English Title: Videocracy
Original Title: Videocracy - Basta apparire
Country of Origin: Italy
Studio: Atmo Media Network, Sveriges Television, Zentropa Entertainment
Director: Erik Gandini
Producer(s): Mikael Olsen
Screenplay: Erik Gandini
Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro , Lukas Eisenhauer
Art Director: Martin Hultman
Editor: Johan Söderberg
Runtime: 85 minutes
Starring/Cast: Silvio Berlusconi, Rick Canelli, Fabrizio Corona, Lele Mora
This documentary traces the origins of today’s populist Italian television by linking the increasing centrality of the medium to the deterioration of the cultural and political life of the country. It begins with archival footage of late-night TV shows featuring housewives who would take off their clothes when contestants answered questions correctly. These shows were broadcast forty years ago on the first commercial Italian TV channel owned by Italy’s current PM Silvio Berlusconi. Gandini focuses on the effects of those early experiments in commercial entertainment by offering a collection of clips from contemporary Italian TV programmes where half-naked women continuously smile and dance for the camera. Constantly referring to Berlusconi as ‘il presidente’, the film investigates the implications around his double role as PM and owner of Italy’s TV empire Mediaset.
Videocracy sets up for itself the very ambitious task of exploring the significance of Italy’s TV culture and its role in relation to Berlusconi’s hold on power. The title introduces the thesis that the documentary will develop: through his media empire and his control over Italy’s main TV channels, Berlusconi has created a modern form of cultural hegemony. His political dominance is according to Gandini bound up with the rule of the televisual image. In a country in which TV and political power are the same thing, we are told, we should not find it hard to understand why Italians continue to vote for Berlusconi.
Videocracy stresses the prominent role that the shameless sexualization of female bodies has on Italian TV by suggesting a direct relation between this phenomenon and the current state of Italian politics. This is perhaps the least convincing part of the documentary. In mentioning that one of these barely dressed showgirls has become the Equal Opportunities Minister in Berlusconi’s government, the documentary seems simply to offer shocking anecdotes about the current state of Italy’s democracy for international audiences to laugh at. One of the most disturbing and yet amusing sections of the film features seedy TV agent and close friend of Berlusconi Lele Mora posing in front of the camera as he shares with us his ‘pearls of wisdom’ about the opportunities for fame and wealth in the Italian TV world. It is perhaps ironic that, after showing the persistent exploitation of women’s bodies in the Italian media, the documentary should feature one of its most powerful figures and wheeler-dealers in his Sardinian villa surrounded by his harem of muscular tanned young men walking around half-naked.
The subtitle of the film – Basta apparire (all you have to do is to appear) – highlights Gandini’s conviction that the power of the image in Berlusconi’s Italy is directly dependent on the dream-like world of Italian TV and its appeal to ordinary Italians. The interview with Ricky, a factory worker aspiring to be part of the gilded world of TV celebrities, is an insightful encounter with one of these people. The interview with Ricky is particularly successful in achieving one of the main objectives of the documentary, to stress the populist nature of Italian television and the illusory nature of the success and happiness it projects to its viewers. The interview with ex-paparazzo-turned-celebrity Fabrizio Corona may at first appear slightly disconnected from the rest of the documentary and its main argument. Yet Corona’s megalomaniac rhetoric slowly reveals itself to be one of the many disturbing faces of Berlusconi’s world of illusions. From self-proclaimed Robin Hood, Corona finally emerges as Berlusconi’s alter ego, a cynical and money-obsessed individual incarnating the vacuity and moral shallowness of the media world that has made him famous.