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<nettime> V2-Day or on the political agency of radical comedians
Snafu on Sun, 27 Apr 2008 04:37:37 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> V2-Day or on the political agency of radical comedians


dear nettimers,

on April 25, Beppe Grillo -- the most well-known Italian blogger and a
comedian banned from Italian TV since 1986 -- has organized and brought
over 100,000 people in Turin's Piazza Castello to celebrate the 63rd
year anniversary of the Italian liberation from Nazi-fascism.

What is more interesting is that Grillo updated the otherwise
ritualistic celebrations of the liberazione by calling for a day of
action, named the V-2 (Vaffanculo Day), against what he called the
"fascism of information." In 24 hours, 450,000 signatures were collected
to abolish the infamous Gasparri Law on the Italian TV system that
maintains and reinforces the media power of the soon-to-be Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi; the Italian Professional Order of the
Journalists (which overviews a politically-controlled distribution of
journalists within different media outlets); and the State fundings to
the Italian press (largely controlled by political parties to print
their dailies).

Here is the stunning video of the demonstration in Piazza Castello:

http://it.youtube.com/watch?v=nbjNZmOmEqs

And here is Beppe Grillo's blog:

http://www.beppegrillo.it/ (most of the posts are translated in English)

Over the last two years Grillo has been fueling an high-octane campaign
to cleanse the Italian Parliament of all the politicians who have been
convicted, arrested, or are currently indicted by the judiciary. On
September 8, 2007 -- in the 64th anniversary of the beginning of the
Nazist occupation of Italy -- Grillo organized the first V-Day whose
specific target were the corrupted politicos. Now, with the V2-Day, he
moved onto targeting the media as an extension of political and economic
power.

As a result, all the mainstream media, and in particular Berlusconi's TV
channels and RAI openly attacked the V2-Day (after all, he managed to
alienate almost all of them) trying to cast this demonstration in
opposition to the scarcely participated official celebrations of the
Resistance. From the stage and on his blog, Grillo clarified that the
V2-Day was never meant to be against the memory of the Resistance but on
the contrary, that it should be seen as a natural continuation of it.
Cashing on the incredible success of a demonstration organized only
through the internet, Grillo writes in his blog:

"Every morning, Tar-Head (Silvio Berlusconi, ndr) calls upon his slaves
to resist, resist, *resist the truth* at any cost. In this case,
resistance means spreading defamation, insults and insinuations on his
slave ships that travel on State concessions. Yesterday was a memorable
day. All of the newspapers denigrated the V2-day initiative, from the
Unità, through La Repubblica and from the Giornale through to Panorama.
The *Sewer rats* are coming down off the ship. I repeat: the sewer rats
coming down off the ship."

Many things could be said of this truly populist movement. The most
relevant regards the way Grillo is using the internet and the
blogosphere. His political message is very simple, and in some ways --
setting aside the incendiary tones -- recalls Obama's: there is an
economic-political cast that is systematically occupying all the
positions of power, and appropriating and pillaging the wealth produced
by "honest, hard-working citizens."

The difference between Obama's and Grillo is that while the former's
promise of change is ultimately aimed at absorbing or subsuming civil
society under the direction of a new leadership, the latter is openly
challenging the powers that be by declaring the autonomy of civil
society from any administrative mechanism. In a way, Grillo's populism
recalls the famous John Perry Barlow's Declaration of Independence of
Cyberspace (1986), but in Grillo's case we can see how the autonomy of
the blogosphere is intertwined with a vast and molecular social movement
that is building its own mythology by making use of a variety of
micro-narratives and symbols often borrowed from popular culture.

Not incidentally, Grillo has adopted the V of the film "V for Vendetta"
as the official logo of his Vaffanculo Days, and his followers, the
so-called "Grillini" (Grasshoppers) are using the V hand sign to mark
their belonging to this emerging community. This V-2 video, shot and
edited in Los Angeles few days before the V2-Day, shows this ability to
tap into the imagery of popular culture (the video is a remake of the
The Soprano's opening sequence):

http://it.youtube.com/watch?v=dWVTGaypuO8

Although the social base of the Grasshoppers' movement is largely
leftist, over the last few months many leftist political leaders and
intellectuals have distantiated themselves from Grillo for his
indiscriminate attacks on the establishment, arguing that the widespread
corruption that informs the Berlusconian system of power is
qualitatively and quantitively uncomparable to the occasional and
immaterial scandals that touch left-wing politicians -- many of which
are artfully mounted by Berlusconi's media.

Furthermore, while left-wing newspapers such as L'Unita' and Liberazione
heavily rely on public funding, Berlusconi's media are flushed with cash
by the market dominance of Berlusconi's advertising agency Publitalia.
Thus, many on the left are worried that the drastic cuts advocated by
Grillo on those slices of the national budget regularly allocated to
political parties and the political press may end up favoring those
forces who are overtly attacking the redistributive function of the
(Welfare) State. As a matter of fact over the last couple of years the
Italian association of entrepreneurs, Confindustria, has spearheaded a
vast movement of public opinion, only partially conciding with Grillo's,
against the privileges and the prerogatives of the Italian political
class (this movement of public opinion is well visible in the enormous
success of Sergio Rizzo and Gianantonio Stella's book La Casta).

Although this type of criticism is certainly founded, what left-wing
analysts seem to miss altogether is that the power of this grassroots
movement does not reside in the expression of a particular political
tendency, but, as Walter Benjamin used to say, in its "organizing
function" i.e. in its ability to turn consumers into producers and
“readers or spectators into collaborators.” (1978: 233) Obviously, this
organizing function is not detached from the content, so to speak, of
Grillo's message: only by portraying the establishment as a monolithic
block, can the subjectivity of vast numbers of former "spectators" be
mobilized and set in motion. In a way, the disappearence of the Left
from the Italian Parliament in the recent political elections is the
result of the incapacity of leftist and radical movement's leaders to
intercept these feelings and orient them towards different political goals.

Finally, I would like to compare this curious situation of a comedian
leading a political, networked movement to what has recently occurred in
the Democratic primaries with the popular American comedian Stephen
Colbert. After ridiculing and humiliating GW Bush and the American Press
at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2006
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa-4E8ZDj9s), last October Colbert
announced his intention to run for the Democratic primaries in South
Carolina. In less than two weeks, the online Facebook group "1,000,000
Strong for Steven Colbert" reached one million members risking to
collapse the Facebook servers. Colbert did not end up running, nor
calling for people to take to the streets to support his candidacy.
However, his steady rise in the polls suggested that he could have been
in the end a viable Presidential candidate (according to Wikipedia and
other anonymous sources, Obama's supporters may have played a role in
putting pressure on the South Carolina Democratic Executive Council to
keep Colbert off the ballot.)

In the end, the difference between Colbert and Grillo boils down to a
very basic difference between U.S. and Italian capitalism: while
American capitalism valorizes anything that is moneymaking, so that
Colbert has his own TV show simply because he is popular, Grillo is
banned from the mainstream media because the Italian bourgeoisie have
historically resorted to authoritarian measures as a means of enforcing
an otherwise uncertain political leadership. (As a matter of fact, under
the last Berlusconi's mandate several journalists and comedians have
been censored or banned from public TV.) And yet, Grillo and Colbert
have also something in common: with their witty jokes and
anti-representational politics they tell us that in the age of
immaterial labor -- a labor oriented to the production of ideas,
knowledge, and affects -- people demand an increasingly affective and
ultimately bodily experience of national politics. The networks are the
place where the emotional and bodily intelligence of laughter flows,
coalesce, and returns to the offline world in the form of unforeseen and
yet-to-be-named forms of agency.


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