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"Beppe’s Inferno"


Letter From Italy

LETTER FROM ITALY about Italian comedian and activist Beppe Grillo. On September 8th, two million people in two hundred and twenty cities across Italy celebrated V-Day, an unofficial new national holiday, the “V” signifying victory, vendetta, and, especially, “Vaffanculo” (“Fuck off”). The event had been organized by Beppe Grillo, Italy’s most popular comedian, to protest endemic corruption in the national government. Grillo, fifty-nine, is a distinctly Italian combination of Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert: an activist and vulgarian with a deft ear for political satire. Grillo led the demonstration in Bologna before a crowd of about a hundred thousand. A large screen projected the names of twenty-four convicted criminals currently serving as senators and representatives in the Italian parliament, or as Italian representatives in the European Parliament. Mentions last year’s nonfiction best-seller “La Casta” (“The Caste”), by the journalists Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. Also mentions Giulio Andreotti, who was Prime Minister seven times between 1972 and 1992, and Silvio Berlisconi, the former Prime Minister. Grillo has galvanized Italians by talking about corruption with irreverence and humor—indeed, by talking about it at all. The country’s mainstream press is controlled, or owned outright, by political parties and corporations. Since 2005, Grillo has addressed the public primarily through his blog. Here Grillo not only denounces political wrongdoing but runs something of a parallel government, complete with a cabinet of volunteer policy advisors, including the architect Renzo Piano, the actor and playwright Dario Fo, and the economist Joseph Stiglitz. Discusses Grillo’s upbringing and his early career in comedy. While starring on the variety show “Secondo Voi” (“According to You”), he began to improvise comic monologues, lampooning politicians, sports stars, and the Pope. By the late seventies, Grillo was a national celebrity. Mentions a 1981 incident in which Grillo was driving a car that got into an accident, killing three people. Grillo’s comedy was becoming more pointedly political, and RAI, the national television network, attempted, with little success, to rein him in. In 1986, after he spoke out against Italy’s Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, Grillo was effectively banned from television until Craxi resigned in 1993. Describes a 1994 incident in which Grillo was summoned as an expert witness against SIP, a national telephone company. V-Day grew out of Clean Parliament, which Grillo launched in 2005, when he posted on his blog the names of the convicted criminals serving in parliament. In October, Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s cabinet proposed a law to subject Internet sites and blogs to the same libel rules as newspapers, and to compel them to hire both a publisher and a licensed journalist. Writer recounts an event in November when Grillo flew to Sardinia, to join a demonstration of farmers.

Lunedì, 28 January, 2008
Tom Mueller
The New Yorker
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