Voice of the People

Italy has come here, but Israel is not really Italy. In Israel it is dangerous to live someone else's life.

Italy is not Libya, despite the two countries' shared history of colonialism. In Italy, people are not massacred; instead, individuals' personalities are rubbed out. The butcher from Milan has turned his country into one massive meat market, grandstanding carnal lust.

Last week, a judge sent Italy's leader to court: The old man is accused of paying for prostitution with a minor and of exploiting his authority as prime minister. The trial will begin in another month. This is not the first time Silvio Berlusconi has been implicated in criminal activity. Nor is it the first time his clever lawyers have whisked him out of harm's way, by the skin of his dentures.

Yet it is far from clear that he will escape conviction in the court of public opinion. This month, half a million men and women filled Italy's squares, demonstrating out of disgust. Increasing numbers of Italians look in the country's mirror and recoil at the national reflection, the image their prime minister continues to create for the general public.

How a conceited peacock like Berlusconi managed to assume power in a developed country like Italy is hard to grasp. He has governed the country as an incorrigible bully, on and off over the last 17 years. Similarly difficult to understand is Italy's penchant for electing sordid characters to the premiership, from Giulio Andreotti, who cooperated with the mafia, to Bettino Craxi, who fled into exile before being imprisoned. Yet never before has the country brought to power a character like Berlusconi: Under his rule, Italian culture has transmogrified into one big strip club.

Perhaps the transformation can be explained by the fact that Berlusconi is not just a prime minister, but also a media and business power-broker, Italy's wealthiest man. Subjects have a habit of believing that anyone who succeeded in their private life will also know how to make the state succeed. Such faith has never been confirmed, yet it still holds tight - and not only in Italy. And until it is proven or disproven, one can continue to enjoy the imaginary good life.

In Rome today, people behave as the Romans of yore: There are bread and circuses founded on the principle of stupefy and rule. Those who have money have power; and they have managed to update the notion of the "opium of the masses," knowing today's opium is not exactly the religion of the Vatican. According to the latest version, the voice of the people emanates from strip clubs, and the source of sovereignty is carnal lust. Meanwhile, the ruling Caesar of this empire of the senses feels free to indulge in his sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic desires.

Berlusconi may not live here, but Berlusconism certainly runs rampant. In Israel we, too, have our brains fried by TV programs about cooking and food; we are imprisoned on the "Big Brother" animal farm; we are sent to deserted islands to devolve toward carnal and cannibal periods of human development. The local landscape is filled with soccer stars and sexy starlets and fashion models; celebs who rise and fall in a second; all these figures are our role models, and alongside them we are all "The Biggest Loser," with our weight constantly on our minds.

Any time you turn on a TV set, a mountain of silicone is implanted on the screen. Science education will have to wait for the next reform bill, as will values education. When reality shows conquer the small screen, there is no time for actual reality. Our senses are dulled, our minds erode and we all drift off to sleep.

Why should we stand up against lewd and scornful behavior, when we are fully supplied with cheap thrills: Easy stimulation is always easier to take on than real challenges. Why worry about anything real, when our anxiety revolves around the urgent question of which contestant will be eliminated from a TV show. We have no strength left to go out and demonstrate against the rough side of reality; and the alliance between capital and power is not really interested in us living in the real world.

Italy has come here, but Israel is not really Italy. In Israel it is dangerous to live someone else's life.