Silvio Berlusconi's "bunga-bunga" ways may finally be catching up to him. But the fact that this sexually-harassing, gay-bashing, allegedly sexy-Santa-loving buffoon is still Prime Minister of Italy says a lot about the difference between their political culture and ours.
First things first: Newsweek's Jacopo Barigazzi has new information on the meaning of "bunga-bunga." Apparently it's "a kind of orgy." Dancer Karima el-Mahroug (aka Ruby the Heartbreaker), who initially shared the news of Berlusconi's bunga predilection with the world, says, "Silvio told me that he'd copied that formula from Muammar Kaddafi. It's a ritual of his [Kaddafi's] African harem." If we combine that with the Urban Dictionary definition, it kind of looks like a "bunga-bunga" party is one where Berlusconi has sex (possibly anal) with a bunch of women one after the other. Whether this is in any way a "ritual" of Kaddafi's "African harem" is doubtful.
In any case, though Berlusconi once seemed immune to the consequences of his bizarre actions, he's drawing more criticism lately. According to Barigazzi, an influential entrepreneurs' group has said the PM needs to get "a sense of dignity, otherwise it is not possible to go ahead." And the Catholic Church, which apparently didn't speak up after Berlusconi's whole sexy Santa scandal of last summer, is getting involved — a newspaper for Italian bishops wrote that Italy's leader needs "personal sobriety and decorous respect of the public office one represents." But the real problem for Berlusconi may have more to do with political parties than sex parties — a former ally is forming his own group, and together with other opposition parties, they could have enough votes to oust Berlusconi. So his biggest political obstacle right now may not have anything to do with his penchant for having orgies or saying the most offensive possible thing in any given situation.
Of course, Berlusconi's shaky political position may be indirectly related to the increasingly embarrassing news about him, but nonetheless, it's instructive to consider how totally finished he would be by now if he were in American government. Even leaving aside his sexual peccadilloes, it's pretty difficult to imagine someone saying the shit Berlusconi says (there's a Twitter idea, you're welcome) and staying in office, let alone serving repeatedly and for many years. When Trent Lott made comments supporting one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond, he apologized and resigned. When Berlusconi said a German member of the EU Parliament should play a Nazi in a movie, he refused to apologize, and said the comments were an "ironic joke." When Carl Paladino made homophobic statements about gay men "grinding," he apologized, albeit badly. But for Berlusconi, homophobic statements are the apology — after the "bunga-bunga" allegations came to light, he said, "if every now and then I look at the face of a beautiful girl then it's better to be passionate about beautiful girls than gay."
Berlusconi's not the only politician who says offensive shit — he's just one of the only ones who says offensive shit over and over with no apology whatsoever. Here in the US, we have an established political procedure for the gaffe — you say something awful, you show contrition, and, depending on just how awful your gaffe was, you have to leave office (or lose the election, in the case of Paladino). Plenty of people have criticized our focus on our politicians' verbal missteps, arguing that our media eagerly wait for them to screw up, and that we care more about what they say than what they do. These are fair criticisms, but it's a shame that the biggest counterexample we have — the guy who's totally unfiltered and unapologetic in his opinions — is a homophobic serial sexual harasser who thinks Mao boiled babies. Are our only choices cowardly, secret awfulness or awfulness so outrageous it beggars belief? Do we have to choose between government by PR firm and government by bunga-bunga party?
Of course, maybe we don't get a choice. If countries get the governments they deserve, then maybe Americans, with our barely buried resentments, deserve the gaffe-fauxpology cycle we've come to subsist on. And maybe Italians are finally beginning to feel they deserve better than Berlusconi.
‘Bunga-Bunga' Batters Berlusconi [Newsweek]