On Berlusconi again: when advertising and information find a synthesis and fiction becomes the only reality

Some of my international friends and colleagues have been probing me in these weeks to try and rationalise, from a communicational perspective, what is going on in my country.

A country which sees a priapist Premier, I wouldn’t say merrily… but certainly successfully, thrive through a national as well as global, ongoing now for months day-in-day-out reputational storm which has -yes!- turned him into the laughing stock of most global and national elites (including his friends, families and allies) while, however, independent opinion polls continue to show surprising and unprecedented levels of political and personal consensus.

I had attempted some time ago to analyse Berlusconi’s public relations model, which he defines as the cuckoo model, but I admit that it does not fully explain a phenomenon which is unique amongst western political leaderships.
Although he did refer to his cuckoo model again yesterday during his pre-holiday press conference indicating that it is ‘cute’ and that ‘it works’.

The real reason why I return on this issue is because I believe that Italy today is the only western democracy (yes, we are a democracy…) in which the political, economic, cultural and social elites have learned (in these last fifteen years) to apply a constant and permanent model of listening to the guzzes (more than the opinions) of publics before expressing themselves: the so-called scientific persuasion model which implies that every effort be focussed so that the elites’ self representation mirrors the expectations of the publics.
This. in full and striking contrast to the more traditional, liberal and illuministic view which sees elites at least just one step ahead of the mass’s bellies.
A view which, in my view at least, has sofar been the essence and substance of whatever it is that we call progress.

Elites normally have the responsibility of indicating the values, the vision and are usually expected to walk and talk the ways and means to engage others through the adoption of what (us oldies..) would define as representative democratic processes (nobody, as far as I know, has yet come up with a better one, as Winston Churchill once famously said).

I believe that the current Italian approach is but an extreme caricature of that scientific persuasion model and a (hopefully) terminal therapeutic stage of what I consider the twentieth century ethnocentric and American focussed model of public relations.

Berlusconi does, in fact, impersonate a paranoic expression of that model but, inasmuch as it is proving to be successful, one may also begin to detect visible signs of that approach being taken up (sure, sure: with less Viagra and more sense of ridicule…) by other international figures, not only politicians but also intellectuals, financiers and business leaders.

So, if we can only help shed some light on this apparent paradox from a technical and professional perspective, we might stand a chance of supplying to at least some of our colleagues around the world rational tools and arguments to better fend off this dangerous pandemia before it affects their own clients and employers.

Here we go:

1.
The thinking goes in B’s world that every problem is solvable through an effort of imagination, through a discharge of optimism… and it is only those devastating destructive critical minds which actually create complications, and each of their critical comments represents an aggression.
You are either with me or you are my enemy.
Surely this line must sound very familiar to many of us, and it is no wonder that Berlusconi, a successful advertising impresario, after all does come, albeit from its lower quarters, from….. the business community.

2.
Self representation in Berlusconi’s world is explicitly framed in an advertising format, where reality exists solely in the lingo of advertising: no depth and… instantaneously broadcasted.
A lingo in which no continuity appears between what really is there and what one imagines could be there, no coherence between the facts and the project.

3.
Allow me to rephrase from Giuseppe Davanzo’s (one of the few remaining, of the best, of the most courageous and determined journalists still doing his stint in the daily La Repubblica) recount of yesterday’s press conference:

B. talks about himself and fills every possible space with himself: planetary, european, national, citizen. His ego has no boundaries. The world is himself in the self representation he offers, nothing but himself with his vitalism, optimism, charisma, humanity, wisdom, savoir-faire, capacity of working with no comparison. In fourteen months of government, says the Egocrat, 150 international encounters, 22 multilateral summits, ten bilateral summits. I stood awake, he says, for 48 hours in a row helped only by 22 coffees. Successes everywhere, only successes. In fact, one only full uninterrupted success, without a pause, continued in time, industrious in every corner of the world.
If Moscow’s troops stopped 15 km.s from Tblisi avoiding a Russia-Georgia conflict it was his merit if anew cold war was avoided. If Obama signed in Moscow a limitation of nuclear arms, the reset process of the new US administration with the Kremlin was his merit. If Nato is still alive and kicking it because of his persuasive effort which convinced Erdogan to accept Rasmussen’s leadership. If Europe ‘will never be cold again’ it is he who convinced Erdogan and Putin to shake hands for the South Stream gaspipe. In his wonderful world there is no shadow nor crisis. No personal dishonour nor public lies. No recession, no distrust. No sufferer nor sufferance. No clandestine immigrates, no urban crimes, not even the mafia exists any longer. Social peace reigns and nobody has been left behind. As for himself: ‘there is nothing I must apologise about’. Even Alitalia has become a miracle of efficiency. Thanks to his own genial ideas, even the citizens of Abruzzo are happy because ‘many have gone for summer cruises and others are guests along the seaside’…..

This scenario becomes persuasive only when mainstream and social media presents it as plausible.
And this is what Berlusconi now demands from his direct media, as well as from the national public television service (seven italians out of ten receive their current affairs notions from national tv).
We must be prepared to cope with a fiction that has taken the place of reality.
Advertising plus television is the only real politics Berlusconi has in mind.

Ok, ok….somewhat exaggerated, I agree (not D’Avanzo, who’s account faithfully follows the Premier’s one hour solitary talk show of yesterday)…but how many of our interlocutors seem to walk along a similar megalomaniac path?

Ah, the relevance of soberness and critical minds…

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4 Replies to “On Berlusconi again: when advertising and information find a synthesis and fiction becomes the only reality

  1. Gianluca,
    happy to connect again…the video you direct me too is really a great ‘remake’ a few decades before the original, the real Mc Coy (as they say…) which was filmed live only last week in Abbruzzo when B. inaugurated the first finished homes for the earthquaked inhabitans of that region. Of course he did not say that those houses had not been built by his government but by the Province of Trento which is not run by his political majority with funds largely provided by the Red Cross….
    Too bad that non italians cannot really absorb the force of the words of the video which, as sometimes happens, are stronger than images…

  2. Ola Ignacio,

    I am not surprised that you find similarities between our two cultures, as much as I had always felt (and hoped…) that what really created a difference between our two cultures in these last 50 years, was the development of the European Union which has significantly modified out cultural framework.
    I say ‘hoped’ not because I have anything against the Argentine (or Italian) culture, but because I happen to prefer for my country a European one..

    Sadly, and this was the real motivation behind this post, I see what you define as the Italian (and Argentine) idiosyncrasy in terms of the mixture of reality and fiction progressively extending its reach to other countries, in other communities, in other sectors.

    For example, the business and financial communities are increasingly being populated by individuals who strive for visibility, celebrity and consensus by adapting their behaviours to the grossest and most vulgar levels of their customers and accolades.
    Sadly, once more, behind each is usually a ‘pusher’..and guess who that is?
    One of us, of course.

    An organization (or a leader) must ‘mirror its market’ wrote Groonroos back in the early nineties when he theorised the ‘culture of service’.

    We (I for sure) worked for decades on this principle.

    But Groonroos did not say anything like
    ‘look for the worst possible and unconfessed desires, habits and wet dreams of your clients and act accordingly so that they will love you because you openly do what they would want to do….’.

  3. Hello, Toni. Very interesting. I find some similarities between Italian and Argentine cultures in terms of communication and that mixture of reality and fiction. I will write some of my thoughts soon, inspired by your article. My main point is that Berlusconi may be the mirror of an important part of the Italian (and Argentine) idiosyncrasy.

    Regards from Buenos Aires.

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