweeter spin to this dramatic story. {pullquote}"What do you want to do? Going Home?” replied De Falco.

"Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you have trouble for sure“{/pullquote} In those comments exceeding 140 characters, while reconstruction of the characters was quite similar, the analysis sought to extend the scope of the dichotomy to a wider range of national issues.

Massimo Gramellini, columnist of major daily La Stampa, wrote in an editorial: “we are a joke again, a cliché for American TV news, an excuse for a fight between French politicians”. On Schettino:

“He is the type of Italian we cannot pretend not to know. Full of himself instead of confident.Unaware of the duties connected to his role. (..)A guy that makes bravados for the sake of bragging and then tries to hide them reasserting the mantra of ‘everything is all right, no problem’.”

Then Gramellini finished by paraphrasing a famous quote on Berlusconi: “I am not afraid of Schettino himself, I’m afraid of Schettino in myself”.

Popular political comedian Maurizio Crozza, whose monologues on Italy’s contradictions are very popular on the web, sharply pointed out:

“Hadn’t we already gotten rid of that guy who said ‘everything is all right’ while the whole thing is f****g sinking?” The similarities are self-evident and the rhetoric has flown naturally out of many Italians: a sinking ship representing a failing state, a bad captain incarnating a generation of incompetent leaders, a resolute officer embodying a team of technocrats called to save the country from the precipice.

Though, what hurts the most, and what is probably the inner reason behind all the metaphoric thinking and the following shenanigans, is the ominous question everybody is being unconsciously haunted by: what if Italy sank even though a new good captain who was put at the helm? “Unhappy is the land that is in need of a hero”, wrote Bertolt Brecht in “Life of Galileo”.

The sinking of Concordia reminds everyone that even heroes may not be able to make up for villains’ wrongdoing. Italy is not necessarily seeking for a pet-hero, as Italians are too narcissistic to rally around a single paladin.

Yet, Italy grows as unhappy by seeing its virtuous people prevented from prevailing on incompetent individuals. Or, to put it in fashionable terms, by witnessing its De Falcos getting sunk by its Schettinos.

Last modified on Saturday, 12 May 2012 14:36
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Enrico Cellini

Enrico Cellini is a graduate from the University of Bologna, with a focus on International Relations.

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