Final Abstract

The final abstract of my Monroe project is as follows:

The topic of my undergraduate Monroe scholar project is Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy and successful entrepreneur and politician. Berlusconi’s financial success, particularly in the media sector, makes him a controversial leader. Drawing on books and newspaper articles written in both Italian and English, I investigate whether, and to what extent, Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire has affected his rise to and maintenance of power. This is a compelling topic because it explores Berlusconi’s seemingly contradictory position as both a legitimate, democratically elected politician and as a media mogul. I will determine that the media has not been predominantly responsible for Berlusconi’s rise to and maintenance of power, but rather that he mainly owes his political success to his ability to form coalitions, to recent political history, and to electoral reform. That Berlusconi is a media mogul makes his conflict of interests impossible to ignore, however.

Now that my Monroe research is finished, I have a moment to reflect on all that I accomplished this summer and I feel really fortunate to have been able to conduct this research. The Monroe project allowed me a flexible summer schedule so that I could research during the first half of the summer, take a break to go abroad to Italy, and finish the project upon my return. Although the time I spent in Italy was “off the record” because it was not officially part of my Monroe project, I did gain some insight on my project, talking to locals and my professors about some questions I had and asking their opinions. Perhaps because I spent the majority of time in Perugia, where I lived for a month, which is in central Italy, part of Italy’s political so called “red belt,” the locals I talked to were very critical of Berlusconi. They believed that Berlusconi was somehow controlling the minds of the electorate through his media. In my research, I was not able to find significant evidence to support this hunch (it would be difficult to document and prove such a hypothesis), and instead I focused on trying to view Berlusconi objectively, trying to imagine why I might want to vote for him rather than focusing on all the reasons I would not vote for him. What I found was surprising: Berlusconi actually behaves as much like a politician as any other; his media mogul status is like a shadow, constantly present but sometimes unnoticed or unexplained in the way his personal beliefs/interests/experiences affect his governance. I concluded that there are a number of legitimately good reasons for voters to find Berlusconi appealing. In fact, Italian voters seem particularly immune to his personal faults 9at least his supporters do), but not because they are ignorant, rather because of their cultural predisposition to view certain trangressions as more acceptable than others. While Italians are very sensitive to corruption after the Tangentopoli scandal of 1992, for instance, they are also predisposed to brush off such corruption as expected. In other words, many Italians are cynical of their own cultural history, which naturally alters how they view their cultural present. While I still believe that Berlusconi’s conflict of interests is dangerous for Italy, I can now understand that, contrary to my expectations, while Berlusconi is certainly unconventional, he is also a legitimate leader.