Erik Gandini's new documentary Videocracy equates celebrity with power in measuring President Silvio Berlusconi's impact on Italian culture. Reelected for a third term in 2008, the former media mogul is synonymous with corruption and outrageous declarations, not to mention the proliferation of scantily clad women on the media outlets he controls.
The film screens Friday and Saturday night at 7pm. Ohio State professor Dana Renga provides some useful background below for those attending the film.
Imagine if our country's president owned Fox, CNN and ABC. That is the case and more with Italian president Silvio Berlusconi.
One of the richest men in Italy, Berlusconi is a media mogul wealthier even than Giorgio Armani (in 2008, Berlusconi's family assets were valued at more than 9 billion.) He is the owner of Fininvest, which oversees three of the country's public television channels (and draws about one-half of the national viewership), along with several other channels. He also owns a publishing house (Mondadori), a popular news magazine (Panorama) and a publicity agency among many other interests.
He has used his media companies to promote an image of himself as a self-made man as well as to promote his often self-serving agenda. His time in office has been marked by charges of collusion with the mafia, corruption of public officials, tax fraud, and more. But as Prime Minster, he has introduced legislation that has passed that shortens the time limits to prosecute which has directly affected charges against him. Despite the volume, he is usually acquitted and he has a clear record. However, there are still a few trails ongoing against his at the moment.
Berlusconi is also attacked for the content on his many media outlets, especially the negative and sexist portrayal of women. Indicative of his view of women and his often outrageous public statements is this quote from a report in the Telegraph:
Mr. Berlusconi caused outrage by saying that although he was considering deploying 30,000 troops to Italy's cities, there would never be enough soldiers to protect Italy's many â€œbeautiful girlsâ€ from rape. After the opposition party said his comments were profoundly offensive, Mr Berlusconi said his comments were meant as a compliment to Italian women. He said rape was a serious crime, nevertheless people should not forget their good sense of humor where his comments are concerned. In 2003, he advised investors in New York to relocate to Italy because the secretaries were better looking than their American counterparts.
â€œAnother reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls.â€
He also told the New York stock exchange: â€œItaly is now a great country to invest in... today we have fewer communists and those who are still there deny having been one.â€
There is also much publicity and press surrounding numerous sex scandals involving bringing young women to his various residences, to parties, and other locations. His wife finally left him last year after accusing him of having an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old.
Despite this, the majority of Italian people give him a pass. Opposition on the left is extremely fractured in Italy and political corruption (across the political spectrum) is endemic in Italy. Many Italians do not trust anyone, yet are drawn towards Berlusconi's charisma, fortune and media persona despite the fact that he repeatedly embarrasses himself. The Italian people almost expect it of him and seem to like it. He has become a very rich everyman of sorts. He can proposition a showgirl on national television, tell an interviewer that Mussolini never killed anyone, or describe President Obama as â€œsuntannedâ€ and get away with it. People are used to his behavior. It's a fascinating conundrum.
Videocracy will seem rather shocking to an audience not aware of Berlusconi's â€œmedicacracy.â€ But it's not fiction, it's all true.
- Dana Renga is assistant professor of French/Italian at The Ohio State University. She is the editor of Mafia Movies: A Reader, forthcoming in 2010 from the University of Toronto Press.