Berlusconi and Beppe: separated at birth?

Politician-comedian and so-called man of the people Beppe Grillo is really just the anti-political son of Silvio.

Two charismatic leaders making waves in the Italian general election campaign.

Silvio Berlusconi, survivalist extraordinaire, his teeth crooked from having ground down so many opponents. Filmed on the campaign trail, every physical move he makes looks like a calculation. Bolstered in a sleek (Boss?) suit, his 76-year-old frame cannot but count the cost. Dyed black hair, slicked back and patted down; artificial colouring in his alligator face. As if there’s always a flesh-coloured ladies’ stocking over his head. Who would be wooed by this armed robber?

But there are crowds of disaffected, elderly voters (ex-Christian Democrats, ex-Socialists), ready to be embraced once more by the Great Seducer (Berlusconi’s nickname from his early days as a cruise-ship crooner).

Meanwhile, sprightly 64-year-old Beppe Grillo stomps the stage, declaiming and gesticulating extravagantly. Pumped up in a puffa jacket, a mane of silver hair, carefully cut a la Richard Branson, ‘Grillini’ – the satirist turned activist – is a standout stand-up for honesty and anti-corruption (think Martin Bell meets Billy Connolly).

Whereas Berlusconi pitched himself to business first and foremost (at the end of the Cold War, unalloyed business in place of degraded ideology), Grillo is a self-declared populist whose starting point is The People versus Politicians. But anti-politics is what they have in common. Berlusconi began as the businessman outside a corrupt political elite, before his own chequered career served to redefine ‘politics’ as post-ideological politicking. Now Grillini carries on where Berlusconi left off. According to his own party rules, Grillo’s conviction for manslaughter following a traffic accident in 1980 prevents him from standing as a candidate. So a vote for his Five Star Movement is also a vote against candidacy, a mark against political representation in toto.

His major contribution to the Italian political calendar is V-Day: V for Vaffanculo (‘fuck off’). Though he has since backtracked, he even joked about Rome’s politicians being bombed by al-Qaeda. For all their contrasting mannerisms, Grillo is son of Silvio, the erstwhile anti-political candidate.

Andrew Calcutt is editor of Proof: Reading Journalism and Society. He is co-author, with Philip Hammond, of Journalism Studies: A Critical Introduction, published by Routledge. Buy this book from Amazon(UK).

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