Showing at the QFT this week, Videocracy explores the unfreedom of the media and the chauvinism of pop culture in Berlusconi’s Italy
Erik Gandini’s Videocracy explores the telecentric, chauvinistic Italian society fomented by Prime Minister and primo mogul, Silvio Berlusconi. Under his premiership, Gandini argues, the Italian media has largely been turned into a Berlusconi propaganda machine. This is thanks to the deeply problematic fact that the PM owns 90 per cent of the country’s media output, and is thereby able to control the ideologies and images it popularises.
As Chomsky would argue, Berlusconi manufactures the consent of the Italian masses by feeding them a daily TV diet of pro-Berlusconi politics and pseudo-porn that keeps them amused enough to forget to ask questions. Lots of beautiful, leggy, scantily clad women. And a media that sings his praises on cue, quashing dissent. When Videocracy was screened at the 66th Venice International Film Festival in September 2009, Italian state broadcaster RAI accordingly banned the trailer for the film.
The documentary dares to suggest that the PM is a seedy puppet master, with endless media honchos manipulating programme output to suit his whims. In one particularly nauseating instance, the film shows an election broadcast in which scores of pretty women sing, 'Thank God Silvio exists!'' There are echoes of North Korea’s prostration before the Dear Leader.
And as if to underline the worrying sense of Berlusconi’s autocratic control, one of his best mates and an overlord of the Italian media machine happily confides that he has Mussolini’s hymns on his mobile, which is 'pretty cool, right?'. Lele Mora even plays some of them for the camera, his eyes misting over with emotion.
At the centre of this disturbing documentary is the rage among impressionable Italian women to become veline, TV eye candy paid to dance provocatively during ad breaks. They queue up in shopping centres to have their proportions measured and their ability to dance like members of a harem marked out of ten. It is a pop culture in which the slender, beautiful woman is the sovereign commodity.
Berlusconi TV deals in a currency of beauty served up to titillate the male audience in the most repugnantly chauvinistic way. Telegenic women, argues Gandini, acquire power in a society governed by the airbrushed images of wealthy starlets and the PM’s glamorous hangers-on. His thesis is broadly that Italian women are increasingly made to believe that exploitation of their beauty on TV is the route to fame, fortune and dominion. After all, slimy Silvio made a former veline his Equality Minister; and never before have such a bevy of beauties vied for success in the European elections as when Uncle Silvio was doing the recruiting.
Just when you imagine Gandini is heading for a ruthless expose of the corruption at the heart of Italian government, women sleeping their way to the top and the voices of the Italian left expunged and maligned to dangerous levels, he changes tack.
The focus shifts to Fabrizio Corona, a jacked-up businessman who fancies himself as a new age Robin Hood. He instructs the paparazzi to take compromising pictures of celebrities and people close to Berlusconi, extorting thousands from them to keep the pictures from widespread circulation. He is serving the people by doing this, but he keeps the money for himself, because this is how Robin Hood has to function in the noughties – apparently.
Videocracy doesn’t go as far as it could in exposing Berlusconi (curtailed in its focus by threats of heavy lawsuits, no doubt), but it nevertheless invaluably points out the warp of democratic values produced by a Prime Minister controlling media production. This documentary especially deserves credit for the way it shows the commodification of the female body in Italian pop culture and the reign of the ragazze belle who catch Berlusconi’s roving eye.
Videocracy runs at the QFT from Saturday 5 to Monday 7 June. To book tickets contact the box office on 02890 971 097 or visit www.queensfilmtheatre.com.