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Eric: Excerpt from Italian Media assignment

April 14, 2011

Here is a typical weekly essay that I have been writing for Italian Media. This one happened to turn out pretty good, so I hope you enjoy:

QUESTION: How has Silvio Berlusconi used his media model to create the same pop culture that now sustains him?

Silvio Berlusconi is what Italians love about Italy, but are ashamed to admit.  Italian history, at least the interesting bits, is consumed by conflict.  Fame, fortune, sex, glamour, mystery, extravagance, and controversy are things that have fueled the Italian political opera since the Romans, therefore Silvio is simply playing the role he was assigned.  So, when I attempt to understand how Silvio remains in office despite his shortcomings, I remember why I like Shakespeare or why I like the Romans.

Sure Silvio brought smut to the 21st century here in Italy, sure he has figured out ways to become untouchable, but this is what Italy needs.  Italians are a people who like to live a life that is stable, but spicy, and this is what Silvio does.  Silvio is a tabloid hero, and he gives people something to talk about.  Newspapers, water cooler conversations, the democratic opposition would become insipid without Berlusconi, and I think Italians all know this.  Sure, if you own the news you can influence people’s opinions, but there comes a limit.  I do not feel that people are being brainwashed by a neo form of yellow journalism, but simply succumbing to the carnal thirst for conflict.

I feel that Berlusconi’s media model that promotes himself as one who is a lively, likable, and unbecoming of a politician is something that has kept him riding the wave of power for so long.  Italians honor their history, they are proud of it and in a way wish to embody it.  Romans in particular have this connection to their past and it is through this connection that Berlusconi is allowed to get away with his behaviors.  Every great politician in the ancient times, from what we know, was a narcissistic, sexually explorative, and corrupt.  We do not come to Rome to see the works of great humanitarians, but we come to Rome to see the works of great emperors and gladiators.  Humans are obsessed and accepting of a culture that is not outright evil, Nazi’s, but not exactly perfect either.

Life can be much simpler than we live it, but is a simple life even worth living?  If Italy had a leader who fixed all of its problems I feel that Italy would lose its charm.  There is something appealing about the unpredictability that life in Italy awards its residents.  This sence of unpredictability is what remains constant in Italian pop culture, and this is what Berlusconi based his media empire upon.  Berlusconi created a name for himself in the entertainment industry by allowing people the option to watch shows that amused, captivated, and angered any and all viewers.  What he offered to viewers was something that they could not refuse: excitement.

Although Silvio may do some questionable things, he has the power to do them, and to do them well.  Silvio gives us a reason to turn on the news, or open a paper.  What Silvio gives us is pop culture.  Silvio offers liberals a scapegoat, and conservatives a work horse.  Silvio serves as role model and bad example, in unison.  What Berlusconi has done is rejuvenate the poetic tragedy that begs one to pay attention.

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