Hollywood image behind Berlusconi's staying power

18th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Berlusconi, who will mark 15 years in Italian politics at the end of March, has modelled himself on the American actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan, says author.

Rome -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's staying power is largely down to his carefully crafted celebrity image, according to a new book.

"Berlusconi is the first Italian politician since the end of the Second World War to be concerned with his image with the same regularity as Mussolini," said Marco Belpoliti, whose book The Body of the Boss sold 10,000 copies in a few days.

Berlusconi, who will mark 15 years in Italian politics at the end of March, has modelled himself on the US actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan, said Belpoliti, who studied semiotics with philosopher Umberto Eco.

The goal, of course, is to project a glamorous image of eternal youth, to charm the electorate with the promise of a "happy ending," Belpoliti told AFP.

The television age has allowed Berlusconi to go far beyond Mussolini in image crafting: "For his photos, Mussolini struck poses like silent movie actors. He was expressive without words," Belpoliti said.

The downside is that Berlusconi -- whose media empire includes three television channels -- "knows that he will be seen up close."

The leader known by the nickname "Il Cavaliere" (The Knight) has had cosmetic surgery on his eyes and hair grafts. He wears foundation makeup and dyes his hair.

For official photographs, the camera lens was once covered with a stocking to soften his wrinkles, just as they did in Hollywood. Digital photography has since brought about more sophisticated techniques.

After Mussolini's execution in 1945, when his body was hung by the feet in a Milan square, political figures disappeared from the scene, to be replaced by the competing Communist and Christian Democrat ideologies that dominated Italian political life for half a century.

"Berlusconi's body is everything, because he doesn't have an ideology, neither right nor left," Belpoliti said. "In today's society, the body is our only asset, the only value that we must take care of and that everyone shares. What is different about Berlusconi is that he uses it in an exaggerated way."

Berlusconi, whom Belpoliti described as a "producer of signs," was re-elected in 2001 and again in 2008, keeping his brand alive while in the opposition through a sort of "televised populism."

Can he keep going, now that he is 72, 15 years after winning March 27, 1994, elections just a few months after launching his Forza Italia party?

"He has arrived at a very delicate time in his career," Belpoliti said. "He has to address the economic crisis. And the election of (US President Barack) Obama (aged 47) made him realise his age. He wanted time to stop, but he is dying a little each day, as we all are."

The book, in Italian, is published by Guanda.

Francoise Michel/AFP/Expatica

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