A stylized, scattershot inquiry into Italy’s TV-dominated culture, Videocracy is a portrait of 21st-century media fascism, right down to the country’s renowned small-screen agent Lele Mora espousing his fondness for Mussolini and then playing a clip of the dictator’s hymns on his cellphone, swastika imagery included. Writer-director Erik Gandini’s documentary operates from the thesis that President Silvio Berlusconi, who controls 90 percent of the country’s broadcast media, has created a corrosive Fourth Reich culture that champions fame as the ultimate ideal. With television dominated by reality shows that offer average citizens a shot at superstardom, Italy is a society in thrall to the spotlight. It’s a place where every street corner has a guy like Ricky, a mechanic who aspires to be a combination of Ricky Martin and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and every shopping mall features hordes of young women demeaning themselves by posing and shaking their asses in the hopes of being a TV talk show host assistant known as a “veline.”
Gandini’s film has an unwieldy free-form structure that occasionally mucks up its central line of reasoning, and though his snapshots of everyday citizens infatuated with the boob tube can be mildly compelling, the director often fails to create a convincing sense that his selected examples are representative of the population at large. Nonetheless, via TV-clip imagery and expressionistic sequences set to muffled, disorienting sound design, he smartly traces a connection between Berlusconi’s own cult-of-personality and his TV stations’ T&A-drenched hits.
Gandini argues that Berlusconi’s unflappable smile and boys-just-wanna-have-fun persona have not only made him a beloved icon, but are in fact qualities inherent in his networks’ programs, whose voluptuous semi-nude women, bright colors, and obsession with wealth and acclaim are direct reflections of the mogul-president. A latter segment on paparazzi-turned-celeb Fabrizio Corona, a bad-boy narcissist who fancies himself Scarface, unduly hammers home the insidiousness of Italy’s hunger for stardom. Nonetheless, as in a stinging final juxtaposition of fame-seeking dancing women and the cheerful prez, Videocracy ominously suggests Italian TV as subliminal propaganda for its egomaniacal leader’s consuming cultural-political agenda.