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American Ethnologist

Trusted puppets, tarnished politicians: Humor and cynicism in Berlusconi's Italy

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ABSTRACT

How does humor serve political leaders widely seen as inept? How does political satire shift when a country's own prime minister is both media mogul and object of ridicule? I examine humor of and about Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and look at the country's top news parody program, especially its mascot: a big, red puppet named Gabibbo, who is praised as a “civil defender.” I argue that Berlusconi's own humor forges ties to an Italian citizenry habituated in the 1980s to political spectacle—the carefully staged and sensational exhibitionism of national politics—and, subsequently, to the media saturation of late-liberal politics. I show how political spectacle gave way to a cynicism capable of simultaneously propelling Berlusconi's peculiar popularity and transforming puppets into truth-tellers.

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