THE BLOG
02/21/2014 09:12 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2014

Italy: The Show Must Go On

I am convinced that behind the decisions of Grillo (suggested by his internet guru Casaleggio) exists a true subversive plan in Italy that could take us to a civil war.

If somebody doubts of what I am saying, just go to Youtube and look: 'Gaia' by Gianroberto Casaleggio. We are in the hands of two crazy people with secret missions. Mussolini' s fascism compared to this was just a joke!

This radical online comment, by some anonymous reader, reveals the fear that commonly generates confrontational extremes in Italian political history.

At this moment, when the Italian government has fallen yet again, the youngest premier ever in Italy and even the EU is about to form a new government. Another online commentator points out that we had eight premiers in the past 20 years, and only two of them were elected by the Italian people.

The Italian electoral system is the major target of the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. The future premier Renzi doesn't like it either, although he and Grillo agree on very little else. Italy has a long history of attempts to game the electoral system: Populist movements, mafia conspiracies, backroom intraparty deals, and maybe electronic "direct democracy" may get a chance.

Even without Berlusconi and his gaudy sex and corruption scandals, the Italian political scene is still a show. The general social climate of the country was obvious at the traditional television fiesta, the 64th San Remo music festival. The usual pop stars, crooners and show girls were elbowed aside by disruptive political banners, while a panoply of good and bad political types crowded together into the first row to seize a chance to be on TV.

On the festival's opening night, two spectators threatened to throw themselves from the top of the stage to their deaths, plummeting right into the audience. They demanded that their letter be read out loud by the host of the show in front of millions of RAI television viewers.

These histrionic suicide threats were intended to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers in Italy -- which they did. This wasn't the first time that desperate workers have threatened suicide during the music show. Italian viewers are a crowd that's highly sensitive to social injustice, enthusiastic members of trade unions and people's movements. Somehow, however, they never form a national government capable of favoring the interests of working people. Why is this, I wonder? Am I missing something?

Many things have changed in Italy since the M5S Five Star Movement unexpectedly became a significant presence in the Italian parliament. The new movement, which organized through weblogs and street rallies, managed to elect large numbers of youthful political amateurs and women. However, electing legislators isn't the same as an ability to rule or manage the state.

Nowadays, Beppe Grillo often disagrees with his own Internet voters, and the elected M5S legislators seem unclear on why they should obey the political advice of a former TV comedian. The M5S relies on electronic Internal polls for its important decisions, which just moves the bitter fighting off the floor of the legislature and into M5S weblog discussions. Some dissidents defect, and some get purged from the movement, so despite its unorthodox methods, the M5S looks almost as Italian as everyone else.

Beppe Grilllo bought a ticket for the San Remo music festival in order to make himself shown. The organizers were mildly alarmed, but Grillo, after all, is an Italian television veteran just like they are. He did make a fuss outside the theater, but it was part of the happening inside the theater. It was worse to see Grillo already violently quarreling with Renzi; Renzi is not even premier yet, and already the atmosphere is toxic with insults and intolerance.

The boundaries around the San Remo music festival no longer exist; politics, music and media are all one Italian reality show, and somehow that show must go on. It's like the collapse in distinction between Internet usage and espionage. Our online lives are screened, spied upon, used if not abused by surveillance marketing and intelligence services. That is our new tool in public power: No one is allowed the luxury of privacy.

But without privacy, no one can be entirely public either. The modern political scene is weirdly personalized, so that Grillo, or Casaleggio, can't simply be political activists and innovators; they have to be fearsome cult gurus. Despite the networks, political life seems more and more irrational and polarized. Dangerous energies are loosed in modern Europe, and the extremes are feeding one another, as communism and fascism once did. The direct democracy advocated by the M5S is a strange and awkward idea, but repressing innovation in Italian politics might lead to something much worse. Italian political effort through the centuries is one incredible saga of attempts to change everything so that nothing ever changes.