Who is Silvio Berlusconi?

After reading The New York Review of Books: Italy: The Family Business, I’m amazed that a corrupt leader of a modern western country like Italy can stay in power — regardless of how rich he is. (Boy, that was a naive statement!) If you don’t know much about modern Italy, I highly recommend the essay. A quote that caught my eye was:

It would be a mistake to dismiss Berlusconi as a vaguely comical product of an Italian subculture. Italy has a remarkable record in the twentieth century as a kind of laboratory of bad ideas that have then spread to other parts of the world. Fascism was invented in Italy, so was the mafia; and left-wing terrorism went further in Italy than in any other European country. All three were byproducts of a weak democracy with few checks and balances. As a country that was late to unify and industrialize, Italy is a place where all the strains and problems of modern life are present, but with few of the safeguards that exist in older, more stable nations; ideas get taken to their logical extreme. The increasingly close relations between big money, politics, and television are important everywhere, but in Italy, thanks to Berlusconi’s domination of the networks and the press, they have achieved a kind of apotheosis. He has now introduced a law that will make it legal for him to own newspapers as well.

After reading the essay, I typed Berlusconi into google and got a lesson in modern media. One of the top entries is a “Cool man of the week” profile of Berlusconi from AskMen. As you can imagine, a different perspective from the NYRB. An illustrative quote:

He has a beautiful wife, but don’t kid yourselves, he is well aware of his charm and his magnetism with the fairer sex.

Power and money have historically been aphrodisiacs for women, and Berlusconi has both. In a country with beauties such as Maria Grazia Cucinotta and Monica Bellucci, that could be a very good thing.