OFF THE GRID

Here’s Why I Like Silvio Berlusconi

Jun 4, 09 | 7:26 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The guy really appears to have gone and done it this time: There’s a legion of teenage girls and models, some who’ve been photographed frolicking topless at his country estate, who call him Daddy—and an operatic wife who won’t stop publicly vilifying and chastising him. This is a level of foolishness that no politician can, in the media age, reasonably survive.

True, Berlusconi is one of the modern world’s great flukes and mysteries. Everywhere else, even the most suspect political leaders have to make a pretense of statesman-like dignity.

Berlusconi, however, has, with immunity, long been the world’s silliest, and most feckless and errant, head of state.

It’s head-of-state in the most fantastic sense. He is as though the head of a fantasy state—where he avails himself of the finest virgins in the land. In terms of pure I-don’t-care you’d have to reach back to Egypt’s King Farouk in the 1950s.

He is corrupt and ridiculous—surely the most openly corrupt and most patently ridiculous head of a modern government. And yet he has consistently gotten away with it. He’s been indicted a vast number of times, always escaping through some form of banana republic or slapstick jurisprudence, and doing it with almost no pretense that he’s not doing it. Getting away with it has become part of his charm.

The underlying assumption for how he’s accomplished this and why he hasn’t been laughed out of office is something of a racist one: It’s the Italians. And if it’s not about innate Italian clownishness (and their tolerance of clownishness), then it’s something to do with the weakness of Italian institutional life.

But honestly, he seems more extraordinary and to demand a fancier explanation than that.

Perhaps a media explanation. An ultimate effect of his monopoly of both private and state media could be that he has been able to alter the very notion of ridiculousness. That’s Italian television: dopier, more asinine, more harebrained, more and more of a deliberate parody of itself than television anywhere has ever been. In that cultural context, Silvio himself doesn’t look so bad.

Maybe.

Of course, controlling the news means he has the wherewithal to control his own image—and yet he rather seems to like his true self, and to want the light on it, no matter how bonkers and asinine he consistently appears.

But this is it; it must be. He’s cornered. Hoisted. It would take a Houdini of preposterousness to get out of this one.

On the other hand, who doesn’t find him amusing and understand that there is a level of ludicrousness that is somehow its own excuse, and, even, against all better judgment, have a soft spot for the man.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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