Matt Yglesias notes an LRB piece on Italy’s Berlusconi. Media here doesn’t attend to him nearly so closely as Britain’s papers but I expect most readers will be aware of the fellow, his recent sex-related controversies, and his grip on power. I’m going to paste in Matt’s full piece here…
Normally I find things written by Slavoj Žižek to be fairly incomprehensible, but this essay on Silvio Berlusconi is funny, accessible, and insightful. Plus this paragraph references Kung Fu Panda which, as a confirmed panda-lover, I greatly enjoyed:
“Kung Fu Panda, the 2008 cartoon hit, provides the basic co-ordinates for understanding the ideological situation I have been describing. The fat panda dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. He is chosen by blind chance (beneath which lurks the hand of destiny, of course), to be the hero to save his city, and succeeds. But the film’s pseudo-Oriental spiritualism is constantly undermined by a cynical humour. The surprise is that this continuous making-fun-of-itself makes it no less spiritual: the film ultimately takes the butt of its endless jokes seriously. A well-known anecdote about Niels Bohr illustrates the same idea. Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, a visiting scientist said he didn’t believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: ‘Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn’t believe in it!’ This is how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware that they are corrupt, but we practise them anyway because we assume they work even if we don’t believe in them. Berlusconi is our own Kung Fu Panda. As the Marx Brothers might have put it, ‘this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you – he is a corrupt idiot.’”
The Berlusconi phenomenon strikes me as something that’s almost too disturbing for the western consciousness to process. You have, in essence, an advanced industrialized liberal democracy sliding into a system of government that, were it to exist in a middle-income country, we would just deem straightforwardly un-democratic. And nobody has any idea what one might do about it.
Matthews last sentence is the one that bites. Berlusconi’s ascention to and maintenance of political power came as a consequence of his domination of media in Italy. Though the situation here in the US is more complex, media control and manipulation are the most fundamental device used by those in power to maintain that situation.
Corporate consolidation of media holdings presents what I think is the main barrier to the minimization of corruption and the maximization of real citizen-engaged democracy of the sort we imagined in civics class.
And what the hell do we do about it?