Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beppe Grillo's V-day salute to Berlusconi

As predicted here two months ago, Silvio Berlusconi has comfortably won the weekend election in Italy to become Prime Minister for the third time. Berlusconi’s latest comeback was at the hands of the distinctly uncharismatic centre-left opponent Walter Veltroni. But with Italy’s deepening problems in the areas of faltering competitiveness, unsustainable fiscal deficits, broken governmental services, corruption and a bloated bureaucracy, Berlusconi’s most implacable opponent may turn out to be an almost sixty old comedian and actor who has the ear of many everyday Italians, and increasingly, a large worldwide audience.

That man is Beppo Grillo. Grillo is famous not for his comedy or his thespian abilities but for his blog. In it, his acerbic writings strikes at the heart of Italy’s biggest scourge: rampant political corruption. Grillo is no fan of fellow media tart Berlusconi. In his blog, he has called him the "psychotic dwarf" and "asphalt head”. The English language version of his blog can be viewed here. As of 16 April, Technorati ranks Grillo’s site as the 13th most popular in the blogosphere worldwide with over 9,000 incoming links in the last six months.

Guiseppe Piero Grillo was born 60 years ago in the small Ligurian town of Savignone. He was educated as an accountant and he became a comedian by chance improvising a monologue in an audition. He was discovered by television presenter Pippo Baudo and he began to appear on Italian TV shows. As his success rose, he launched his own show called Grillometro where his particular brand of satire began to offend Italian politicians. He condemned the then ruling Socialists for corruption. As he created more enemies, his appearances on television became rarer.

In Time magazine’s first annual blog index released last month, the Blog di Beppo Grillo was voted the most interesting political blog. Time noted Grillo’s popularity to the “international language of outrage”. Their nomination concluded that “America could use a political satirist fuelled by this sort of outrage, but for now, there's Beppe”.

The most successful of Grillo’s stunts was his September 2007 rally across 300 Italian cities and towns for his “Il Giorno del Vaffanculo” (“Fuck Off Day” in English). Fuck Off Day was designed to encourage citizens to forcibly remove from office members of the Italian Parliament who have criminal convictions. Hundreds of thousands turned up for the rallies. The campaign was so successful he has arranged to follow it up with V2-Day on 25 April to protest against the subservience of the press. Grillo promoted the idea during his election tour of the country which attracted great crowds but was studiously ignored by the Berlusconi-dominated media.

While Grillo has not yet put himself forward as an electoral candidate, he has allowed the few candidates he likes to use his “Lista Grillo” (Grillo’s List) symbol as an endorsement. Grillo has publicly stated that no-one with a criminal record should be allowed to stand for office – that immediately rules himself out as he was convicted of manslaughter after a 1980 road accident in which three passengers died in a car with Grillo at the wheel. But Grillo prefers to be a catalyst rather a protagonist. The New Yorker magazine described Grillo accurately as a “distinctly Italian combination of Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert: an activist and vulgarian with a deft ear for political satire.”

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