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Berlusconi’s Legacy Can Be Found in TikTok

Berlusconi was a politician, an entrepreneur, even a mafia man. But his legacy can be found in modern online media.Berlusconi’s Legacy Can Be Found in TikTok

Silvio Berlusconi died at the age of 86 in Milan on June 12th, 2023.

Who was Silvio Berlusconi?

He was one of the most successful Italian politicians during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as a prominent right-wing party leader. He built the Mediaset empire, establishing himself as a media tycoon and, before that, had a career as a real estate developer, undertaking large projects such as the city of Milano Due. However, he also was an alleged criminal: tax fraud, money laundering, mafia ties and sex with underage girls, were just some of the accusations he received over the past 40 years.

Berlusconi played a pivotal role in Italian history, to the extent that terms like "Berlusconiano" or "Berlusconismo" were coined to describe his influence on politics and Italian culture.

However, Italians have a very short memory, and the era of Berlusconi, or "Berlusconismo," appears to have already faded away.

He was a generally negative personality who did more harm than good to the country. But there is something we as marketing professionals have to give him credit for. He was a visionary of the media. He transformed traditional media between the 1980s and 1990s, anticipating many trends that became popular in the digital media of the 2010s.

Before the rise of Mediaset, Italian media mostly consisted of information or educational content. RAI, the state-owned and only national TV network until that time, was the expression of a (relatively) small cultured elite who spoke to the people with the scope of educating them.

However, by the 1980s, many political challenges like terrorism or communism had been overcome, and a new carefree middle-class had emerged. People now desired to be entertained and happy, instead of being bored by the news or political commentary.

Berlusconi understood this very well. His TV channels imported popular shows and movies from the US and launched several successful comedy and variety shows. The humour tended to be simple and vulgar, rather than intellectual and sophisticated.

He was one of the first to feature semi-naked girls on TV. Young girls aspired to be a "valletta" (TV showgirl) in Mediaset shows and marry a football player, rather than becoming an accomplished actress and marrying a Hollywood star, as might have been the case 10-20 years prior.

Take one of the most iconic Mediaset original shows, Non è la Rai, aired between 1991 and 1995.

The name of the show literally translates to “This is not RAI”, which hinted at Berlusconi’s state-owned competitor and its old-school TV style.

On "Non è la Rai", dozens of young girls between the age of 15 and 20 would dance in provocative clothing to the most popular euro-dance songs of the time. They also played games with the audience and performed lip sync shows.

With Berlusconi and Mediaset, Italian media shifted from providing information, education and arts, to focusing on pure entertainment, often in a shallow and sex-driven form.

This is exactly what happened to the Internet and social media around 20 years later.

The internet initially served as a means to access and share information. Then, with the advent of Facebook and other social media platforms, it evolved into what we call "Web 2.0". This upgrade allowed end users to participate in the internet, not just use it. Users could communicate with one another and create their own content. Despite this, social media remained within the field of information sharing. People could access information about their friends through Facebook and Instagram and the fun came from engaging with this information and sharing their own.

Gradually, however, social media transformed, losing almost all of its "social" aspect. On TikTok, for example, the majority of users are passive, consuming content without creating any themselves. The same goes for YouTube, which began almost 20 years ago as a video-sharing platform but eventually became a substitute for traditional TV.

Social media has become just another form of "media", similar to what Berlusconi had envisioned in the 1980s. It is a place of pure entertainment where people can forget their daily struggles and dream of dancing to the latest tune among dozens of naked girls.

In 2023, semi-naked underage girls lip sync while dancing provocatively on TikTok, much like the "le ragazze di Non è la Rai." Meanwhile, young boys engage in destructive challenges to "entertain" their audiences with shallow and meaningless "content," reminiscent of an upgraded "Paperissima." Kids dream of becoming YouTubers, like Berlusconi-era girls dreamt of becoming show girls on TV.

All of this sounds like a dejavu of the time Berlusconi started Mediaset over 40 years ago.

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