A final word on Paolo Di Canio being or not being a fascist: okay, I can’t make everyone else stop talking about it—I’m not a fascist!—but I can promise that this will be the only time you hear me talking about it. And that is to point out this: Di Canio has struggled to distance himself from the awkward idea that he is a fascist because, based on several well known expressions of it, he might well think he is one. But here’s the thing: self-identifying as a fascist doesn’t actually make you a fascist. Being a fascist is what makes you a fascist.
Plenty of people are fascists and don’t realise it. Every single person who has stood in front of me or behind me in the queue at a supermarket has, in my opinion, been a fascist. The crucial point is, the fact that these people didn’t realise that they were fascists didn’t mean that they weren’t and the fact that Di Canio thinks he is doesn’t mean that he is. If we gave him a quiz on fascism, beginning with his views on state control of the economy, rationality, and the cult of the leader, he might come out with some fascistic answers, but so would a lot of people. Where else would the Conservative Party get its membership? Let’s be reasonable here.
My guess is that Di Canio is a proud Italian, and so he doesn’t feel comfortable writing off the country’s medium-term history as something bad, and, yes, that he likes the stuff about togetherness and heroes that you get within the loose ideology which is fascism. Again, a lot of people share those views. Especially in football, actually, where funnily enough we hear a lot about leadership and myths and heroes and, conversely, collectivism being the just best, too. If we’re using that definition of fascist then I’m afraid Mourinho and Ferguson are in trouble.
But we’re not using that really broad definition of fascism or indeed any definition at all: most of the focus from the media this week has been on whether or not Di Canio will continue to call himself a fascist or not. He’s kind of backed down from it as a result, saying “I do not support the ideology of fascism.” Except that feels a bit like me saying “I do not support people eating £50 worth of Mars bars…I merely do it regularly.” The use of the word “support” is a clever way of not fully denying it. But it need not have come to this circus. We shouldn’t judge people based on what they say they are, we should judge them on how they act and think and talk. If I label myself a genius right here right now, it doesn’t make me one. My inherent genius is what makes me a genius.
Think about it like this. If Yaya Toure, who has just signed a contract worth around £220,000 a week (a hideous sum of money which I think should be illegal, which no-one is worth, and which directly contributes to a system where other people are paid less than a living wage) started saying that he was the least greedy man in the world, and that he was leading a peasant’s revolt, would it be acceptable to take this as the definitive definition of Yaya Toure? No, it would not. We base our definition on his actions: thus, his allowing his agent to negotiate a contract of that size means his sense of self-worth is absolutely enormous.
It’s only when people self-identify as bad things that we take it seriously. When I admitted to being addicted to daytime television people took me seriously, even though I swear I have never watched a television programme shown before 6pm in my life. Yet when I confessed to being my generation’s best loved face, I was largely ignored and partially beaten-up. Similarly, nobody listens to Joey Barton when he suggests that he is an amazingly talented footballer, but everyone listens when he is self-deprecating. Or they would, if he ever was.
This approach makes some sense. Why would you admit to being something a lot of people think of as bad if it wasn’t true? Is reasonable enough logic. But it doesn’t hold up. First, you can believe something negative about yourself without having the perspective or the brains to see that it isn’t true (Di Canio, I think). And second, you can do it for attention. I once lied that I couldn’t eat chewing gum so that people would offer sympathy, but no-one did, they simply stopped offering me chewing gum. My loss was their gain, in many ways, but I digress.
It’s time we got over Di Canio’s fascism. Mainly, because it’s not real, or is at least very unlikely to be. He’s probably not a fascist, he doesn’t act like a fascist, he just calls himself one. And I call you all idiots, but you don’t seem to take any notice of that. Labels aren’t as important as we think, particularly when we ascribe them to ourselves: they can be accurate and they can inform our actions, but they also don’t have to do either of those things. Otherwise Gareth Bale really would be the best player in the world—what other message is he sending out with shirts that tight?