Thursday, May 19, 2016

Send in the Clowns

Word from Italy is that Marco Pannella has died. He was a unique political leader of a more unique political formation known as the Radical Party. In 1987, I was visiting Italy when the party successfully ran a porn actress for Parliament, putting Pannella and his group in the international spotlight. I was able, with the help of my good friend Gilbert D'Ambrosio, to craft this piece and sell it to the "L.A. Weekly," travel column, "Other Places."

Give 'em Hell in Heaven Marco!



In Italy, Democracy Makes a Bed for Some Strange Fellows

In Italy, sex and politics have finally been joined in unholy matrimony following the election of reigning porn queen Cicciolina (“Little Cuddly One”) to the national Chamber of Deputies. The man responsible for this transgression against all things good in decent in the country Pope John Paul calls home?

Meet Marco Pannella, founder and driving force behind the Partito Radicale.

The Radicale, vigilant advocate of 2.5 percent of the voting population, is a political dwarf when one considers the numbers racked up by the likes of the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats.


Pannella protesting (as usual).

What's unique about I Radicali is how effectively they communicate their message despite their diminutive stature. During the campaign, one could open a newspaper to page one and see Cicciolina, bare breasts and all, holding court in the center of Rome, promoting her seductive crusade against “society's pervasive sense of shame and sexual timidity.”

Would you give me your little vote? (il voticino) Just that?” she asks of a passerby who responds, “And who wouldn't?” And so, who didn't? The only person in the party she didn't outpoll was Pannella himself.

Hers is a story of Italian democracy as its inclusive best. Soon to represent a party stronghold in Rome, parliament's sexiest deputati is 36 years old and was born Ilona Staller. A veteran of the Radicale's anti-nuclear campaign and a party member since 1979, Staller took the initiative and nominated herself, something you can do with a little money and a set of values that are in line with the party of your choice.

Not surprisingly, Cicciolina's first order of business is to strive to abolish Article 528 of the penal code, which prohibits obscene shows.

Italy is in an uproar over her election, but that's nothing new to the Radicale, who specialize in the outrageous. The party's ticket for the June 14 ballot include two self-proclaimed homosexuals, transsexuals and two ex-generals who have renounced militarism in all its varied deformities.

Cicciolina
Among the winners was one-time singing star Domenico Modugno. This “radical,” who got a close-up picture of the country's medical system when he was crippled by a stroke, ran in protest of its inadequacies.

Modugno is famous for having penned “Volare,” that light-hearted ode to the joy that is life. In one political advertisement, the party cynically attached the song to 60 seconds of images featuring blossoming mushroom clouds, bloated African babies and brutally vivisected animals. It ran on Video M, Italy's answer to MTV, which the Radicale canvassed heavily for votes.

La Unita, the daily paper of the Italian Communist Party, accused the Radicale of engaging in transgression for transgression's sake. “Under what banner are they?” challenged the Communists. “What do they fight for, these Radicals?”

Toni Negri
The party, responds spokesman Sergio Roazio, entertains a platform best described as “an attitude against injustice.”

It is Italy's fount of self-righteous indignation, and Pannella, now in his 50s, is its eternal angry young man. He has gone on hunger strikes against laws he thought unjust, and once organized the party's officeholders to get high in Parliament as a protest against repressive drug laws.

In one of its most infamous outrages, the Radicale ran a candidate from jail. Toni Negri, a professor at the University of Padua and committed revolutionary theorist, had been accused of being linked to the terrorist Red Brigades and locked up without so much as a hearing. He was looking at up to 12 years incarceration before his right-to-trial kicked in under Italy's special anti-terrorist laws.




The Italian system, however, provides immunity from prosecution to members of Parliament. When Negri won his election, he was freed – and promptly fled the country.

Some people are amused by the Radicale, but more are horrified. Yet there is something to be said for a democracy that grants this collection of social maladroits a place on the ballot. The Radicale, for their part, make the most of what they have by providing some of society's most marginalized sectors with the biggest bullhorn in Italian politics.

Pannella broke from the Liberal Party in 1955 to form the Radicale and was first elected to Parliament in 1966. He is vocal, visible, and charismatic. Still, his party was not part of the last ruling coalition, nor is it likely to be a part of the next.

He tends to alienate serious people: Pannella dressed as Santa Claus; Pannella smoking hash; Pannella on a hunger strike; Pannella leading the party faithful in an a capella rendition of “Volare.”

Anyway, the Radicale are having too much fun to soil themselves in the dirty business of running a country.

When asked by a reporter how the party could run “a whore” for a such a position of responsibility Pannella challenged “the cynical priests and mafiosi in high government to cast the first stone, and promised to take it from there if they dared.

Cicciolina is Pannella's modern-day Mary Magdalene.

Because our hands are clean,” he raves, “and no one can deny they aren't, how do they attempt to discredit the Radicale? By saying we are clowns? Well, better clowns than criminals.”