La messinscena di Berlusconi: The adornment of modern Italian politics

Berlusconi at a Popolo della Liberta gathering.

Everything is haughty. The enormous congress hall in Rome where more than eight thousand participants and guests are listening full of discipline to the speakers. The immense scenery containing over five hundred squared television screens. Rigid and remarkably white. Because with the exception of the gigantic party logo, everything is white. White, the colour of the new post-ideological party, in the words of the journal Il Giornale – owned by the Berlusconi family.

In this morning’s Dutch free journal De Pers (‘The Press’), Andrea Vreede expressed her discomfort in reaction to the (maybe not so) sudden fusion of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the post-fascist political movement Alleanza Nazionale. The baptism of Italy’s newly formed rightist political front took place in a scenery as above described. I was immediately struck by the parallels with the Riefenstahlian imagery of the German fascists’ political movement in the years before the Second World War – although the Italian temper and emotionality makes them a little less visually organized than their German predecessors. However, when we notice the grandeur, the pomposity, the vanity, the haughtiness, one only can draw a single sore conclusion: so little seems to have changed over a period of more than sixty years.

How come, one may ask. Wherefore does Berlusconi make use of the same stylistic strategies to embellish his campaign and political – but not particularly ethical – aims? In other words: what is this mise-en-scene that is being utilized within the rightist power structures of Italian politics?

The pompousness of the whole is not very surprising, considering Berlusconi’s previous acts of all too pride power display. He seems only slightly removed from the thoroughly fascist visual ideology of arrogant grandiosity and, more notably and shockingly, the presumptuous de-contextualising of ancient Roman art and architecture. The latter key concept is perfectly illustrated by the ghastly designed and utterly repulsive visuals of the modern-day Roman E.U.R. district, initiated in 1938 by Marcello Piacentini, one of the most prominent designers of the Italian fascist power display. Every building in this district, which served so strikingly as the scenery of Julie Taymor’s 1999 film Titus, is ‘rigid and remarkably white’.

Which reminds us of course of the aforementioned visual imagery of the Berlusconi politics. The christening of the front created by the rightist parties’ marriage of convenience is being presented within an ultimately rigid, star scenery. One could say Berlusconi’s vanity and extravagance do not need a visual embellishment, but on the other hand this whole d├ęcor of pure whiteness seems all the same like a distortion of the grandeur Berlusconi cum suis inhabit in daily life. And apart from the aristocratic bathroom-like scenery, it is this pure whiteness that implicitly refers to the superiority ideology of the fascists. ‘Every man is equal, but some are more equal than others’. In my view, that is a painful and painfully outdated ideological sceptre to wield these days. And weren’t the fascists in origin a ‘working man’s party’, in the same way as Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Liberta is supposed to be a ‘people’s party’?

Yet, despite all the parallels with former Italian fascist visual and political strategies, the Berlusconi campaign lacks very evidently a connection to ancient Rome and its imperial power, which the Italian fascists of the 1940s did utilize. Berlusconi and his political disciples are remarkably restrained from this ‘cultural baggage’. Why? Wherefore don’t they integrate these evidently appropriate classical Roman symbolism into their visual strategy?

Well, because the Berlusconis make use of another national symbolic: the papal imagery of the Vatican. There is a striking similarity between the overwhelming Sunday morning Christian gatherings at Saint Peter’s Square, larded with television screens, balloon clouds and banners, and the to the same extent pop concert-like gatherings of the Popolo della Liberta followers. In both examples, a huge crowd flocks together like sheep, in many times unaware of the more notorious aspects of the ‘Messiah’ they follow so loyally, and all cheer and rise for a man that displays his opinions and power through the media, arguably in the tradition of the power-abusing wizard in the classic parable The Wizard of Oz.

‘We are the only government possible. The party of all freedom-loving Italians.’

In a most self-satisfied way, Silvio Berlusconi continues to promote the one-dimensionality and political incorrectness of his conceptions, knowing that the majority of his flock will never notice his vision’s negative elements. It is the same self-conceit with which the Italian fascists displayed their power, and it is the same self-proclaimed persistence the Vatican thinks to own. Perhaps the Popolo della Liberta is blinded by the same fierce whiteness its scenery is suffused with.

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