Berlusconi: Europe’s Real Pandemic

January 15, 2010 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The foreign press has never been so focused to affairs in Italy as in the last year. The reason for this may be related to the fact that Silvoi Berlusconi, prime minister, no longer simply represents Italy. In the recent European elections the ‘Popolo della Libertà ‘ (People of Freedom – PdL) party has become one of the most important parties in the main parliamentary group in Italy, the PdL, thus directly influences the choices taken in Strasbourg

Yet the international press – when taking Berlusconi’s Italy into consideration – hard;y seems to see beyond the gossip, the blunders and the word mafia, rarely taking the time to explain the real scope of the project of the PM, which goes far beyond its apparent ridicule.

A good question would be why, 16 years after his political debut, Berlusconi is still so popular with his compatriots?

First of all, there’s the media factor. The governmental is more ironclad than ten years ago, it mobilises all possible means to fill television space. Television is the main arena of political struggle, focusing the attention of the parties and the presence of the leaders. To create a certain climate of opinion, the centre-right simply seizes and raises episodes and arguments that foster social insecurity. The PdL makes them bounce on the media, without too much difficulty. However, this situation occurs not only because Berlusconi has a considerable knowledge of the sector, on which he carries a certain degree of influence, but because fear is attractive. It generates audience.

An independent research found that main offences have only slightly diminished all over the country during last year, but in national broadcasts there’s a massive drop in news involving illegal immigration, thievery, rapes, assaults, etc. The crime emergency, which was one of the main topic of the 2008 elections, has now disappeared from the media.

A recent poll said 70 per cent of Italians vote according to what TV dictates. It is not easy to operate the concept of public opinion if the consensus is distorted and extorted with such an abominable practice.

The second factor is the structural weakness of the opposition. With the Italian Left – which has faded away from Parliament, The ‘Partito Democratico’ (Democratic Party – PD) is attacked day-and-night by newspapers and TV stations related to the Prime Minister. Furthermore, the PD is split by continuous internal wars, bureaucratic delays and permanent hesitation on the language to use against Berlusconi – for the endless fear to appear as the ‘Old-Communist-Party’. All these issues, along with the uncertainty about leadership candidates representatives, do not lead to a positive possibility of having a durable progressive government.

The third factor of strength is the natural charm of a Government which decides, in a country historically driven by colourless, bickering, little charismatic and weak governments, to say the least. In the decade 1989-1999, Italy has had nine different PMs. Berlusconi instead ruled for seven out of the last nine years.

Silvio – so called among fans – is the leader who embraces the inconsolable widows-of-the-Earthquake. Who shows himself with a sweeper in the garbage-drowned Napoli (Naples). He’s the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ who, like one of his cosmetic surgeries, sends military to patrol the well-heeled shopping areas. It does not matter, for at least half of the nation, if behind him one finds the mafia, awful cultural patterns and an extremely dangerous idea of Power. He is the homo faber, the ‘working man’ who decides and fixes just about everything.

A SUCCESS STORY – Many Italians, of course, love Berlusconi just because he is a completely amoral character, who hunts and cherishes their enduring attraction towards demagoguery. But, unlike Mussolini, this made-for-TV homo faber doesn’t want to create a homo novus, a better citizen. He prefers to focus on the worst aspects of being arch-Italian. ‘I am not different than the majority of you viewers’, he seems to be affirming to the public.

Like every television host or presenter, Berlusconi lives in the anxiety of pleasing the audience and is ready to trample any prudery for a vote. There is no more barrier between public and private behaviour. On the other hand, Berlusconi loves to look identical to his fans: skilful and ruthless in business but relaxed in human relations, managing all of this without cultural barriers or inferiority complexes. A sort of warped hyper-individualistic mythology, joint with Big Brother’s (the reality show) ideology: something that filmmaker Erik Gandini effectively defined videocracy.

Faced with a similar tornado, with this strong anthropological change, it is obvious that the Italian Left, in crisis of ideas and projects, is succumbing. The real tragedy of videocracy is that it involves a complete civil decadence. A cynicism that pervades us all, because we will, sooner or later, be infected with it if we want to resist.

THE LEADER’S BODY – But can we really restrict this reality within the confines of a single nation? Can we really say that this does not affect the rest of the Continent? Is Italy really something ‘apart’, different and distinct from the rest of Europe, and not a magnifying glass of its glories and its disasters?

From after World War II, for thirty years, as a reaction to the sacralisation of the leaders who had led Europe to the disaster, the continental heads of sates have ‘forgotten’ to have a body. It was insubstantial, fluffy, negligible; not visible as a form of political power. Berlusconi is doing nothing but reminding his continental colleagues that the usage of that body, with modalities that glance at the videocratization of society, is still central in politics and propaganda.

You could say, every nation has its peculiarities. France, Germany or the UK are not familiar with such a big conflict of interests. There, public opinion has stronger antibodies to populism. Nor is some other media tycoon likely to appear in their political arenas. But throughout Europe politicians, from those deployed on the left to those more progressive, from Sarkozy (France) to Merkel (Germany), to Zapatero, (Spain) now use the cult of personality as a tool for political struggle.

Gossip is the lifeblood of the star system. And the star system, as Edgar Morin teaches, is before all manufacturing. All this is extended to the world of politics. ‘Producing gossip has today become a technique of government. Berlusconi has helped to make it the backbone of the communication media system’, wrote sociologist Marco Belpoliti.

Long-term effects of the Berlusconi ‘phenomenon’ will not, perhaps, bring consequences to political contents or in world agenda, but in the increasing vulgarization of personal biographies, in the reckless use of private life, and in the sultanesque vision of politics.

This is the ‘contagion’. If it is populism the capital that Berlusconi wants to spend, his cash is the ‘use of body’, and ‘videocracy’ his project.

This metamorphosis is the horizon of all Europeans. And it is not the first time in history that Italy, with its riots and agitation, experiences disorders and diseases that are not yet shared by the rest of Europe, but that anticipate troubles that the continent might soon know.

Because the anomaly of Berlusconi, if this one can call it that, talks about cultural consumption as a mixture of familism, xenophobia, violence, machismo and pornography, with the consumerist obsession as the sole criterion of judgement. Something that belongs more and more to everyone, without distinction.

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This post was written by Paolo Mossetti

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