Beyond Antonioni’s Zabriskie point and his “Carl Marx”

Neil Smelser, the famous sociologist, wrote in the Epilogue (pag. 419) to “The American University” by Talcott Parsons and Gerald Platt (1973):

Because faculty authority was fragmented to a considerable degree during the inflationary period, a social situation was created that increased the probability of seduction of persons in positions of some authority to join students in attacks on other authorities, whether these be faculty, administrators, or law enforcement of officials. It increased the probabilities that some categories of “nonstudent” authorities would cross the sharp boundary that usually exists between students and various categories of authority. The fragmentation of roles created opportunities for the formation of nascent oedipal triangles and coalitions.

Nice piece. Considering the few years that elapsed from the 1964 and 1968 social unrest in the American Universities and Colleges, they demonstrated some cleverness I am afraid nowadays we lack to some extent (do we live times requiring critical analysis?!). However, I would like to underline that Michelangelo Antonioni, in his Zabriskie Point (1970), said it even better, more beautifully, and even before these distinguished sociologists. To those who like as I do, nerdy precision, it is in minute 4′ of the second part of the full movie. Not necessarily only the cool “Carl Marx” vignette is meaningful there…

Leonardo da Vinci put Art and Science at the same level. Art overwhelms Sciences this time. Period.


The loosely coupled populistic movements in Europe meet in Athens. The M5S goes to Πλατεία Συντάγματος @ale_dibattista @luigidimaio

Like other around 1000 academics, I was in Athens until few hours ago for the annual Egos Conference. None had the idea to collect signatures for the “yes” or “no” cause, perhaps because the referendum was decided too late for us. We are slow… And so I shall report few considerations in the following days.

This post nonetheless is about who by chance I met nearby Syntagma square (the square of the Greek Parliament and the well-known place of rallies). Me and my wife were spending the few free hours before waking up at 4:00 am in order to stay inside our budgets. We sit down in a touristic but cheap restaurant. On my right there is a large tv set with guys playing basketball, the Greek national sport. Greece vs. USA. I realize later it is an under 17 semi-final world championship. Suddenly some Italian speaking people shadow my sight and I feel disappointed for a second, but I promptly realize: it is Luigi Di Maio, vice-President of the Italian Parliament and 3 other apparently younger than me people. One of them is clearly Alessandro Di Battista, the preferred of Beppe Grillo’s pupils. All of them are of the M5S, the second Italian political party. Two of them are the most famous, founders apart (the old comic star Beppe Grillo and the obscure Gianroberto Casaleggio).

No Athens

My wife doesn’t recognize them. She is disconnected from Italian tv politics.

I eavesdrop them. It’s too cool, they are too close, and I had to hear anyway. Long story short (bullet point will help me to resume the essential):

1)      I was shocked by the authentic superficiality of that people. Yes, they are young, younger than me, but it looks that they really believe to the rhetoric they use.

2)      Di Maio uses at a certain point the adjective “Grecio” instead of “Greco” (sounds like “Greec” instead of “Greek”), which tells me about the general level of education.

3)      Vanity: Di Battista likes to remember to the other fellows he was recognized while jogging in the morning nearby the stadium and was greated “Ciao Dibba”. Yep, I definitely didn’t feel comfortable to say “hello” to them. I felt on the other hand very detached. Maybe I belong to a different cohort already. Di Maio warns his colleagues to never get a phone call, can’t say for which reasons, can’t say then he is using the Smartphone all the time to send texts.

4)      My wife gets that they can’t figure out how there is the crisis in Greece if people use plenty of electricity to light the little square. Easy: turn two blocks and you see the desperation, abandoned dogs, skinny cats, closed shops… Crisis. There is indeed. (I lost this spicy detail, this shows I was also eating and looking at my beautiful wife)

5)      Di Maio asks about the Friday manifestation about the “Οχι” [no]. they acknowledge Greek people don’t have the same Italian tradition in rhetoric, as actually the manifestation was weak, poor in numbers and short in speaking. What is more interesting is that they consider if “Zecche” (“ticks” a right or extreme right slang to say “communist” or “lefty people” assuming that they are a societal parasite. However, this terms is not always so negative in Rome) were there. To this regard they remember the first Piazza San Giovanni they organized, that had an interesting presence of radicals.

6)      Di Battista blames Matteo Renzi as the ass-licker of Merkel. A reasonable political stance if you are a Renzi’s enemy. However Di Battista argues that Renzi can’t sympathize with Tzipras because he has to obey Merkel. Well, you may believe this if you are a citizen. You may even try to make believe this, if you are a politician, it’s your role. But you can’t sustain this and at the same time be a politician: you confuse the analysis with the political communication strategy. I personally feel this is a structural weakness for Di Battista who defines himself “a socialist, after all”.

7)      The most important point is when Dibba speaks very very softly about Beppe, the leader. “If only he would be…”. Yes, the other not-famous guy says, “he likes to be hated, like Varoufakis! They are like the death!” says loudly. I would have said θænətɒs, since we were in Greece, and actually I have said this about the Greek scholars in game theory to Viviana until she said “Ok Giulio, I agree. Stop repeating this”. But would they know this Greek term? Di Battista expressing that way a critic made me understand what I imagined: they are dominated by the leader being at the same time strong public figures. Few autonomy.

8)      They eat much quicker and much less than us. As they pay their vegetarian food the not-famous guy recommend Di Maio (who pays for everybody) to tip the waiter. He asks to pay with credit card but they dislike the case. He pays cash without tipping (I tipped in the previous two dinners, not yesterday; however, I wouldn’t call this solidarity to the “Greec people”).

9)      The young woman as far as I got, says nothing. Gender equality bye-bye.

10)  Last but not least, I feel desperate by the sloppy knowledge of Greece they have: Di Maio can’t figure out how in a country basketball can be a national sport and believes this is due to the crisis (?!). If there is a way for Greece to exit the financial crisis, is to continue to have a high standard in basketball they have gotten for decades.

conclusions: the people who got the political representation went to Greece for almost tourism. Perhaps doing not less than other politicians, but I would like to tell to M5S voters that they paid the flight, the hotel and the dinner to these 4 guys too.

I know that to eavesdrop is not polite, but with the exception of the point about the critic over Beppe, it was natural to hear them while eating.

However, the dinner before I had to hear Anglo-Italian people speaking much less interesting and polite staff. To write a post about that would turn a mixture of motorbikes and porn literature. I skip this.

p.s. My (scientific) paper was about loosely coupled organizations becoming tightened. That’s why the title is so.