Invia i Pagliacci! Ci Devono Essere Pagliacci! [extended play]

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

[Patient readers, I had an early morning Internet meltdown, followed by an RL meltdown, and so was not able to complete this lengthy piece in time (and in fact, because both Interent and phone were down — infrastructure devolution — wasn’t able to communicate with Yves. Apologies!) Since there are comments on the “single,” I won’t take it down, since it’s taken on a life of its own. This, however, is the EP! –lambert]

Even though, as the headline shows, I have little Italian, and less Italian politics, I’m so chuffed that Beppe Grillo did well in yesterday’s Italian elections — even though he was neither a wizened, permanently tanned, and shamelessly unrehabilitated whoremonger nor a Goldman Sachs alumnus (sorry for the redundancy) — that I thought I’d do a wrap-up before conventional wisdom completely congeals. Alert readers will, of course, correct and amplify this post in comments!

First, I’ll briefly summarize the state of play following the election. Then, I’ll look at The Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S), the organization that Beppe Grillo heads: the semiotics of the M5S logo, and M5S organization and tactics, and where M5S fits on the political spectrum. I’ll conclude by pointing to a meme to watch, used to describe the Italian political system (and oddly, or not, not “ours”). In Appendices, I’ll give a brief timeline of Mr. Market’s reactions to the election, some funny quotes from Grillo, and a note on comedians.

1. State of play in italian election

Italy’s parliamentary elections were marked by a sharp fall in turnout (possibly due to bad weather), inaccurate polling before the race (possibly due to youthful cell use), and inaccurate exit polling. In policy terms, Italian voters rejected austerity:

“The result is the absolute majority of Italians have voted against austerity measures, the euro and Europe,” said Enrico Letta, deputy leader of the Democrat party. “This sends a very clear signal to Brussels and Frankfurt.”

However, no one party or party leader dominates, so it’s not clear how a government can be formed. Stalemate:

Italy faced political deadlock on Tuesday after a stunning election that saw the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo become the strongest party in the country but left no group with a clear majority in parliament. “The winner is: Ingovernability” was the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the stalemate the country would have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies would be forced to work together to form a government. The center-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani won the lower house by around 125,000 votes, where it will have a majority because of a premium given to the largest party or coalition. Results in the upper house Senate indicated the center-left would end up with about 119 seats, compared with 117 for the center-right. Seats are awarded on a region-by-region basis in the Senate, where a majority of 158 is needed to govern. Any coalition must have a working majority in both houses in order to pass legislation.

Neither Grillo, a comedian-turned-politician who previously ruled out any alliance with another party, nor Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right bloc, which threatened to challenge the close tally, showed any immediate willingness to negotiate.

And the stalemate may lead to another election in the near future:

The result indicated that fresh elections were a strong possibility and, at best, foreshadowed a weak government unable to pass the tough reforms [austerity] Italy needs to enhance its grim economic prospects.

(Note how the “left wing” Guardian takes austerity as growth producing, a proposition already empirically falsified.) I don’t have any predictions on how this will play out, even if Mr. Market hates uncertainty, except for others; American political chess, having only 11 dimensions, is like checkers compared to Italian politics. Moreover, America, unlike Italy, has never had an authentically fascist movement seize political power (except for the Reconstruction South, of course). In any case, as we’ve seen above, the real story is the emergence of M5S, led by comedian Beppo Grillo:

Grillo boasted [M5S] had achieved its prominence in the space of little more than three years, “with no money and no [state] funding.”

2. M5S: Semiotics of a logo

I’ll start by looking at the M5S logo, and comparing it to the EU flag.

We notice immediately what they share: A circle, and stars. We notice also how they are different: The EU flag has a clean, simple, professional design; it’s “hot” (McCluhan would say) because it engages one sense, the visual, almost completely, with its single message of European unity, and its contrast of deep blue and gold. The charmingly amateurish M5S logo, by contrast, might have been designed by a multi-tasking Internet user: It’s “cool” in that it demands engagement to extract value. We also notice that the EU circle of stars is self-similar at all sizes and designed for expansion; adding another star to the circle wouldn’t change nature of the design. The M5S logo, because it includes type, is not self-similar at all sizes; shrink it too far, and the type will not be readable. Indeed, in its refusal to scale, the M5S logo resembles heraldry: Each element — The red border, MoVimento, the 5 stars, and the URL — has a meaning, and to add a new element would be to change the meaning of all the elements taken as a whole. The M5S logo is not designed for expansion; it is hermetic, even autarkical, of Italy only; and we might not be going to far to say that this reflects the attitude of M5S’s voters to the EU, the demands for austerity from Brussels and Berlin, and perhaps even the Euro. Let’s take each of the elements in turn, working from the bottom up:

The URL: Hearteningly, goes to Il Blog de Beppe Grillo, which seems to have more bandwidth or less load now. Grillo’s technical:

Grillo refuses to talk to Italian media, preferring to communicate directly through his blog, and a lot of people listen. He is Europe’s most social media savvy politician, with over 1 million Facebook friends, and 880,000 Twitter followers. He uses this — and the wildly popular blog — to proselytize, advertise, organize.

The 5 stars: These symbolize the 5 planks of the M5S platform:

1. Not be an elected politician prior to 5 Stelle

2. Commit to stay in charge for no longer than 2 terms

3. Commit to take a minimum salary and give the rest back to the community

4. Post a public platform on the internet

5. Be willing to hold a public debate on the platform

(Beppe Grillo’s personal position, not a mandate for the Five Star Movement, is “Get out of the Euro and default on debt.” [Tremble, banksters!])

MoVimento: Movement, and not party:

Grillo says traditional [party] politics is over and advocates a “participatory democracy” in which ordinary citizens can become local protagonists.”It’s a lifestyle choice for whoever votes M5S — you have to participate actively in politics, change your habits: eat, travel, shop in a certain way.”

V: The V does stand for Vendetta; Grillo keeps a Guy Fawkes mask in his campaign van. The V gesture stands for a lot else, including Victory and peace, but in the Italian political context, V stands, above all, for V-Day (not this V-Day), and the “V” in V-Day stands for Vaffanculo (see Google redirect). In 2007:

Before 8 September 2007, Beppe Grillo was a famous Italian comedian. Since then he has become the man who organized the ‘V-Day’. [A]nyone who desired radical change in the political system was invited to sign a petition with three demands: an electoral system based on voters directly choosing their representatives rather than voting for party lists; a “cleaning of parliament'(every candidate who’s been convicted of crimes to be banned from seeking public office [which applies to Grillo himself]); and a proposal to limit politicians to two terms. More than five million people participated in the event, according to Grillo, and more than 300,000 signatures were collected. There were gatherings in more than 200 town and city squares. In Bologna, where the comedian was talking, there were 50.000 people present, according to the daily La Repubblica.

When we get 500,000 people on the National Mall for F.U. Day, all raising an extended middle finger to the Capitol, we’ll know we’re getting somewhere in this country.)

The red border: That says “left” to me. Eh?

3. M5S: Organization and tactics

Now let’s compare the M5S organization and tactics to what we’re used to in this country. (Hilariously, Axelrod worked for Bersani, and an Obama fan tried to organize the “swing states” of Lombardy and Sicily/).

The Dean Campaign: Like the Dean campaign in 2004, M5S used Meetups with great success: 792 groups, 646 cities, 109,881 members (2013-02-26). The takeaway for Dean operatives was “The Bat” as a business model; online fundraising, petitions, commissions for clickthroughs all grew from the Dean campaign. One wonders whether the takeaway for Grillos operatives will be the same, or different?

The Obama Campaigns: Like the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012, M5S is very tech savvy: “He is Europe’s most social media savvy politician, with over 1 million Facebook friends, and 880,000 Twitter followers.”

So, we might project the American experience onto Italy, and no doubt, just as in the Arab Spring, there will be some of those so-easy-to-write net triumphalism pieces coming to a paid space near you. However, I think the differences between America and Italy are far, far greater than the similarities. There are at least four:

First, investigations. Grillo used his media platform to reveal and punish corruption:

Back in December 2003, Italy was rocked by the Parmalat scandal, in which the Italian dairy conglomerate imploded in a vacuum of debt and deception that became the largest bankruptcy in European history. But Grillo had seen it coming. As early as 2001, he had a whole routine built around the Parma-based firm’s dubious balance sheet — noting that even as a multibillion-euro debt was piling up, Parmalat was expanding its product line to include a new milk that contained the fish-based supplement Omega-3. Grillo would walk through the crowd dunking a dead fish in a glass of milk, looking for a taste tester: “Drink it. Drink it. What’s the problem? It’s Omega-3!”

To put this in perspective: Can you imagine Obama going on national TV to support the Promontory whistleblowers and savage Bank of America? Didn’t think so.

Second, real, functional online voting. (See the work of Joe Firestone on Interactive Voter Choice Systems for possible evolution of this voting technology.) This is amazing:

[M5S] a movement like none other in Europe in that it has started as essentially an Internet movement which then has gone from online to offline. So it really is a original type of political movement, the kind of which we really haven’t seen before. The Web was used to hold primaries, I believe the first Internet primaries we’ve ever seen. They were used to pick the candidates for the general election, all of whom, according to the movement’s rules, are people who have never served a day at any institutional level of government before. None have even been city councilors. They will be complete novices once they get into parliament.

(Slate picks up on this, compares M5S to Americans Elect. Except Americans Elect was a top-down, billionaire-funded Potemkin village. The moral: “Easy: No matter how much money is shoveled over to “centrists,” political change doesn’t come from reasonable people. It grows out of mania and cold fury.” Yep.)

To put this in perspective, we in this country are all agog because the Obama campaign successfully ran a top-down organization through cell-phones, data mined the electorate into ever tinier fractions. The Italians, on the other hand, set about re-inventing democracy.

Third, the scale of the rallies:

There were, however, clear signs of the Five Star Movement’s growing popularity in a series of late rallies Mr. Grillo called his #TsunamiTour in appeals to his nearly one million Twitter followers, which culminated in a final campaign appearance attended by an estimated 800,000 in Rome.

To put that number in perspective: Obama campaigned in Ohio, right? And spent a ton of money on a few swing counties, right? Well, that one Beppe Grillo rally is two Clevelands.

Fourth, and most important, virtually no money (!!!!!!):

[Grillo] could claim tens of millions of euros from the state to fund his campaign but claims nothing: recently, his movement’s candidates received the biggest share of the vote in regional elections in Sicily, of all places, after spending a mere €25,000.

I guess when you’ve got message people really want to vote for, and a channel you control to get the message out to voters, you don’t have to spend hours every day asking billionaires for money to buy ads on the teebee.

4. M5S: The political spectrum

A quick note on the demographics of M5S Parliamentarians:

More than 40 per cent of the movement’s deputies are women – the highest proportion among all the parties. At an average age of 32 they are also the youngest, while nearly 80 per cent have university degrees. More than a third are white-collar workers, nearly a quarter are self-employed and 15 per cent are jobless.

And on the demographics of M5S voters:

M5S supporters display rock-bottom levels of trust in political and commercial institutions: only 8% of respondents trust the government, 3% trust political parties, 2% trust parliament, 2% trust banks and financial institutions and 6% trust big companies – lower, on every measure, than the Italian general public. … Those surveyed are more likely to be male and to be older. They are more likely to be well-qualified, with 54% reporting they had a high school diploma (compared to the Italian average of 41%), but are also more likely to be unemployed – 19% compared to the Italian average of 7.9%. On average, they self-identify as left-wing… When asked to name their top two concerns, supporters chose the economic situation (62%) and unemployment (61%). A distant third was taxation at 41%. They are broadly positive about immigration: more likely than the Italian public in general to view immigration as an opportunity (56% versus 28%).

Finally, here’s M5S on the European political spectrum. It’s always a hoot to see Jippy Mo quote The Journal of Socialist Renewal!

5. The meme to watch

In 2011, we saw a political innovations circle the Mediterranean and leap the Atlantic, from Tahrir Square to Zucotti Park. Could M5S’s emergence have a similar effect? The future lies ahead. One clue, however, may like in the following meme, for which I will give several citations:

AP (2013):

“More than protest, Grillo is an expression of disappointment in this political class. His followers are not anti-political. Most are interested in politics, but these politicians disgust them.”

The New Yorker (2008):

In the past eighteen months, the Italian political class has reached a low ebb of popularity. Last year’s nonfiction best-seller, which has sold more than a million copies since its publication, in May, is “La Casta” (“The Caste”), by the journalists Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. The book’s title has entered into daily speech, crystallizing the widespread perception that Italian politicians have become, as the authors write, an oligarchy of insatiable Brahmins, “born not of Brahma . . . but of a regime dominated by political parties and afflicted with elephantiasis.”

NBC (2013):

A major factor in the murky result was the astonishing vote haul of comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo, whose 5 Star Movement has capitalized on a wave of voter disgust with the ruling political class.

American Thinker quoting NPR (2013):

Grillo’s forces are the greatest unknown. His protest movement against the entrenched political class has gained in strength following a series of corporate scandals that only seemed to confirm the worst about Italy’s establishment.

A Google News search for “political class” in Politico yields zero hits (2013-02-26:11:40AM). The same search at WaPo yields 12 hits, all but two for foreign countries. The two domestic hits are about Michelle Rhee and the SOTU, which makes sense: The DC schools and the SOTU are both collective watering holes for the political class, so they are conscious of themselves as a class, as opposed to members of parties or factions, sharing space in those settings.) The same search at the Times yields 10 results, all from 2013, of which three are domestic: One about Boston Mayor Menino’s State of the City address, another about New York’s Municipal Art Society, and the third in a review of “Sister Souljah” (q.v.). The parallel to WaPo’s usage is exact, with the addition to shared discourse to shared setting. (There are more hits in Google proper, but I wanted the news focus.)

So, it seems that “political class” is very freely used for foreign countries, and comes easily to hand when describing Italian domestic politics. Why not our own? Because our political culture is exceptionally healthy? Because our political class is exceptionally skilled in the arts of public service?

Yeah, I crack myself up. However, if we see “political class” begin to propagate — it’s been out on the blogs (48) for some time (9,880)* — we can throw both legacy parties, all the strategists, all the think tanks, all the talking shops, all the lobbyists, all the law firms, all the PACs, all the political appointees, all the national union leadership, and most of our famously free press into one ginormous squirming bucket of snakes, just like the Italians who voted for M5S did. Open ’em up like a can of tuna! I think that would be a useful outcome. Don’t you?

NOTE * The rhetorical stance of many Kossacks seems to be that Kos is not part of the political class. I’m cracking myself up again! Crashing the Gates is so 2006….

Appendix I: Mr. Market’s mood swings

Mr. Market had a fluttery stomach (2013-02-21) right before the vote:

Today I had the chance to talk to three very high-level financial professionals about the upcoming Italian election, which takes place this upcoming Sunday and Monday. .. And though Silvio Berlusconi is a cause for consternation, it was Beppe Grillo that made them appear physically sick to their stomach.

And Mr. Market even had a little stiffy when it looked like the austerians might win:

Shares on the Italian stock market have jumped today, reports Graeme Wearden, because of optimism that the election will deliver a clear victory for Pier Luigi Bersani’s party, perhaps in a coalition with Mario Monti. Graeme reports:

But then, oh noes! Mr. Market reached for the Maalox. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (2013-02-25):

It is unclear whether the European Central Bank (ECB) can continue to stand behind the Italian debt market under its Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) scheme if there is no party able to deliver on austerity cuts and reforms demanded by Berlin and Brussels.

And Mr. Market took a big swig. Guardian (2013-02-25):

But another six months of instability in Italy may also delay economic reforms, unsettle the markets, ask more questions of the euro and raise the political temperature before the crucial German elections in September when Europe’s most powerful leader, Angela Merkel, seeks a third term.

Because The Confidence Fairy had a sad (2013-02-25):

[Beppe Grillo’s] Five Star Movement ticket looked completely ridiculous, until it surged into third place. Grillo’s rallies attracted tens of thousands of people, then 100,000. Grillo’s platform called for a living wage and for priests to have children “so they don’t touch other people’s.” That, added to his aggressive social media campaign—nearly a million followers on Twitter—carved out 25 percent of the vote, denying a majority to the center-left, sending investors into a now-familiar panic, the Dow Jones index falling by 216 points.

But then, oh joy! The Confidence Fairy called for magic fingerwagging from Queen TINA! Bad voters! B-a-a-a-d voters! CNN (2013-02-25):

Italy has actually used up many of its final chances in this electoral season. Not only has the country chosen not to embrace continuing austerity under technocratic leader Mario Monti, which is necessary by any calculation to actually start moving Italy out of the recession.

(Except not not not not not.)

Appendix II: Some choice Beppo snark

“‘L’onestà andrà di moda!’ tweeted Beppe Grillo as the votes came in. In English: ‘Honesty will be fashionable again!”

“Mr. Grillo pointed to the row of fresh-faced Italians — candidates of his Five Star Movement — on the stage behind him. ‘These kids, they may be inexperienced — they still haven’t learned how to rig a budget, or give contracts to their friends,’ he paused, his gravely voice drowned out by laughter and applause.”

“‘[Grillo] dubs Berlusconi a psycho dwarf. PM Mario Monti, rigor montis, and PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani a zombie.” Seems reasonable to me. When does the invective start?

“’Italy is a tough country to be a comedian in—I can’t invent stuff like this,’ Grillo said on V-Day. ‘Nearly eighty crooks in parliament—that’s about one crook in twelve. It’s worse than Scampia, the most dangerous Naples slum, which is infested by the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. There the criminals are only one in fifteen!'”

“In 1987 during the Saturday night TV show Fantastico 7, he attacked the Italian Socialist Party and its leader Bettino Craxi, then Italy’s prime minister, on the occasion of his visit to the People’s Republic of China. Grillo asked: ‘If the Chinese are all socialists, from whom do they steal?’ The joke hinted at the totalitarianism of the PRC, but even more to the widespread corruption for which the Italian Socialist Party was known. As a consequence, Grillo was effectively and silently banished from publicly owned television. He was vindicated a few years later, however, when the Italian Socialist Party had to be disbanded in a welter of corruption scandals known as Tangentopoli, uncovered by the Mani pulite (Clean hands) investigation.”

Appendix III: The comedians

Beppo Grillo is a comedian. Senator Al Franken, Jon Stewart, and Steven Colbert are also comedians. Need I say more? Adding: Shamefully, I forgot the great Roseanne Barr, who ran for President on the Green ticket.

UPDATE My dyslexia always kicks in with “S” and “5.” Several MS5s corrected to M5S.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. jurisV

    Well done Lambert !!!

    Thanks for mentioning Jon Stewart and Colbert in your discussion of Beppo Grillo. I suspect that comedians have a much better understanding (feel?) for the pulse of “real” people than most of us.

    Making jokes and getting laughs is not easy by any stretch of imagination. I have only recently learned that comedians have to have an incredibly well tuned “feel” for the nuances of our culture in order to be consistently funny. There’s a very fine line between being insulting, being funny, or being absurd/crazy — and to be funny you have to have a feel for the boundaries. There’s no consistent formula! I salute the rational comedians like Beppo, Stewart, Colbert and the many in our history including George Carlin, Will Rogers, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce.

    Out of curiosity — does anyone have suggestions for politician candidates who were/are consistently funny? Or other “serious” comedians?

    1. jurisV

      I meant to include also — No comedian will appeal to everyone. You cannot make all of the people laugh all of the time……..

      1. Emperor Wang of Market Mongo

        Q: Why did Oran Bar-Tal cross the galaxy?

        A: To eat you earthling chickens on the other side!


    2. ambrit

      Dear jurisV;
      One of the great tragicomic politicians of all time, Ronald Reagan. Just to wallow in the zany antics of “Bedtime for Bonzo” is to have a premonition of the neo-liberal game plan the ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ hired The Great Communicator, (sort of like a reactionary Great Helmsman,) to sell to the public.
      Don’t think Ronnie was a comic? Well, the joke’s on all of us my friends.

    3. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Beppe Grillo has the genius and dead seriousness of Charles Chaplin, and the rage+love of the People that George Carlin had. The greatest real comedy comes from the man of the greatest despair and love. Hence neither Colbert nor Stewart can begin to compete.

  2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    The red in red border, I hope it’s mean the opposite of green.

    I also wonder if the V is not somehow conencted to vedi, veni, vici.

    Speaking of politicians and the political class, skippy might remember the call for ‘professional to complement our ‘professional politicans.’ The other way to go is to have ciitzen politicians to go along with citizen-citizens, citizen as in non-professional.

    Finaly, while my two-word Italian-English dictionary does not have the entry for invia i Pagliacci, I believe ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’ applies the election result.

      1. shtove

        Your graphic analysis was new to me, never came across those terms before. I like new, just need to make sense of it.

        I missed the bit where you discussed the “.IT” part of the logo – seems significant if nationalism is considered. Does Beppe do .COM?

        ps. would be good if your links opened in new windows – I clicked the interactive voter site, but had to paste the address in a new window before back-clicking to finish your article.

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Lambert, you have outdone yourself.

    Might I presume that ‘zombies’ and ‘psycho dwarves’ are subspecies of the larger species category: Political Class?

    Because I think Beppe’s on to something with that term… (cue the Sequestration news, in which well paid folk with Cadillac health insurance swagger in front of tv cameras and their words are recorded and then broadcast by The Media, while the politicos continue to collect retirement, benefits, salary, and continue to have staffs… oy!)

  4. JD

    Brilliant article. I hope Mr Grillo has some top-notch bodyguards though, especially if he looks to do even better in the next inevitable election.

  5. Kurt Sperry

    What’s the approval rating for the American Congress? 10% or something?

    Anyone that says a similar electoral disruption here using the ‘net instead of cubic money to foment that manifest and historic dissatisfaction into political action either hasn’t much imagination or is trying to kill the idea before it can be brought to bear on our own system. Austerity and neoliberal economic policies will eventually make such a challenge to the status quo inevitable.

    The cynics who say it is impossible and the survivalist pornographers selling every man for himself apocalypse scenarios are every bit as much our enemies as are the oligarchs.

    1. Ms G

      “The cynics who say it is impossible and the survivalist pornographers selling every man for himself apocalypse scenarios are every bit as much our enemies as are the oligarchs.”


      1. ambrit

        Dear Ms G;
        Being a bit of a cynic myself, I must plead “nolo contendere.”
        As the comic said: “Cynics are their own worst enemies.”
        On the other front, catastrophists are no doubt also sufferers from what psychology calls “Catastrophisation.”
        Ben there, done that. No fun.

  6. tatere

    “I guess when you’ve got message people really want to vote for, and a channel you control to get the message out to voters, you don’t have to spend hours every day asking billionaires for money to buy ads on the teebee.”

    THIS. This this this. Nail this to the door of every call for “public financing”, a nice name for handouts to Rupert Murdoch and the other media owners.

    1. reslez

      Yes… watch for the PTB to eliminate this loophole ASAP. If they don’t it’s because they still assume they can control and subvert it like everything else.

  7. Ms G

    Nice. Work. Lambert!

    You beat me to the thought about Stew-Colb. Colb creates a post-modern (i.e., useless) PAC and milks the jokes on his show, for dollars. Beppe … well, you’ve told it all so well.

    Grazie moltissimo!

    (The quote from the CNN stooge — “by any calculation” … Wow. Pathetic!)

    I would add only that when you talk about “political class” you need to work in kleptocracy, otherwise you could be misunderstood to just be pushing a replacement (new) political class. And we all know it’s about decent jobs, wages, dignity in house and life and food, and health … politics = just the midwife :)

    1. Finnucane

      Yes, “by any calculation.” How much editing of reality does it take to make a proposition both insane and demonstrably false into TINA? And does who reads that shit and says “yes, this is so – only austerity will set them free”? I’ve always felt claims that America is “soft totalitarian” or “veering toward fascism” to be overblown, but this kind of stuff gives one pause.

      1. Ms G

        It always amuses me to observe el publico americano having opinions about things that go on … anywhere but in america. Oh, look how they’re torturing people in (gasp) that [Latin American, African, Asian, Antartica, whatever] country. (Meanwhile, back at the ranch, waterboarding.) Or oooohhh they have a di-ctator — and death squads — that is so terrible — let’s do a documentary! (Meanwhile, check out our local bought-sold tinpot tyrants who sell us out every day to privatizers, or throw Americans in prison with no charges, etc.

        And now, as you point out, it’s “yes, this is so – only austerity will set them free”? Not sure how many of the Americanos and Americanas who are pearl clutching about how great austerity is for “over there,” are also Americanos and Americanas who are being skinned to the bone and heading to spend the last years of their lives in a motel cubicle on food stamps with no health insurance.

        I guess this is what people mean when they talk about american “exceptionalism.” I’d never understood what that meant, but I think I’m beginning to see it’s related to the above.

        It’s a veritable symphony of mental dissonance.

        Oh, and we very much do have tyranny. It ramped up a lot after the 9/11 event and we’re getting little show-and-tells (e.g. how our militarized police thunked peaceful civilians protesting inequality) in little doses — just enough to ensure everyone is steps into line and keeps their heads down.

      1. Ms G

        I know *you* know that :)

        Just think it’s good propagation form to include that connection explicitly (i.e. insert the word and concept kleptocracy when discussing “political class”).

        My propaganda tip of the day :) :)

  8. Ms G

    “America, unlike Italy, has never had an authentically fascist movement seize political power …”

    Well, actually, unless one thinks that Fascism only occurs when you have brown shirts and height-challenged ass****s with moustaches and concentration camps for Jews … the features of fascism are, I believe, well present and pervasive in the now entrenched Neo-Liberal Kleptocratic state that Obama The Liar and the Tool is pulling for, and that we live in. We we even have our very own corporatist state. And instead of fake showers we have the far more insidious and slow-moving and invisible to many Grand Bargain march to destitution, homelessness and early death. I could go on.

    Just my .02.

    1. Ms G

      Adding. Every time I’ve seen photographs of these mass events where Obama The Killer and The Liar presides over slobbering and transfixed masses I’ve immediately thought of the photographs that I have seen of Third Reich event with the geometrically arranged flags arranged on wall 20 million feet high and tens of thousands of “patriots” swarming at the bottom of the photo — just dots in a mass of deceived adoration.

      Except with Obama you get vulgar music acts and such.

      That little cartoon of the Obama Bot resisting the reasonable arguments of a sane (newly awakened) non-legacy-party progressive that you have posted is, I think, a very good illustration of our very own, home-grown, apple pie fascism.

    2. Ms G

      Oh, and I almost forgot. We even have our own apple-pie Leni Riefenstahl — that woman who made that propaganda recruiting film to lure women into front-line combat and torture duty.

        1. Ms G

          President O’Liar does strike one as a Hugo Boss type of metrosexual. Michelle really likes J Crew. They are so gross, the two of them. Blech. I’m almost nostalgic for Pat and Nancy!

      1. Ms G

        Yes, I read the parenthetical. But prefiguring is not the same as referring to present occurrence/manifestation. And I also think the Klan is much closer to the old-style in-your-face “style” of fascism (when they show themselves in their costumes, that is). The hideousness of Neo-Liberal Kleptocracy is that it dispenses with all recognizable badges and costumes — it just courses through everyday everything like poison blood, so it’s not “visible.”

        1. Paul Tioxon

          Wow, so you’re saying that the message of the neo-liberal kleptocrats is so internalized, that bumper stickers and flag decals are no longer needed to identify the “silent majority” anymore? It’s as if an invisible hand guides us all to make the optimum decision in our best interests. Who would have ever thought that fascism would move from swastikas and klieg lighted rallies to non-conspicous political consumption? It’s as if fascism and capitalism were indistinguishable!

  9. Minor Heretic

    The key to understanding M5S is the absence of cash. The necessity of money in a political system is the tiller by which the corporate overlords steer the boat. The ruling class preselects who gets to run be selectively donating money. (In the U.S., 97% of the high spenders win their primaries) After that they don’t really care who wins because they have already vetted all the candidates for acceptable political views.

    By running an essentially cash free campaign M5S has made an end run around campaign finance and that control.

    As a side note, I always thought that Howard Dean got nailed by the establishment press/parties not for his views but because he raised so much money *outside the controlled party system.*

    In the U.S. we need to circumvent the millionaire money filter, either through campaign finance reform or perhaps a finance free reform campaign like M5S. I’d go as far as saying that we need to drop every other political subject and address the money issue first.

  10. Ms G

    “The key to understanding M5S is the absence of cash.”

    Bingo. And the presence of mind to realize that there’s no time like Now, and that it’s utterly unnecessary (and damaging) to try to broker a new path with existing systems. Direct to the people who are suffering just like you at the hands of an illegitimate system.

    I love Beppe!

  11. Lambert Strether Post author

    M5S not MS5. My dyslexia kicked in! I went through the post and chenged them all, and also through the comments. I’ll pray to The God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, that my error doens’t propagate.

    Perhaps the error happens because of an assocation with MC5. And for good reason:

  12. Lambert Strether Post author

    There is another set of issues around having a single, very powerful celebrity leading a political movement. Plenty of issues there! But I wanted to focus on what made M5S’s victory so interesting, and for once not try to think through the worst case scenario.

  13. Sanctuary

    Hey Lambert, thanks for mentioning the notion of political class and how our own media refuse to use the term for domestic contexts. I’ve noticed this for a long time. It goes along with notions of “stability” and “certainty” that are thrown around in the context of the ongoing Financial Crisis and shows how much the two are intertwined. Both political parties have come to see themselves as a sort of guarantor of “society”. The problem is they have come to believe that only their friends on the cocktail party circuit represent society. They conflate their “friends” having legal problems with the possible loss of jobs in the larcenous firms they represent, which is really just a convenient way of enabling themselves to shield their corrupt friends. Because actually doing something about the Financial Crisis, such as arresting the criminals that caused it and breaking up the banks, would cause instability and uncertainty to the financial world (i.e., uncertainty of getting away with theft) and by extension the political class they have purchased (i.e. uncertainty of political donations and post-political employment).

  14. steve from virginia

    Interesting, good article.

    Grillo is a phenomenon, the question is ‘where to’?

    Since our (real) problem is a permanent and increasing energy shortage it is hard to see how the Twitter candidacy is going to ‘fix’ anything. M5S didn’t promise to get rid of the cars.

    What ended is the technocrat phase in Italy, nothing more. Monti is done, so is the looting by the Troika. What this means is there is nothing for the Troika to promise to the Italians (otherwise they would have continued with Monti). Technocracy isn’t a discrete political phenomenon but part of the process of secular economic decline: from administrative breakdown (Berlusconi) to technocracy (looting by the Goldman-Sachs uber-establishment) to zero-government, which is factionalism and chaos.

    Not pleasant but nobody ever said countries running out of gasoline was.

  15. Aussie F

    I think you’ve misinterpreted the semiotics. The V is a symbol of the female pubis – it’s also the sign of Kali and of the Great Goddess in the Western tradition. The inverted triangle has long been a symbol of the feminine principle, of kindness and respect for the earth.

    In contradistinction the star is a symbol of male supremacy and formal order. It represents the subordination of the four elements of nature to the abstracting power of the male intellect in its capactiy for domination and control. It’s the same archetype we find behind the ‘Pentagon.’

    These symbolic archetypes are clearly working out their destiny behind the phenomenal form of the Italian elections.

  16. Ed

    Nice article. I take issue with two things, at the beginning and at the end, neither really connected to the main points of the article.

    At the beginning there is this quote from the Guardian:

    “The result indicated that fresh elections were a strong possibility and, at best, foreshadowed a weak government unable to pass the tough reforms [austerity] Italy needs to enhance its grim economic prospects.”

    And this comment:

    “(Note how the “left wing” Guardian takes austerity as growth producing, a proposition already empirically falsified.)”

    The Guardian blurb is not contradictory at all. Good economic prospects do not necessarily mean growth. In fact “grim eceonomic prospects” could be caused by growth.

    My other reaction came from the “Mr. Market” quotes at the end. Bersani is a communist. He joined the Italian Communist Party in the late 1970s, in its eurocommunist phase but before it morphed into the Democratic Party of the Left. But its the preferred option of the financiers in this election? If this is true, that’s interesting.

  17. überdüber

    Never heard about this Grillo guy, before yesterday. Why my TV didnt know, that he will blow up the bank?

  18. Fíréan

    M5S logo is a registered trade mark ™ owned, with sole rights of use, by multi-millionaire Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo, whose movement was designed with the assistance of Casaleggio Associati, Gianroberto Casaleggio’s PR company. Castaleggios also co wrote the “Non Statuto” with Grillo, and is the other influential member of the movement.

    Here are two links to understand the ideology of Calageggio.
    Gaia :
    Prometeus :

    Though followers of the movement claim that Grillo, not being eligible to stand for election, is only the mouth piece, the megaphone, of the movement, others have questioned the democracy within the movement under Grillo’s dominance.
    For some interesting and non MSM perspectives on Grillo, Castaleggio and the M5S movement and why it is different from the other movements, Spanish Indignados or the Occupy protests. :

    When Grillo met Simone di Stefano, of the Casa Pound rightwing group ( neo fascist ?) ” He also asserted that the M5S and Casa Pound may share some economical ideals like creating a national bank and financing the small and medium enterprises.” (

    Maybe the main stream media (uk Gaurdian etc.,) like Grillo because he is a product of the media, a successful TV star.Unlike other movements in recent years, there is a known figurehead and a written agenda.

    The present criminal system needs a V-Day, Vaffanculo-Day ( F*ck You Day) movement to kick it’s ass but as a replacement it may be better off if Grillo and Castaleggio step aside.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks, really good stuff on MS5. I find the movement fascinating and well-worthy study. Grillo reminds me a little of Roseanne Barr, who’s the only American comedian/political figure I can imagine organizing a Vaffanculo Day. (That she hasn’t says something about the corrosiveness of American celebrity and political culture as opposed to Italian, perhaps.) I think the movement is a lot more important than Grillo, though.

      1. Fíréan

        The absense any direct references to Casaleggio in your own posting prompted me initially to reply, as the media to which you referred and linked refrained from coverage too.

        Are the supporters of Grillo and M5S aware of Casaleggio’s envisioned future, portrayed in the film, after a predicted world war III reducing the world population ?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Got a link on the film?

          Reading this post on the Internet voting reminds me again of how important Interactive Voter Choice Systems are. The voting numbers make me think of “the strength of weak ties,” i.e., voting isn’t or shouldn’t be anything like pressing a Like button. Bloggers know that sustained and genuine online communities can be built up, with personas that could, perhaps, take decisions collectively, but it takes an immense amount of labor.

          I would be very interested to know how Grillo runs his blog. Do you have any data on that?

          1. Glenn Condell

            ‘Reading this post on the Internet voting reminds me again of how important Interactive Voter Choice Systems are.’

            Or rather, should be. That Corrente post is a few years old now and a google didn’t return a lot of hits about subsequent developments. I wondered if the search was rigged so tried a few engines including duck duck go, but nothing much. I agree on the importance, it just doesn’t seem to have struck a lot of other people the same way. One thing they could do perhaps is change the name; IVCA sounds like invasive surgery. EasyVote?

            ‘The voting numbers make me think of “the strength of weak ties,” i.e., voting isn’t or shouldn’t be anything like pressing a Like button. Bloggers know that sustained and genuine online communities can be built up, with personas that could, perhaps, take decisions collectively, but it takes an immense amount of labor.’

            It should be like pressing a like button IMHO, but ‘an immense amount of labor’ would be required to finesse it to the point where that was possible. Whoever raises or poses the initial proposal does a little work, it may be finessed a little further for clarity or impact, but thereafter all participants should need to do is indicate yay or nay. The real work is in setting up a Google-rank style algorithm-based system, utterly open source and transparent.

            From the Guardian piece: ‘Just as newspapers, he argues, are doomed to extinction because they stand between journalists and readers, so parties are heading for annihilation because they stand between the electorate and the authorities.’

            Yes and yes, unless both embrace radically open source strategies and give up the gate-keeping.

            ‘The M5S is pioneering “a new, direct democracy that will see the elimination of all barriers between the citizen and the state”.’

            Well, that is the ideal. Cut out the middle men and women. However, the worry is as you say the ‘set of issues around having a single, very powerful celebrity leading a political movement’:

            ‘In addition, Casaleggio has had to contend with bitter accusations from the rank and file that the process was not subject to independent verification’

            Which it should be. Anyone ought to be able to mine the database. Why not?

            ‘Casaleggio is unrepentant. “The statute contains rules. If they want to change the rules, they can create another movement,” he said.’

            Not good enough, and precisely what the overlords would wish. They don’t have to worry about dividing if the emergent cells do it off their own bat.

            Which is why the web vote idea, while central in achieving end runs around elite strongholds in politics and journalism, must in the end be administered by the state. It may germinate outside the architecture of the (increasingly less) democratic state but it must operate from within if it is to succeed long term. It should become part of the political goods the government provides citizens, and a daily visit to the voting website to register approval or disapproval of this or that idea ought to be just a part of the routine.

            Thanks Lambert for a fascinating (and hopeful) analysis of a fascinating (and hopeful) event.

    2. Ms G

      This is dynamite info.

      It is sounding more and more as though M5S is a very slick product and BP potentially a Neo-Lib Populist.

  19. Fíréan

    Please excuse the typos of name Castalaggio, in previous post ( comment awaiting moderation ?) Send button hit before full proof read.

  20. Lafayette

    Grillo says traditional [party] politics is over and advocates a “participatory democracy” in which ordinary citizens can become local protagonists.”It’s a lifestyle choice for whoever votes M5S — you have to participate actively in politics, change your habits: eat, travel, shop in a certain way.”

    Grillo is a populist rabble-rouser. He has NOTHING to offer the Italian people but anger and angst.

    He could not manage a government out of a wet paper bag. (And he knows it, because he has refused to hold office.) If Italians vote for him, it was simply because it seemed better than dropping into the urn an empty ballot.

    What is truly worrisome is the large percentage of votes that went to Italy’s greatest political Shakedown Artist since Mussolini – Berlu the Boastful!

Comments are closed.