Melania Zara jacket
Type
Polemic
Category
Fascism
History

A brief (fascist) history of ‘I don’t care’

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 sympathisers. And also to show that the attitude, the theatrical ‘not caring’, was an explicit character trait of Fascism.

Which, at the very least, seems a troubling coincidence.

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 fuck’ – 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’.

lapel pin

‘Me ne frego’ was the title of one of the most famous songs of the Fascist era. Its original version, 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.

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 ahead. It 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,

t-shirts,

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’.

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.

 

Image: jacket Melania Trump wore to US detention camps.

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Giovanni Tiso is an Italian writer and translator based in Aotearoa/New Zealand and an Overland contributing editor. He blogs Bat, Bean, Beam, tweets as @gtiso.

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Comments

  1. Wow, that is so interesting and useful in understanding the roots of some of the current thinking – thank you!

  2. Fascinating. Ignorance as political doctrine … chillingly familiar. One digression: I wonder if the cliched “forget-about-it” is some sort of corollary to “menefreghismo.”

  3. Ignorance as a political doctrine has a long history in the US. Around 1855, a decade before the Civil War, the Native American Party — an anti-papist, anti-immigrant party — gained some political traction. They were more commonly known as the “Know Nothings.”

  4. Interesting, and I would find it convincing if the jacket were worn by one of the men surrounding Trump, like Miller, Bannon or Cohen. But if Melania is saluting faschism, she has lost every last shred of her South Slavic heritage. Until the 1990’s, East Bloc national identity was defined in terms of their heroic opposition to fascism. Communism defeated fascism, and that is what made communism great.

    • She was raised in a Slovenian town famous as a racist stronghold, went to University there, speaks Italian, and her father was facist. She knew exactly what she was doing. This is not a dogwhistle, it’s a bullhorn.

    • Slovenia and all of the former Yugoslav states sent troops to support Hitler and installed fascist governments before the end of the Second World War. Start your research at Slovensko domobranstvo/Slovene Home Guard and go from there. Franc Frakelj (a.k.a. Peter Skalar) and the Black Hand are other examples of deep rooted fascist sympathies in her homeland. That said, I think it has little to do with Melania.

  5. it would be interesting to find out if Melanie knew the origin and the reason why the jacket was made and given to her or they deceived her to wear it!

  6. Scalia said of Bush v. Gore, “Get over it.” I had a Republican relative who would say,”I could care less,” which seemed like an odd locution, putting aside the sentiment itself.

  7. Oh dear.

    The motto you are excoriating originated in a feat of Italian heroism.

    The Second Battle of the Piave River, eventually designated by the prevailing party as as “la battaglia del solstizio”, or the battle of the solstice, was fought between 15 and 23 June 1918, resulting in a decisive World War I victory of the Italian Army against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and precipitating the dissolution of the latter. At the outset of this battle, Commandante Luigi Freguglia ordered Captain Piero Zaninelli to lead his company uphill against an Austro-Hungarian machine gun emplacement at Casa Bianca. Freguglia added that it was a suicide mission, but one that had to be completed at any cost. Zaninelli replied in salty Roman vernacular: “Signor comandante, io me ne frego, si fa ciò che si ha da fare per il re e per la patria” — “Signor Commander, I don’t give a fuck, you do what you have to do for the king and for the country.” Thereupon Captain Piero Zaninelli put on his dress uniform and went to meet his death, thus giving his name to Casa Bianca, ever since called Casa Zaninelli in his honor.

    Notably, the French cognate counterpart of Zaninelli’s motto was coined three months earlier by Tristan Tzara in his Manifeste Dada, published on 23 March 1918:
    “Je nomme je m’enfoutisme l’état d’une vie où chacun garde ses propres conditions, en sachant toutefois respecter les autres individualités, sinon se défendre, le two-step devenant hymne national, magasin de bric-à-brac, T.S.F. téléphone sans fil transmettant les fugues de Bach, réclames lumineuses et affichage pour les bordels, l’orgue diffusant des œillets pour Dieu, tout cela ensemble, et réellement, remplaçant la photographie et le catéchisme unilatéral.
    “La simplicité active.”

    As you rightly note, General Gabriele D’Annunzio, Prince of Montenevoso, Duke of Gallese OMS CMG MVM, subsequently employed Zaninelli’s response to Freguglia to designate the principle of menefreghismo, not giving a fuck in the face of life’s deadliest challenges. Subsequently, the fascists adopted the inspirational usage of “me ne frego”. But so did innumerable groups and individuals invested into systematic unconcern. Thus Shirley MacLaine in My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir, 1995:
    “Getting to know Dean was another story [than getting to know Jerry]. The words that come to mind are those that describe a person cut off from feeling – purposefully cut off. Perhaps that was why he seemed so devil-may-care and so coolly casual. The Italians, I later learned, had a more apt word for it, menefreghista, which means ‘one who does not give a fuck.’ Dean Martin was basically a menefreghista.”
    Likewise Nick Tosches in his account of insightful account of menefreghismo, appearing in Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, 1992:
    “The padrone of Steubenville, the man who oversaw it all, the one to whom the Irish and the Jews and the rest paid tribute, was James Vincent Tripodi, whom no one ever described as a gentleman. Born in Italy in December 1899, Vincenzo Tripodi had established himself early and violently as the demon lover of the Democratic bosses, as the evilest dark breeze in that lush and fruitful garden. He lived at 638 Broadway with his wife. They called her Mae or Mabel, but her name was Amelia. She too had come from the other side, and was a girl of eighteen with Tripodi married her in 1926. There were semi-legitimate businesses: the J.V. Tripodi Restaurant on North Sixth Street, the beer distributorship that had grown out of a Prohibition monopoly. But Tripodi’s sub-rosa interests were everywhere his will decided them to be. He knew others of his kind, men in Cleveland, Detroit, New York. They would come to his daughter’s wedding and embrace him. But he neither sought nor cultivated their company, desiring no such shadow other than his own in the garden he held as his sacrosanct domain. He would end it many years later as he had begun it, with his hands and his will, blowing out his brains with a thirty-eight, alone in his garage, on a wintry afternoon in December, 1987, eleven days before his eighty-eighth birthday.
    “Tripodi was the first of many such characters whom Dino would encounter in his life: men — America called them the Mafia — who sought to wet their beaks (fari vagnari u pizzu, as the Sicilians said) in the lifeblood of every man’s good fortune. He shared many traits with these men, traits born of the old ways: the taciturn harboring close to the heart of any thought or feeling that ran too deeply; that emotional distance, that wall of lontananza between the self and the world; a natural, unarticulated belief in the supreme inviolability of the old ways themselves; a devout sense of Catholicism, based upon the power of its rituals and predicated on God’s special forgiveness for the sins of those whose faith was founded in the ancient, sacred grain of the old ways’ moralita. He shared these traits with them, but he did not share his money with them; and the more he came to know them — and he came to know them as few would — the more he hated them for the predators they were, and the more intent he became on beating them at their own racket. It was not a matter of bravado. He did not share that trait with them. It was a matter, rather, of menefreghismo. Deep down, that, as much as anything, was what he was, a menefreghista — one who simply did not give a fuck.”

    For all its lexical wealth, English lacks pithy counterparts to the Italian “menefreghismo” and its opposite-but-equal French “je-m’en-foutisme”, let alone the nonpareil Russian “похуй”. The best we can do is wax prolix: “I just don’t give a fuck!” Thus Eminem in his 1998 debut single “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”:
    So when you see me on your block with two Glocks
    Screaming “Fuck the world” like Tupac
    I just don’t give a fuck
    Talking that shit behind my back
    Dirty macking, telling your boys that I’m on crack
    I just don’t give a fuck
    So put my tape back on the rack
    Go run and tell your friends my shit is wack
    I just don’t give a fuck
    But see me on the street and duck
    ’Cause you gon’ get stuck, stoned, and snuffed
    ’Cause I just don’t give a fuck
    Likewise this proverbial Russian proto-rap: «Умер Максим—ну и хуй с ним; положили в гроб—мать его ёб.» (“We lost Maxim—well, fuck him. We’ll bury him this week—[that motherfucking prick/his mom can suck my dick].”)

    On the other hand, high marks for good breeding accrue among the English upper classes with credit for one’s unconcern. Thus Tom Stoppard:
    Valentine: […] You’ve never asked about him. You get high marks here for good breeding.
    Hannah: Yes, I know. I’ve always been given credit for my unconcern.
    — Arcadia, 1993, Act One, Scene Four

    In a nutshell, the history of claims to indifference spans the entire spectra of morals and politics.

    • I would say there’s a pretty clear difference between colloquially not caring about something as a very human and emotional response to various pressures and stresses – be it the effects of one’s choices or indifference toward others’ problems – and codifying it alongside clear Fascist symbolism as demonstrated in the blogger’s post.

      One of the very first things that occurred to me while reading this historically based argumentation was the philosophical basis of the Japanese Kamikazes from WW2. Men who were inculcated with the belief that their life was best culminated in violent suicide for the advancement of the state against its foreign enemies, in service for a physical yet ostensibly divine emperor at the head of a ruthlessly top-down system. It was part of a religion, and there were many rituals associated with the training, preparation, and execution of this suicide act. While Imperial Japan is remembered historically more for lowercase f fascism, there are clear parallels with capital F Fascism.

      A common everyday man doesn’t carve medals or create intricate rituals about reaching the temporary zenith of their personal capacity. We are talking about Fascism Inc. here, not an adult periodically at their wits end from the stresses of life, which is why I think your well-sourced reply ends up saying almost nothing.

      • Ah yes, Fascism Inc. As propelled by the Dolchstoßlegende. Tell you what: keep insisting on a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, and get branded as the treasonous backstabbers of our constitutional republic. You reckon that today’s Trumpkins are fascists? Wait and see who arrives in their wake, in response to your posturing.

        • More favorable way, my ass.

          It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.
          But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one—not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.
          —George Orwell, “What is Fascism?”, Tribune, 24 March 1944

          Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    • Your account hardly spans the entire spectrum. An Italian hero, Fascists, Dean Martin, the Mafia. Hanna’s snarky answer does not qualify in emphasis or in spirit.

  8. Excellent history lesson. Thank you. And given that Melania grew up so close to Italy (Slovenia is directly to its east), I wonder if she does not know some of this history?

  9. It’s also worth noting that Melania grew up in Slovenia, surrounded by monuments to the fight against fascism, and speaks Italian. On top of that, Yugoslavians of her generation were trained to read and critically understand symbolism at a much higher level than we’re used to in English-speaking countries. And she studied design and architecture at university before dropping out, so she certainly had that training.

    I think it’s safe to say this was no naive faux pas. She knew exactly what she was referencing, probably better than any of her handlers did.

  10. Bollocks. Melania hates Trump; she was weeping on election night because his elevation to the Presidency meant that she couldn’t divorce him. The contexts for the jacket and italian fascism don’t even slightly figure. The jacket was a statement on the casual fecklessness in the white house. If she really didn’t care, why did she bother going to visit the kids? Trust the left to miss a gift in the name of an opportunity to moralise.

    • Melanie and Ivanka have the power to do plenty in service of the greater good as opposed to focusing on personal business deals with other countries or “being best”. The jacket may very well have been a coded, non-Fascist statement. But as has been demonstrated with no effort required, often on the part of T’s own administration, they are supremely out of touch with reality and seems to have an innate skill for showing or saying exactly the wrong things at exactly the (right?) wrong moment. That indefatigable proclivity does take on a rather morbidly peculiar patina when juxtaposed against what other commenters here have pointed out about Melania’s education and background.

      In short, if she didn’t know better, it betrays what we know of her in the first place, and it magically can be used in the service of her malcontented cohorts as a winking policy nod. Pointing out meaningful historical references – even if the subject of the analysis isn’t aware of them – is not vacuous “moralizing”; not in this strange and tenuous age.

    • Very poor form making a loud statement of casual fecklessness while visiting 2,300 impoverished kids imprisoned by her husband’s racist immigration statements and policies “justified” by maligned biblical references. The statement written on the jacket she wore purposefully nullifies or at least calls into serious doubt any true intent of compassion. Trust the far right to miss the blatantly obvious insult to American values of morality, decency and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. For the record I CARE.

  11. Thank you for the history lesson. I was not aware of all the details. My grandparents and some of their other relatives left their home country of Italy from 1912-1918 and immigrated to the USA. My grandfather joined the US Army and served in France fighting against the Fascists. I’m very fortunate they made the decision to leave or I wouldn’t be here today. I’m looking for a jacket or a shirt that says “ I do care, do you?

  12. Excellent article. Having lived in Italy for a good number of years I would love to see another on the insidious rise of Casa Pound. Members burned out an emcampment of undocumented migrants near to my home over the alleged theft of patatine and bibite from a sport centre. Locals applauded them.

  13. Well this is total-Trump-paranoia with compeltely no historical perspective wahtsoever of themenaing of mottoes
    1) the “discussions” about the words on Melania jacket had to do with a “i don’t really care” about what’s happening in those detentions facilities and so on right??!
    2) Tee “mene frego!” the 30s fascists has exaclty the OPPOSITE meaning. Is not a I dont care of the problems bla bla…The mening being: I dont give a damn about me myself my own little life. I will follow the leader and scarfice myself to death for the cause.

  14. Someone is really reaching here. The term originated with the “warrior-poet” Gabriele d’Annunzio and became popular among Italian soldiers in World War I. During WWI, not only was Italy NOT fascist, it was an ally of the US, Britain, and France. It was an expression of courage and bravado, not carelessness: “we might die tomorrow, but me ne frego.” After the war, it continued to be used by Mussolini’s squadristi (strike busters) and after he came to power it became the motto of the Black Shirts.

    However, the origin of the phrase was not related to fascism, and it was never simply “I don’t care.” BTW, the designer of this piece, Zara, has created controversy with such “fascist” sentiments as a T-shirt that asked “Are You Gluten Free?” which was allegedly offensive to those with celiac disease.

    The only good thing about the constant hysteria and searching for non-existent “right wing fascist dog whistles” is that the Lunatic Wing of the Left is now reading something other than Gramsci.

  15. May be of interest to me only, but come to think of it, it crossed my mind while washing dirty dishes that my father’s standard response to any kid who came back with an ‘I don’t care!’ being this rhyme:

    Don’t care was made to care
    Don’t care was hung
    Don’t care was put in gaol
    And made to hold his tongue

    First time he said it to me, when I was two or so, I asked:
    ‘Why did they make a hole in his tongue?’
    To which my father replied (after his usual laconic fashion):
    ‘So the useless words could fall down the plug hole!’

    Seems we need more plug holes today for right wing fascist dogma.

  16. Is this propaganda or brand placement? Is this meme misleading and designed to further warp people’s perception of what is? This is easily researched. Could it be that the “fact checker” has an agenda? So odd that it says “fact checked this meme” but they didn’t even catch that the designer is Spanish, not Italian. Isn’t that some kind of serious cultural aggression or massive insult or horribly offensive error? Was this intentional? Suspicious?

    Could the agenda be to promote the brand Zara? Could it be that this meme was actually created by some competitor in the fashion industry? Or by Zara? What is the truth? Here is a little bit of truth –
    Zara is Spanish, not Italian. Zara is an integral part of the Inditex Group and Ortega, the owner, founder, entrepreneur, is a 59.29 percent shareholder of the Group. The Inditex Group owns several renowned brands besides Zara. Some of these include Massimo Dutti, Zara Home, Stradivarius, Bershka, Oyosho and Pull and Bear. The Inditex Group has over 92,000 employees. It is no surprise that Zara, which started off as a small store in Spain is now the world’s largest retailer and its founder, Amancio Ortega, the 4th richest man in the world. Zara slowly expanded its empire from the town in Spain to the rest of the country and then later to Portugal. By the 1990’s the store had expanded into the United States, France and most of the Europe. Today, Zara has close to 6500 stores across 88 countries around the world.

    Zara is also known to be one of the most eco-friendly companies. It uses solar panels and wind turbines in the headquarters in La Coruna. Zara is also known to be one of the few clothing brands that produces 100 % toxic-free clothing, but not until after the uproar that was caused on how it was using the cancer-inducing azo dyes in its clothing. (See, … more spin! ) Another way the author could have positioned the azo dye issue, Zara, the world’s largest retailer, forced a shift in the textile industry. Zara, understanding the health risks associated with azo dyes, has successfully eliminated azo dye from the fabrics used in their designs… Thank you Zara!

    Zara has flagship stores on Fifth Avenue in New York, Oxford Street in London, Calle Serrano in Madrid, Via del Corso in Rome, Champs-Élysées in Paris, Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg, GUM in Vladivostok, Shibuya and Ginza districts in Tokyo, Myeongdong in Seoul, amongst many others. https://successstory.com/companies/zara

    What if…the words on this jacket are simply a message Melania is sending directly to the minority – the haters, the loud and vile haters who find themselves in the minority? More Americans love Melania than do not. The Melania approval rating is through the glass ceiling. She is a Boss in her own right.

    How would any one of us deal with the negativity directed toward us? Possibly, she simply doesn’t care what horrible, ridiculous next things the mind benders will say about her?

    Who could blame her for having a little sport with the MSM? What if she has a wicked sense of humor and this is only designed to cause the left to spin further out of control? It’s actually quite easy for a brilliant person with a wicked sense of humor to trigger these talking heads. It would be nearly impossible to resist messing with the media at this point in her journey. What if, once Melania had a minute to evaluate the haters and their triggers, she decided to have her way with them. What brilliant woman could resist? It is so simple to launch the haters into the strat.

    Think about it, nothing by the MSM is ever positive about Melania. Never a word of encouragement or props regarding her journey to get where she is in life. Nothing beyond superficial, cruel and absurd, mean girl headlines for Melania. We see her amazing composure and grace under incredible pressure and yet not a word of positivity. We see her stunning fashion sense yet, not a compliment, only insults. Her heartfelt platform for children and not one positive word of thanks or agreement. Nothing favorable from the MSM. Basically anything and everything she wears, does, is, is not…is presented as nefarious and wrong minded. This is a strong, brilliant, successful, kind, loving, reasonable and beautiful woman who speaks five languages, is an immigrant and suddenly, she, a legal immigrant to the United States, finds herself as the first lady. How incredible is she? This is but one example of what is possible for the “legal” immigrant in America? She is highly accomplished and is blazing her own path. She is managing this under the scorching manufactured distortions and biases, of the harshest critics, any modern day first lady has ever endured. Actually, Melania, as a woman, is the epitome of everything women around the world can respect and aspire to emulate. She isn’t a perfect person but who is?

    Back to Zara, who else in the world or in the public eye wears this brand? Millions? Hundreds of millions of men and women around the world. The designer, the company Zara, phenomenal. The brand placement manager of Zara is a genius. The message, who knows what it means to the designer? That may be a much more interesting and revealing conversation.
    The double standard of the MSM and their minions, toward Melania is blinding and vile.

    Melania certainly isn’t a fascist but she is absolutely fascinating. She isn’t cruel or hateful or loud yet her critics, are so cruel and so purposefully hateful.

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