Berlusconi wants you

Last week I started noticing some rather threatening looking posters around Turin, picturing a stern-faced man pointing his finger at me and telling me “I want you!” After thinking to myself: “No thanks, I’d rather not!” I looked closer to see what it was about and saw that it was one of Mediaset Premium’s attempts to lure customers into signing up by promoting its coverage of the 2014-2015 football season. It’s slogan: ‘Premium. Vero calcio per veri tifosi’ (“Premium. Real football for real fans”). Its testimonials: Filippo Inzaghi and Carlos Tevez (the scary-looking, gorilla-like man I had been turning my nose up whilst on the number 16 on my way to work). Yes, Mediaset’s poster was in fact inspired by Alfred Leete’s famous wartime illustration of the stern-eyed Lord Kitchener. Or more likely by the Uncle Sam version. Tevez probably does a better job at imitating Lord Kitchener than feeble-faced Inzaghi does, but that’s by the by! The Italians got their marketing strategy bang on if they intended the launch of the campaign to closely coincide with the WWI centenary commemorations – I wonder if it was deliberate. The BBC informs that the WWI poster was in fact initially intended only as a front cover design for the London Opinion magazine on 5 September 1914. But in the minds of most it still remains a symbol of Britain’s WWI recruiting campaign. Lord Kitchener was seen as a great symbol of army and empire. Do your duty for King and country was the crux of it. Mediaset too is a great symbol of an empire: the Berlusconi media empire. I cannot help but point out the irony of the comparison between the wartime slogan (1) and this modern-day marketing interpretation (2); between the emotional blackmail of 1’s patriotic call for men to enlist and the emotional blackmail of 2 which plays with the Italian public’s consumerist pride and calls into question their worthiness and loyalty as football fans: “Real football for real fans”. This is where the “dark heart of Italy” reveals itself but only behind an opaque curtain – though not quite so opaque to the foreign observer. Not only is it covertly recruiting people to fund and protect Berlusconi’s TV empire, it is the umpteenth example of how he has sought to shape or rather manipulate Italy’s vision of “reality” by imposing his own “values” and viewpoint. “Eighty per cent of Italians use television as their main source of information,” according to Swedish-Italian director Erik Gandini who directed the award-winning film “Videocracy” about the power of celebrity culture in Italy and the role of Berlusconi’s media empire. Many Italians are ironically funding their own lifelong course of Berlusconian brainwashing. A more serious example of this was when he was put on trial for prostitution and abuse of office back in 2011 (remember Ruby the Heart Stealer?). The New York Times quotes Aldo Grasso (a television critic for top Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera) saying Berlusconi called a meeting with the directors of Mediaset’s news programmes and editors of newspapers he owns and co-owns to talk about how the scandal and the trial was going to be covered. When the ex scandal was uncovered, Berlusconi yet again accused Italian prosecutors of a “judiciary coup” – he and Mediaset do seem to be rather fond of war imagery!
Thankfully I don’t own a television here in Italy.