September 5, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

A new documentary by a Swedish-based Italian filmmaker examines how media mogul turned two-time president Silvio Berlusconi's 30-year grip on Italian television has shaped the country, its politics, its culture and society. Erik Gandini's Videocracy, which screens at the Venice Film Festival, starts 30 years ago, when Berlusconi introduced a quiz show whose female contestants stripped for the camera, and charts 30 years of showgirls, celebrities, reality TV shows and Berlusconi's rise to political power, and interviews characters of the system, including a talentless but fame-hungry TV contestant, a fascist-sympathising media fixer, and a paparazzo/extortionist turned celebrity. More details here and (with a trailer) here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Berlusconi's private TV channels and the state broadcaster RAI have refused to run advertisements for the film.
posted by acb (14 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
So can somebody familiar with Italian politics tell me what Berlusconi is all about? He seems like a crazy fascist Bob Barker, but thats just my dumb American media-spoon-fed view.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 2:26 PM on September 5, 2009

My views of Italian politics are very skewed, as my knowledge is very limited. After reading about Berlusconi's quiz show and such, I thought of Ilona Staller, the hardcore porn star/politician, also known as "Cicciolina" (translated as "little cuddly," "little fleshy one," and "little cabbage" according to HMHB). The first Google search hit for "fleshy little one" is a Google news scan of the Spokane Chronicle (dated Nov. 20, 1987), which notes that that "A Big Apple night club owner" withdrew an offer for Staller to appear because she wouldn't tone down her act. And then there's Mussolini. In short: my knowledge of Italian politics is seriously lacking, or the country is rather nutty. I'll stick with Option A until informed otherwise.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on September 5, 2009

If you're in Toronto, this is also being screened at TIFF.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2009

Can you imagine President Rupert Murdoch?
posted by DU at 4:34 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about Italian politics, but from a distance he seems to have benefitted from:

1. Being the first to consolidate 'his side' of the scattered Italian political landscape after the Tangetopoli scandal destroyed the old party system
2. (In consequence) the disarray of the centre-left parties
3. Control of a large slug of Italian media
4. Utter shamelessness

One recent thing that caught my eye was his taking offence at a request by a European Commissioner (one of the people who runs the EU's executive arm) for more information on an incident where Italian troops turned a boat carrying illegal immigrants back to Libya. Berlusconi, who has a populist's love of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, promptly threatened to block every piece of business in the whole European Union unless all Commissioners were banned from making public statements on any topic for ever.

If you're British, imagine the editor of the Daily Mail, with a thousand times more money, and he's running the country.
posted by athenian at 5:12 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Paging matteo, paging matteo.
posted by rodgerd at 5:24 PM on September 5, 2009

If you're British, imagine the editor of the Daily Mail, with a thousand times more money, and he's running the country.

Or perhaps Richard Desmond or someone, given Berlusconi's penchant for medicating his audience into a compliant stupor with the soma of soft porn.
posted by acb at 5:28 PM on September 5, 2009

Can you imagine President Rupert Murdoch?

posted by blucevalo at 8:02 PM on September 5, 2009

looks like a showbiz product that decries the effects of the showbiz -- how useful
posted by 3mendo at 8:29 PM on September 5, 2009

Technically, Rupert Murdoch couldn't be president, because he's Australian.
posted by kldickson at 9:04 PM on September 5, 2009

Forza Italia!
posted by stargell at 9:43 PM on September 5, 2009

Besides the colourful persona, his shenanigans, the WTFWops factor and the oh-so-ever-amusing broad strokes the british press likes to use when painting Italy, it gets much more uglier than that, very quickly.

This sad, narcissistic, susceptible, would-be tyrant, little excuse of a prime minister has no sense of the state, no grasp of what a real democracy or a free press is, a conflict of interest that gets to the orbit of Jupiter, and no qualms whatsoever in suing the foreign media for 'libel', or outing the director of one of the main catholic papers who dared to criticise the inhumanity of the government politics on immigration by way of the director of one of his newspapers -who went on (journalism ahead) quoting an anonymous letter- because apparently in Italy one can't be at the same time gay and catholic -however perverse that may be, or passing bills to grant himself immunity on the many trials he'd be in.

Many think these are the last sparks as he's on the descending limb of his parable. I can only hope for a media offensive to help Italy get rid of him as fast, as effectively and permanently as it is possible.

I used to think he'd be a passing infatuation for the brainwashed masses, but it's hard to maintain that after 15 years he's in politics.
posted by _dario at 4:09 AM on September 6, 2009

I think Berlusconi and the current Italian political landscape can't really be explained without reference to the profoundly corrupt political system before the Tangentopoli scandals. This was dominated by an hegemonic center-right partly (the Christian Democrats), deeply in debt with all sorts of legitimate and less legitimate vested interests, a well-disciplined opposition (the Communists) that was however automatically excluded from power at the national level, even if quite powerful locally, and a bevy of smaller, personality-driven parties, whose only purpose was to negotiate their support the Christian Democrats to keep the Communists at bay. One of those parties was Bettino Craxi's center-left Socialists. While in most Western European countries such moderate Socialists and Social Democrats came to be the dominant parties of the left during the postwar era (not least because of the discreet support of the CIA), the might of the Communists in Italy, as well as the Christian Democrats own active workers' movement and left wing, stunted the growth of the Italian Socialists, who remained a client-driven second-rate party in the hands of the deeply, deeply corrupt Craxi.

Italians, quite aware of how fixed the political system was, grew ever more disenchanted with it. Still, the odd balance of power ensured some political competition and pluralism. For instance, the state TV corporation RAI was carved out between the parties: the first channel was firmly in the hands of the Christian Democrats, the second channel represented the views of the minor parties, in particular the Socialists, and the third channel was controlled by the Communists. While crooked, this ensured that the Italians remained exposed to a variety of views.

Berlusconi's business empire started to flourish in the seventies under the personal protection of Bettino Craxi, first in real estate, and then in the media. However, it's clear that the other parties would never have allowed Berlusconi's private TV monopoly if he and Craxi hadn't promised the other parties to keep those channels entirely free of politics. Luckily for Berlusconi, Italians were sated with the politics offered by the state TV, and appreciated the private stations' light entertainment and lightly-clad beauties all the more. His channels flourished.

These cozy arrangements exploded with the fall of the Soviet Union. No longer obliged to keep the Christian Democrats eternally in power, tongues started wagging, and the dirty underbelly of the Italian political system was exposed by the Tangentopoli case. Both the mighty Christian Democrats and the Socialists imploded, leaving a gaping hole in the Italian political spectrum. This left Berlusconi horribly exposed, especially as the investigations were centered on his real estate fiefdom in Milan, and his political godfather Craxi fled to Tunis. Instead of following his example, the energetic Berlusconi did however something rather impressive, if entirely shameless: recognising the political void, he launched his own political party, supporting it with the whole might of his business and media empire.. With the other parties in disarray, he was no longer bound by promises of neutrality and instead turned his channels into a relentless self-promotion machine. Deeply knowledgeable of the fears and weaknesses of the electorate, he however packaged this propaganda much more slickly than the traditional parties, using the same bombast and scantily-clad beauties as in his game shows.

In the meantime, the Communists, left relatively unsullied by the scandals, were facing problems of their own: simultaneously traumatised by the fall of the Soviet block and tantalised by the prospect of reaching the national power that had been denied to them by the post-Yalta order, they promptly split into moderates and hardliners. Although the moderates managed to attract to them a ragtag army of center-left parties and intellectuals, their alliance remained fractious and still had to face an electoral system designed to keep them out. This left the field open for Berlusconi's success and subsequent takeover of the state.
posted by Skeptic at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

posted by adamvasco at 12:30 PM on September 6, 2009

« Older "Lockerbie: Megrahi Was Framed"   |   Ikea Heights Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments