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Beppe Grillo attacks September 21, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, internet, italian blogs, news, politics.

Since everybody seems to have an opinion about Beppe Grillo these days, I cannot subtract myself from joining the crowd.  So here are some thoughts, which I put together after seeing on public italian TV a talk-show,  “Annozero”. Annozero is anchored by Michele Santoro (see picture below), formerly one of those journalists and comedians who Berlusconi fired from public television with his famous “bulgarian edict”, and who has now returned to his original job after winning a lawsuit against his employer. Yesterday Santoro broadcast parts of the show Grillo organized in Piazza Maggiore, in the heart of Bologna, on September 8th – the “Vaffa-day” -, and discussed the event and the ensuing reactions in the italian political arena.

If you do not have an idea of what I am talking about, let me set the stage by telling you who Beppe Grillo is. Beppe is an italian comedian who once used to base many of his comical jokes on italian politicians and their misdemeanors. He was banned from television a long time ago, after his satire bit the flesh of the Socialist party led by the late Bettino Craxi (on the right in the picture below with his longtime friend Silvio Berlusconi), then Prime Minister, in one of his television shows. The pun was something like this:

Craxi and Martelli – his protege’ – are in China for a visit. Martelli asks his master in disbelief: “So here everybody’s a socialist? But then whom can they steal money from?“.

Despite the ban by Craxi and his socialist longa manus, Grillo continued to work as a comedian, adding to the focus on corrupt politicians other themes like civil battles against pollution, exploitation of the workforce, the corrupt financiary system and its frauds, and similar issues.

Then, a few years ago Beppe opened a blog. It was at once a huge success, and the site is now visited more than a million times per month (according to www.technorati.com the site is the 12th blog worldwide). 

One of the battles Grillo has been fighting most ardently is directed against politicians and the system of parties in Italy – which after 1992 and the resulting scandals dubbed “Tangentopoli” (bribery town) have not really changed for better. He spotted 25 members of the italian parliament who have been sentenced for misdemeanors or crimes, and still sit there and collect a hefty paycheck at the end of the month. Grillo proposes a law which would

  1. prevent any citizen found guilty by a court of law to sit in the parliament;
  2. prevent members of the parliament from being elected more than twice;
  3. enforce that candidates to the parliament are chosen directly by the citizens with their vote, as opposed to today’s practice of being determined by party leaders.

Beppe proceeded to organize a “V-day” on September 8th, when events were scheduled in gatherings throughout Italy to collect signatures (50,000 are needed to propose a law to the parliament). He held a show in Bologna, and 300,000 signatures were actually collected – not more, for lack of forms.

By the way, the meaning of “V-day” is “vaffanculo-day”, where vaffanculo is a quite common vulgar exclamation one directs to anybody who pisses one off. Literally, “vaffanculo” is an invitation to sodomy: “go f*** in the ***”, sometimes followed by a suggestion on who should be the recipient of the courtesy. Quite insulting, but Italy is a country where the widespread use of trivialities has strongly reduced their effect: as an example, you can easily hear that very word spelled out from a driver to a police agent who stops the car in the traffic, without the offender being dragged to jail in handcuffs. And recently, in fact, a court of law has determined that the word “vaffanculo” is usable without fear of being sued.

The aftermath of the V-day in these past two weeks has been a huge debate. Most politicians and party leaders were wary of directly attacking the comedian, fearing that their declarations would backfire negatively in their public image, and they responded by claiming Grillo’s attacks were mostly directed against their opponents. Instead, a large troop of journalists was sent forward to engage battle. Grillo was accused by the press of preparing a descent in the arena with a political movement, despite his repeated confirmation of his loathe for the current system and the will to stay where he is. He was also accused of insulting the memory of Marco Biagi, an economist who helped write a controversial law on job regulations, who was killed by red brigatists in 2002 – but Grillo had never actually attacked directly Biagi, although he had strongly criticized the outcome of the law.  Grillo answered the accusation with several resounding “vaffanculo”, and was not deterred.

Nothing too upsetting. Lately, however, the debate has turned bad. Mauro Mazza, the director of the public TV channel “RAI 2”, went on air during lunchtime news with the following message:

“We heard him even now, he proceeds with insults, heavy accusations, bad words. It is the Beppe Grillo phenomenon, started not by accident with a colossal ‘f*** ***’ sent to several recipients. Many have talked of neo-qualunquism, maybe even to exorcise the danger. But what would happen if one day, out of the blue, a madman, a deranged person, heard those accusations against Jack or Jane and suddenly, on a bad day, pulled the trigger ? Once in Italy there were those so-called “bad masters” who pointed as an enemy to a Police inspector, a reporter, a judge, and it happened, unfortunately, that somebody, crazy or not, went and pulled the trigger, and sometimes killed. Nowadays we do not have any more, fortunately, good or bad masters. We have evidently some sorcerer’s apprentice, though. History -it is said- is once tragic, but when it repeats itself it becomes a farce. But what would happen if there was a reversed path, from farce to tragedy? What would happen if one morning, a bad morning, somebody heard these insults, these bad words against Jack or Jane, suddenly pulled the trigger ?”

Original version:

“Lo abbiamo sentito anche adesso, va avanti a colpi di insulti, di accuse pesantissime, di male parole. E’ il fenomeno Beppe Grillo, non a caso nato con un colossale ‘vaffa’ indirizzato con più destinazioni, con più destinatari. Molti hanno parlato di neoqualunquismo, forse anche per provare a esorcizzare il pericolo.
Ma cosa accadrebbe se un giorno all’improvviso, un pazzo, uno squilibrato, ascoltate quelle accuse contro Tizio o Caio all’improvviso, un brutto mattino premesse il grilletto? Una volta in Italia c’erano i cosiddetti ‘cattivi maestri’ che additavano come nemico un commissario di Polizia, un giornalista, un magistrato e accadeva, purtroppo, che qualcuno pazzo o meno andasse, premesse il grilletto e qualche volta uccidesse. Oggi non abbiamo più, per fortuna, maestri cattivi né buoni.
Abbiamo qualche apprendista stregone, evidentemente. La Storia – si dice – una volta tragica quando concede repliche diventa una farsa. Ma cosa accadrebbe se ci fosse un percorso inverso, dalla farsa alla tragedia?
Cosa accadrebbe se un mattino, un brutto mattino, qualcuno, ascoltati quegli insulti, quelle male parole contro Tizio o contro Caio, premesse un grilletto all’improvviso?”

I think this is way over the top. The director of a public network using prime time on the daily news to accuse a comedian of prodding criminal acts is covering himself of ridicule, in my humble opinion. I am not denying that he might, in some universe, turn out one day to have actually been a prophet: but unless Grillo says “that person should be shot in the butt”, you cannot denounce him of instigating a terrorist act. 

The funniest thing, to me, is the reaction of Grillo to the intervention of Mazza. He reacted by saying “maybe one day somebody will, in fact, shoot Mazza in the butt”. It takes some sang froid, but I guess Mazza got what he aimed for.   


1. jeff - September 21, 2007

Hi Tommaso.
I actually kind of like Grillo. He is strikes a “right” chord. But I do think he has not yet found the correct target. To go off and accuse the political caste for Italy’s problems is falling short. He should target the italian people!

2. dorigo - September 21, 2007

I do like him too Jeff, although indeed, some of his battles are a bit populist and right-wingish. The one agains the “indulto”, for instance: he pulled out of the hat the son of two victims of a killer who had benefited of that law, and used him in a really annoying way. What was Grillo’s recipe to solve the problem of overpopulated jails, which resembled sudamerican ones ? He wouldn’t say.

But I do agree that italian politicians are no worse than the rest of our compatriots. Only, we expect them to be of higher moral standards because of their responsibility. Or maybe we are just dreamers…


3. Massimiliano - September 22, 2007

Jeff, Grillo is actually targeting his work on italian people and he does it creating different ways of aggregations: the V-day-like meetings, the action groups (“meetup groups”) and now promoting civic lists (is it a right translation? uhmmmm).
About the Mazza thing, I find really disturbing and symptomatic the attempt to associate the words “Grillo” and “trigger” (in italian is “grilletto”) with a bad profile (pseudo) subliminal technique. In fact this is not a rhetorical device, as the speaker seems to avoid to put the relationship into evidence. Again another signal of bad use of TV in italy…

4. Louise - September 22, 2007

I appreciate your blogging about controversial issues. In the past week mentioning anti-Semitism or Iran has drawn comments like “absolutely false” or completely nutso.” Someone has to stand up for their beliefs.

5. Amara - September 22, 2007

I looked up the meaning of “vaffanculo” when Grillo first coined the word for his big day, but I don’t think I heard it in real time and space with my own ears until today, when I had the pleasure of hearing that word (“vaffanculo”), more than once, and with color and expression (!) at my work place. I’m pretty sure that I would have understood the gist, even if I didn’t know the meaning. 🙂

It’s funny how our ears are culturally trained. A couple of years ago an Italian who had long conversations with me, and in English, used ‘fuck’ in his casual speaking once every few sentences, because he thought it gave his sentences more emphasis. It was a jarring experience to my own ears to hear him speaking, but to him, it was just a word.

But I do agree that italian politicians are no worse than the rest of our compatriots.

I guess the best-seller ‘Caste’ is not translated in English yet, but this book would argue that they are…

And I think that Grillo has a grass-roots democracy movement going, that would make the Greeks _proud_! 🙂

6. carlbrannen - September 22, 2007

If Italy had 1.5 fire arms per capita, they’d probably have a higher murder rate, but they’d use nicer language.

7. Amara - September 22, 2007

Carl: I don’t think so. In this culture, the emotions pass through like the wind, then they are hugging and kissing two minutes later. Sometimes the drama is just a show. And road rage doesn’t exist here.

8. Thomas Larsson - September 22, 2007

To someone with a rudimentary understanding of Italian, it sounds like a literal translation would be “go do rectum”?

9. dorigo - September 22, 2007

Hi Massimiliano,

yes, I think the association may be thought to have that intent: “Grillo” -> “grilletto”. But I found more disturbing the use of public television for an ad-hominem attack by the director of the network.

Hello Louise,

well, italian politics is not a topic of worldwide interest, but I do blog about it every now and then, when I believe what happens here should be interesting to everybody, because of the generality of the issues.

Amara, I understand your jarring with the common use of the word “f***”. Unfortunately, it is quite common for italians to find in it a translation of their frequent use of “c****” (the male genital organ) in their mother tongue. For instance, “e che c****” is best translated as “what the f***”. Since in Italy nobody frowns at the use of “c****” any more (except in formal occasions), it is hard to resist the temptation to replace it with that 4-letter word. However, the results are awkward indeed.

Carl, that is funny. Amara’s objection only partly applies: in Italy the need of carrying guns is not felt, because of the different culture – so if you do not change the culture you wouldn’t be able to get 1.5 guns per capita.

Thomas, almost. Literally the V-word in italian means “go f*** in the ***”. It is a contraption: vaffanc*** –> va a fare in c*** , where “fare” is indeed “f***” here.

Cheers all,

10. Amara - September 22, 2007

Tommaso, there is a particular strong gesture that has the same meaning. I’ve seen fights begin when one uses that gesture (and not necessarily limited to men!). But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gesture AND heard the word at the same time. I can imagine the fireworks! But does it ever happen?

11. dorigo - September 22, 2007

Hmmm, no, as far as I recall I never saw the word spelt while the gesture was being performed. The former has disconnected from its literal meaning, while the latter does still have some evocative charge. Vaff* can be a sign of frustration, of despair, of impotence, and thus being a declaration of one’s intent to “call the whole thing off”, rather than a wish or an order to perform something specific imparted to others. Vaff* shows one’s decision to cut the discussion, to stop interacting with a person. It has, so to speak, more an introspective meaning than an offending one.

Besides, don’t forget that italian males are all sexists 😉 : if one is pissed off by another, he will say “vaffanc.”, but he will not actually hope that the act is carried out: usually, italian men rather would fancy performing that sexual act, so you can’t really be serious if you wish that to your enemy.



12. jeff - September 22, 2007

Dear Massimiliano!
When I say “target” the italian I fear you do not know what I mean. I think Grillo should say “va fan culo” to italians:
– to italians that keep their own homes clean but throw trash everywhere else, VA FAN CULO;
– for italians that abuse their god damn cell phones, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that drive and speak on their god damn call phones, VA FAN CULO;
– to italian parents that buy god damn cell phone to their small children, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that go dancing only way after midnight and stay up for many hours wasting health, money and frequently their lives and the lives of others, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that make needless noise and confusion, that speak too loud at bars and restaurants, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that drive needlessly fast, pass you on tight streets only to be found a couple hundred meters stopped ahead at a red street light, VA FAN CULO;
– to italian motorcyclists that think they are entitled to break all driving laws and actually feel they are good drivers and are unjustly misunderstood, VA FAN CULO;
– to italian mothers that dress their small daughters like hookers, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that never sit in their assigned places on Eurostar trains, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that speak just to show off their rheotoric but really don’t have anything to say, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that speak, read, think too much about soccer, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that pretend to be more that what they are, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that know how to say many smart quotes in latin or greek, but don’t know how to say anything original, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that suck up to the powerful and stab in the back everyone else, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that spend enormous amounts of money for their looks, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that think they are “hot”, VA FAN CULO;
– to young and not so young italian women that have tatoos on their lower backs, VA FAN CULO;
– to italian women that only wear very low waist pants, VA FAN CULO;
– to young and not so young italian narcisistic men that are worse than than their female counter parts, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that still don’t know a second language, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that read stupid magazines but have never read a novel, VA FAN CULO;
– to italians that think they are special because they come from a country that contributed many times to world heritage but in fact the only thing that is special about them is that they shame Italy, VA FAN CULO!

13. Massimiliano - September 22, 2007

Jeff: hahah! you made it pretty clear! I know: a lot of things, both typical italian and shared with other people.. abroad, can be annoying. In fact there can (there must) be a more.. constructive way to point to these thing (in brackets, a correct spelling would join the three words and use a double”F” instead of just one). In my opinion Grillo does a good work in making some sectors of italian people aware.. some other sector will never be aware… But here we live for good or bad and you can find always a good reason to tell people “V F C” wherever you are in the world.
Changing people’s mind is a veeery long process.

14. Amara - September 23, 2007

Dear Jeff: FWIW, Many of those things are frustrating for other Italians too, in particular those who work abroad for some time, and then return to Italy to build the rest of their life. It takes them years to ‘adjust back’, if ever…

(P.S. I see your point that Grillo would be the best person to say something: it doesn’t work very well for foreigners to comment or criticize, even ‘foreigners’ who have lived and worked for many years in the country and have citizenship.)

15. Massimiliano - September 23, 2007

Amara: yes these things are frustrating also for quite a lot of people living in Italy, moreover some Jeff’s issues can be easily be applied to foreign people… not to talk about foreign people who come to italy thinking that they can do whatever they want as Italy is a kind of “primitive” place… In reality there are at least three very important problems in Italy that make most italian people (sadly) behave like this:
1 – the predominance of TV with alle the well known consequences
2 – being prone to USA culture in the most superficial way (see point 1) or better being dominated by US culture and politics as a consequence of the WW II
3 – the fact that Italy is actually a very young nation, and there are so many different cultures under the name of Italy (thing that even foreigners should learn before judging), so that (here we are in a mined terrain) mafia can be even seen as the rebellion of southern people who was conquered and dominated by people coming from the north with a very different culture and language!

16. Amara - September 23, 2007

Dear Massimiliano:

1 and 2. For some reason, the Italians seemed to have picked up or they like many of the worst traits of American culture(s). I didn’t like those traits while I lived in the US, so why would I like them any better while living in Italy? (And why didn’t they pick up or like the good traits?)

-that TV thing.. I didn’t own a TV for almost 10 years, then bought a used one for the first time (in Italy and in Europe) 3 years ago to help me with language, and then I was sorry I did. I not only considered it a waste, but Berlusconi’s criminal enterprise, as well.

3. Italy is an odd mixture of young and old. Some or many of the one million laws in Italy’s legal system have roots in Roman times (large property owners can tell you) and those laws still apply. And about the mafia: I do know the historical roots and understand what you said too.

17. Amara - September 23, 2007

P.S. I linked to the Freedom House above because the country’s press freedom is considered only ‘partly free’ due to Berlusconi’s (politically supported) domination of the media. For the benefit of the readers.

18. jeff - September 23, 2007

Always accusing someone or something else. SO italian! Do you really think that italians are screwed up because of US culture, Television, Berlusconi? Pathetic! Grow up or va fan culo.

19. dorigo - September 23, 2007

Hey you guys!

I do not think italians are screwed up much more than citizens of other countries! Let me say something I deeply think despite I usually do not disclose: I think Italy is a great country, with a huge potential and a set of misfortunes, but I think it is getting better. Italians are growing up, despite US culture, television, and Berlusconi! 😉


20. Amara - September 23, 2007

I’m confused. I thought I was agreeing with you. Oh well. 🙂

21. Massimiliano - September 23, 2007

Hey I answered to Amara and my answer…. desappeared?!
Jeff: I tried to detect two historical and one “logical” reasons to understand italian culture today… I’m not accusing anybody of course… if any, your “manifesto” in being superficial and uslessly emotional, if you don’t want to go deeper. Of course I agree with several of your accusations, that’s a point of departure.. where then?
Grow? Tell us the direction if you think you see the light! 🙂
Dorigo: sorry, I didn’t wanted (and still don’t’ want) to start a flame!!!!

22. jeff - September 24, 2007

Of course my saying VA FAN CULO is just a sarcastic as Grillo’s. You are of course free to laugh or be offended…. Certainly you mustn’t start thinking that motorcyclists or cellphone abusers are risking any physical harm.

The light? Each person must find his own way. It is part of growing up! But remember, we are all like the moon; i.e. we all have a dark side (Mark Twain). Anyone that thinks that his defects are due to outside forces has started off with a bias that will distort his world view.

I re-read your list of possible “expanations” and I still don’t know which one is the logical one. As for your supposedly deep (not superficial) and non-emotional attempts to find reasons, all I can say is that: 1) they seem to explain everything=explain nothing; 2) it is fashionble to say pseudo-intelligent like that; 3) I don’t know and frankly don’t care if you are emotional or cool when you are content (hmmm) to think that Italy was ruined by US culture, TV and Berlusconi.

23. dorigo - September 24, 2007

Hi all,

just a note to Massimiliano: sometimes my spam filter eats up what gets written in the comments window. It even happens to my own comments! So be careful and copy to the clipboard your text before submitting… Otherwise, if you did not, just email me and I will fish out of the list of spam your comment. Otherwise I do not do it… I receive far too many spam messages every day to be able to look at them!


24. Massimiliano - September 25, 2007

Tommaso: ok, thanks!
Jeff: I think I wasn’t actually very clear.. my… answers, where as general as the “complains”. I don’t want and actually can’t find a reason to each one of your VFC, most of them I even agree with.
And I wasn’t accusing any “outside forces” to cause those “problems” of italian culture, you mention. I was just saying two little things:
1 – ok, I agree with most “complains”, but not all of them are typical of the italian culture… nevertheless I don’t say VFC to french people because I don’t like something, that maybe belongs to italian people too… I would rather say VFC to western culture or to human beings, because some attitudes are so general that I can find them almost everywhere… would that be useful? I don’t think so.. well at least it is funny…
2 – moreover italy has some cultural and historical problems that separate it from most (let’s say) european countries. One of them is the peculiar relationship with US culture in good or bad. I’m not accusing US, I’m just pointing something pretty evident and it has nothing to do with the hostility wavefront against US you can find in some european people after the Iraqi invasion. Really. It is an historical link. Italian are more linked to US culture than to german or french culture! Another problem is that Italy, as I said, is as a united culture a very young country, much much younger than US and Mexico! This means that the differences in culture and behavior between a man from Bolzano and a man from Naples, for example, can be much wider than the difference of culture and behavior between a man from Seattle and a man from Houston.
So, for example Mafia (I know you didn’t talked about it, but you can extend this example to several of your “accusations”) is an italian thing no more than a US thing. You can find Mafia in Torino and Chicago, but Mafia is still a close sicilian thing that come from a peculiar culture and situation that you can’t find only in Sicilia. OK, Sicilia is in Italy, still saying that Mafia is a proper italian thing doesn’t get the real situation, apart from the fact of being a funny reason to say, satirically, VFC to all italians.
I’m not offended of course, I’m just trying to explain what I think. Do you think I misunderstood you?
I stop here, it’s already too long, sorry for that. Thank you for your patience 🙂

25. Vera - October 6, 2007

Dear Jeff, the things you say are frustrating to us Italians too, but I think maybe you should reconsider a bit your opinion. I’m Italian, I’m not stupid and I’m certainly not screwed up, but I don’t know how you understand about our politics and the things that make us as we are. The great problems of our country are the corruption and the briberies of politics who generally come in the parliament only to save themselves for a punishment, the inefficiency of the political class (even the honest one) which is not able to understand the interests and needs of people because they don’t even speak to us.
For exaples, the great majority of the Italians were against the indulto ( a procedure which eliminates a part of the punishment for criminal, and which permitted to many criminlas to return free), but it was nevertheless approved because our parliament’s member Cesare Previti risked to go do jail after corrupting a judge. In Southern Italy we have a lot of smart industry owners who can’t do their work because of the mafia: if they refuse to pay, their activities could be destroyed by mafia, or they will be menaced or even killed, and the State doesn’t protect them that much. So, you see, the fact is that the politicians don’t feel people’s opinion is important: in fact, they condemned Grillo’s proposal for being anti-politic… Yes, many Italians should be sent “a fan culo”, but the problem are not them.

26. dorigo - October 6, 2007

Hi Vera,

by the way, you said you live near Venice: how near ? I live in Venice myself!

Anyway. While I think I agree with you on most counts, let me focus on the one thing I think I disagree with: that is, that a government has to act according to what the majority of the citizens want.

That is very dangerous, in general, because the majority can be steered very easily, as unfortunately we have had to re-learn by the actions of the “psiconano” during the last 15 years.

But it is not just dangerous: it is wrong in my opinion. Sometimes, the government has to do impopular things: these are the tough decisions that are needed to do the good of a country, regardless of polls and irrespective of whether people will like the leaders taking decisions.

In the case of the indulto, believe me, I was really pissed to see Previti and others avoid a well-deserved punishment. But I also happen to know what is the situation in many italian prisons, and the impossibility of keeping a decent level of life inside with the number of inmates.

Was it the right thing to free so many people, among which were quite a few criminals, some of which went directly on to the next crime ? I really do not think it is easy to decide on this, having thought the matter over. I think Italy has to first of all be a decent country. Having decent hospitals and decent prisons is essential for a civil way of life. There was an emergency, and they could not find a better solution. I think Previti was not the main reason for the indulto.

That said, I still like the civil action that is being spurred by Grillo. I think it is a good set of ripples sent through a country too much disconnected from the right way to do politics: by civil action.


27. Luigi - December 16, 2007

I’m a late comer to this forum, but wanted to mention that I started to agree with Jeff’s diatribe until I realized he was ranting against things that have nothing to do with the problem at hand. I agree we need to change at a deep level and take action instead of complaining all the time, but let’s not bitch about petty stuff. I don’t know if you are Brit or Yank, but, are you going to tell me you do not find tons of people like this in other countries? Why then so bitter on italians that behave that way too? If you live in Italy, I’d say it’s time to “take a hike”, because most of this behaviour is not going away.
By the way, I’d love to know how many americans know a second language…
And why are you offended by low waist pants? It offends your puritanical sense of decorum? Or maybe you need to accept yourself and become like one of those “young and not so young italian narcisistic men that are worse than than their female counter parts”.

28. dorigo - December 16, 2007

Hi Luigi,

better late than never… 🙂

Jeff is italian at least as much as he is american. I will ask him to answer you (he is a colleague)…


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