Monday, September 17, 2007

Who's afraid of the big, bad Beppe?

I'm talking about Beppe Grillo.

So, who's afraid of this man? Who, far from reminding me of a big bad wolf reminds me of a big gruff-but-cuddly teddy bear. Apparently, there are one hell of a lot of people in Italy who are shaking in their expensive shoes at his success on the eighth of this month.

Take Eugenio Scalfari. Please. He is the octogenarian founder of the Rome-based La Repubblica, a left-of-center daily, and one of the best and best-known journalists in Italy. He starts his recent editorial by saying that he has prudently waited to assess this phenom in order to get it right. Sure, Eugenio. He and almost all of his brethren in the Italian traditional media were purposely ignoring the blog-based Grillo Power hoping it would go away. And when it didn't and they knew their credibility (such as it is) was on the line, they decided to acknowledge the fait accompli.

So. Scalfari calls his editorial "Grillo's barbaric invasion." The Italians are not known for understatement. The gist of his article is that this is nothing new, Italians have always gone in for rabble-rousers and demagogues, and he barely stops short of invoking the M-word (you know, the well-known dictator whose bestest friend was an Austrian dictator), but that's what he's getting at. I personally can't think of any Italian who's less like Mussolini than Beppe Grillo. Maybe Saint Francis.

Scalfari goes on to tell us that what Italians still have to learn is to be part of a society as a whole and not in it for themselves selfishly, or through extended selfishness (the family, the political party). Actually, I think this is precisely what Grillo and his hundreds of thousands of followers are aiming at. In other words, it is Scalfari himself who belongs to the past, and who just doesn't get it.

Not that I, or anyone else, knows where the Cricket is going. I just know that this is something that is truly new, and time will tell.