Of all the upsetting things people say about Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps the most disturbing is that he is "natural."
This creepy description appears in Ariel Levy's long and witty New Yorker essay on the state of Italy's feelings toward its embattled Prime Minister. Levy writes,
The sense that Berlusconi is just a natural man, one who happens to be exceptionally good at being male, has been an enormous part of his success. Throughout his career — as a singer on cruise ships, as a realestate developer, as a media magnate, and, ﬁnally, as a politician — he has convinced Italians that he is
someone they can both relate to and aspire to be like. Many men still feel that he is being attacked for being irresistible to women (which they would like to be) and plainly human, susceptible to sin (just like them). "He's on the same wavelength as people," one of Berlusconi's friends told me. "He laughs when they laugh."
She backs this up with an interview with Berlusconi supporter Michele Lecce, who says, "If a woman comes with no clothes on, with her tits showing, you can't say he has committed violence." And, showing impressive powers of perception, "I see you are a girl — I want to kiss you! This is nature." Wanting to kiss a woman may well be natural for Lecce, but he's not in a position to then give that woman a position in government — or to put her on TV dangling from a meat hook with an expiration date stamped on her ass. The latter is just one of the disturbing depictions of women on Berlusconi's TV networks — others include a woman trapped under a clear table "like a caged animal" and women forced to shower in a clear stall before a live audience. Levy writes, "If your only information about female people came from Berlusconi's channels, you would likely conclude that they exist speciﬁcally to be sexually humiliated in public."
Outside of her analysis of his TV offerings, Levy doesn't offer new information about Berlusconi's misdeeds. We all know by now that he's accused of paying for sex with an underage girl, and that he and she have denied it. What's really shocking about Levy's piece is its depiction of how a powerful man gets away with shit: by convincing others that he's just doing what they all want to do. There's a difference between sexual desire and sexual harassment, between thinking a woman is pretty and putting her in a shower on television, between having "a romance" (as dental hygienist-turned-politician Nicole Minetti describes her relationship with the PM) and promoting your paramour to a government position regardless of her qualifications. Levy argues persuasively that Italy is mired in sexism, and that Berlusconi bears much of the blame for keeping it there. And he's been able to do so in part because he's convinced his people that treating women like sex objects is part of the natural order of things.
Near the end of her piece, Levy offers this description of Berlusconi the man:
He wears white eye liner on his lower lids to make his eyes pop in photographs, and he uses heavy foundation on his face, which renders him the same orangeybrown color as the cast of "Jersey Shore." His hair is thinning — "because I had too many girlfriends," he once said, before he got implants — and dyed a vivid burnt sienna.
In order to preserve his image as a virile, out-of-control ladies' man, Berlusconi actually resorts to many unnatural techniques. And it's time for Italy and the rest of the world to realize that his vision of manliness is as fake as his tan.
Basta Bunga Bunga [New Yorker]