Europe of Renzi: From Selfies to Google Maps

Article published on July 7, 2014
Article published on July 7, 2014

Matteo Renzi's speech in Strasbourg signals a turning point in politics. Like it or not, a new way of communicating (and doing) politics, a neo-language of sorts, has arrived in Europe.

Al­though the new Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment con­vened in the halls of Stras­bourg, this isn't what made head­lines. In­stead, the spot­light fell on two Ital­ians. Ad­ver­saries, bit­ter en­e­mies and com­pletely dif­fer­ent, ex­cept for one shared trait: they have changed their doc­trine of po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. On these hot July days, the 28 Mem­ber Union met Beppe Grillo and Mat­teo Renzi per­son­ally. Like two su­per­stars, they in­tro­duced them­selves on two dif­fer­ent days — a co­in­ci­dence, surely — with­out ever men­tion­ing one an­other by name, but con­tin­u­ing to dish out gibes rid­dled with sub­tle yet ob­vi­ous in­nu­endo.

Elec­tric blue tie, in ex­cel­lent shape, self-con­fi­dent prose (what the Eu­ro­peans would call Ital­ian) and youth­ful ex­pres­sions, in step with the times, or, as we would say today, 'trendy'. Mat­teo Renzi de­barked in Eu­rope to in­au­gu­rate the Ital­ian Pres­i­dency of the Coun­cil of Eu­rope with a speech that will be re­mem­bered in the com­ing years. 

If Eu­rope Takes a SelfiE

"If Eu­rope took a selfie, it would show a face of bore­dom." This phrase en­cap­su­lates the lin­guis­tic rev­o­lu­tion of new pol­i­tics. For some time in Italy, 'new ad­vances' have sup­planted the old litu­rgies and lin­guis­tic for­mu­las of the First Re­pub­lic. After twenty years of mas­ter­ing the teleshop­ping tech­nique, a new stan­dard of com­mu­ni­ca­tion has se­duced the coun­try: lin­guisitic sim­plic­ity, word plays, a focus on neu­rolin­guis­tics in elec­tion cam­paigns (draw­ing from the suc­cess­ful book The Po­lit­i­cal Brain by Drew Westen), the sys­tem­atic use of pos­i­tive mes­sages, Face­book sta­tuses, 140 char­ac­ters of vir­tual tweets on Twit­ter, prepa­ring speeches in Pow­er­Point, or par­tic­i­pa­ting in tal­ent shows like Amici, hosted by Maria De Fil­ippi. Or a few quotes bor­rowed from the clas­sics like Dante, Leonardo, Aris­to­tle, Per­i­cles, Archimedes, Home­riac char­ac­ters like Telemaco, mixed with other pop cul­ture more rel­e­vant to daily life, like songs, car­toons and the hard sto­ries of every day life. We could cre­ate a long list to de­fine the Renzi rev­o­lu­tion. They are all sides of the same coin, the op­po­site of what has been seen until now, the 'new style' (Stil nuovo in Ital­ian — Ed­i­tor) that the ex-mayor of Flo­rence (or who for him) stated in the book of the same name. But there is one goal: cre­ate em­pa­thy and emo­tional con­nec­tions with the voter.

In the faux lan­guage that is cur­rently en vogue, linked to youth, so­cial net­works, dig­i­tal mar­ket­places and daily life, the selfie is a ref­er­ence point, a con­stant. But the trend of the self-timer is also some­thing pos­i­tive, while today, Eu­rope is any­thing but the photo of a happy fam­ily. It is 'tired', 're­signed', even 'bore­d'. Who can't un­der­stand this metaphor? "Eu­rope can't be a dot on Google Maps." Who doesn't un­der­stand such a ref­er­ence, when the most fa­mous ge­olo­ca­tion pro­gramme in the world has in­vaded our chaotic days of the hur­ried dash from work, to an ap­point­ment, to the gym, or to the su­per­mar­ket? There was no way to cut closer to mass cul­ture than to ex­press del­i­cate con­cepts that would oth­er­wise have been ex­plained by the usual fig­ures and bor­ing sta­tis­tics or re­cited for­mu­las, so close to the halls of bu­reau­cracy in Brus­sels, so dis­tant from a bar, laun­drymat or a high school class dur­ing re­cess. Per­haps a few years ago, such a reg­is­ter would have seemed hereti­cal, ir­rev­er­ent and even in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, but it does not mat­ter. Today, it is ac­cepted be­cause it is ef­fec­tive, be­cause it reaches the reader and tugs at his or her heart­strings.

Don't Judge a Book By its Cover

The Eu­ro­pean Mat­teo plays the same role as the Ital­ian Renzi; he brings the same mod­ern lan­guage and skill­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the con­ti­nent as the man who shook up the com­mu­ni­ca­tion se­man­tics of the Ital­ian left and who played a sig­nif­i­cant role in lead­ing to the party to its vic­tory of 40.8% dur­ing the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions in May. On the other side of the Alps in France, where both right and left lack a charis­matic leader and a skilled com­mu­ni­ca­tor able to take the reins of the coun­try, Le Monde has de­voted a spe­cial "Veni, vidi, Renzi," se­duced by this Julius Cae­sar that has once again con­quered the Gauls. At home and in Eu­rope, the lin­guis­tic rev­o­lu­tion has brought him the harsh crit­i­cism of his de­trac­tors. Be it en­e­mies or 'friends' of the op­po­si­tion within the party, the Coun­cil Pres­i­dent has been ac­cused of spout­ing empty slo­gans and beau­ti­ful words with­out a con­crete plan to re­vi­tal­ise the coun­try. One can think of the sketches by co­me­dian Mau­r­izio Crozza. You can't judge a book by its cover, but with­out the right garb, even a monk is an or­di­nary per­son. If he loses the elec­tion and he will re­main for­ever in the ob­scu­rity of de­feat, along­side the many oth­ers who have tried be­fore him. All true and proven. How­ever, will it be enough to save the fate of the Ital­ians and to re­verse the trend of the con­ti­nent at the cen­tre of Google Maps?