Il Papi di Tutti Papi

Documents published in this week’s grand Wikileaks disclosure describe Silvio Berlusconi as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. They also claim that “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest”. If you followed the career of Italy’s premier this probably doesn’t come as a surprise.

The earliest Berlusconi cartoons on date back to early 2008 (here, here, & here). At the time, Il Cavaliere was running for office after Romano Prodi’s cabinet had fallen apart. Berlusconi won the elections and became prime minister once again. Over 650 new Berlusconi-themed cartoons and caricatures have been added since (click here to see them all). To put this in proportion: there are only a little more than a hundred pieces on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth II. and Prince Charles combined.

I think that there are two reasons for this. The first one is the relatively large number of Italian artists on, several of whom, apart from being very talented are also very politically-minded and, most of all, very productive. The second reason has to do with Berlusconi himself. There is something about that man that makes him especially suited for cartoons and caricatures.

The picture painted in the report mentioned above fits well with all the articles on Berlusconi’s blundering comments, his hair transplants, his sketchy pool parties, etc. Looking at these, it’s easy to see him as a joke, a cartoon character turned real. Of all the interpretations, Giulio Laurenzi’s big-nosed, high-heeled Silvio (left) is certainly the cartoony-est.

I was wondering if Italian cartoonists thought that their premier was funny and wrote a couple of emails to find out more. It turned out that none of them did.

In fact their perception of “Papi” was much darker than I had expected. Stefano Trucco, aka Kurtsatiriko, for example, wrote that: “in Italy we [don't have] any ideas about future after 15 years of Berlusconi. He modified most Italians’ minds trough television and newspapers.” A statement made by both Berni and Matteo Bertelli was particularly enlightening: both of them described his government as a “tragedy”.

This term fits well with the theatrical quality of Mr. Berlusconi’s style of government and creating a persona for himself. His efforts, however, are pointed in the exact opposite direction: reading about the things he does you can’t help noticing that he is trying to perform politics as a comedy. He has perfected the role of that lusty old buffoon you just can’t stay mad at. He is the star and the center of the political process.

I believe that it’s this tension the between his antics’ entertainment value and the way his policies are undermining democracy that does for the immense number of cartoons.

The question is, if it is possible to fight comedy with comedy, so to say. Don’t cartoons emphasize and strengthen his persona and a cynical view on politics? About a year ago, following the “Milan Cathedral” incident, I was quite disturbed by a number of cartoons, that turned an act of violence into a part of the Italian comedy – a kind of real-life slapstick (1,2,3). On the other hand, how do you fight this kind of tragicomedy? An exclusively objective approach will very likely lack public support and be an easy target for ridicule. I am at a loss here. Admittedly, Mr. Berlusconi will probably not remain in office for too long, now that Gianfranco Fini has sort-of seceded from the PDL. But there might be other comedians following his example.

Paul Hellmich

title image: caricatures by David Pugliese, Rodrigo, Portos, and Dragan


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2 Responses to “Il Papi di Tutti Papi”

  1. Il cabaret si fa al copacabana!

  2. Stefano Trucco ha completamente ragione… non so se essere contento che il governo di berlusconi sia giunto quasi al termine oppure temere cosa ci aspetta in futuro: voglio dire… il futuro si prospetta nero, ma questi anni di berlusconismo sembrano aver influenzato le menti al punto che la gente sembra incapace di pensare e agire di propria iniziativa. Sembra un’Italia di Zombie!

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