No more Antonioni: how Berlusconi turned entertainment into politics | World cinema


smallIlvio Berlusconi is in many ways the television herald of the neoliberal era. Although he only officially entered politics in 1994, his cultural hegemony began long ago. From the early 1980s, Berlusconi ruled Italy as entertainment and political life as media conglomerates, translating Reagan’s hedonism into Italian. His private TV channel brought the vibrant dream of American capitalism into the living rooms of Italian audiences, changing their tastes.

The fuel that fueled the early growth of Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire was film, mostly American. Budgets for original content are finite, so pay TV fills its programming schedule with movies. At the time, movies that people couldn’t see on other channels. For more than two decades, Mediaset has successfully challenged the national television monopoly, thereby paving the way for the privatization of everyday life. With pirate expediency, he led the country away from the films of Fellini and Antonioni and toward the unstoppable Americanization of popular culture.

Silvio Berlusconi's state funeral was held in Milan in June.
Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral was held in Milan in June. Photo: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Berlusconi went on to bring color and an intoxicating freedom of consumer choice to the wider Italian television culture. Previously Italians could only choose from three public TV channels. State broadcaster RAI hired the likes of Umberto Eco and avant-garde composer Luciano Berio, while Berlusconi lured viewers with scantily clad women, quiz shows and a slew of advertisements. In 1981, Mediaset (then still called Fininvest) bought the CBS soap opera Dallas and turned it into an audience favorite. Another golden acquisition was television presenter Mike Bongiorno, whom Berlusconi acquired from RAI in 1979. Born in the United States to parents of Italian descent, Bongiorno became known in the early days of Italian television for adapting popular American shows such as The $64,000 Question, Jeopardy, and after he started working for Berlusconi ,The wheel of fate.

Central to Berlusconi’s mass-media dominance is the profile of Antonio Ricci, a television writer and show host who, in the words of the variety show, “has a penchant for comedy and variety, changed the face of Italian television”. While national television at the time attracted a broad cross-generational audience, Ricci’s programs appealed to younger audiences. His series – such as Drive In, Lupo Solitario and Striscia la Notizia – have a new rhythm: catchier, funnier, shinier, allowing for more commercial breaks, whose tone and aesthetic blend seamlessly into the his show.

A post-ideological Italy fascinated by wealth, notoriety and ambition for status is immortalized and shaped in Mediaset’s show. It might not be a pretty sight, but it’s a very welcome one. Foreseeing the Netflix model, Berlusconi then began making films to supplement his TV channel. In the early 90s he formed a partnership with Vittorio Cecchi Gori and went on to produce Lucio Fulci, Bernardo Bertolucci Films by Bernardo Bertolucci, Ettore Scola, Giuseppe Tornatore and Franco Zeffirelli.

Berlusconi, who faces the very specific risk of ending up in prison for his not always transparent business practices, entered politics to seek parliamentary immunity. efficient. His previous experience in the entertainment industry proved crucial: he surfed the rotten waters of Italian politics, taking neo-fascists out of the sewers and into parliament for the first time since World War II. Now, these same neo-fascists rule the country after democratic elections. Berlusconi’s last performance was his own state funeral, and needless to say, Italians could watch it on television.


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