The Reading Room

Beppe Grillo’s Blog

An Italian comedian with trademark unruly grey mop of hair and beard is the unlikely internet star getting the web all of a flutter with his distinctive blog, particularly now Italy’s general election is looming at the end of February.

Beppe Grillo is a stand-up comic with a political edge who satirises the Italian establishment and its pervasive corruption, whose outspoken attitude has seen him inevitably drawn to forms of political activism and protest, an Italian equivalent of Mark Thomas, if you like.

His barbed insights and digs at the establishment saw him fall foul of Italy’s state owned television networks, and having been a small screen fixture in the ’80s, he found it increasingly hard to get telly gigs in the ’90s, to the point where he is now verboten on TV and these days either appears live on stage in Italian theatres or abroad, where his views are more welcome and acceptable.

Naturally for someone whose opinionated themes include global energy use, political and corporate corruption, finance, battles over freedom of speech, child labour, globalisation and technology, latterly becoming a champion of the liberating force of Wikipedia, a blog which gives him the freedom to riff and rant to his heart’s content while reaching a wide audience, is now one of his signature products.

He’s also created and nurtured a young political movement called Five Star – but don’t expect them to get up and dance to System Addict or All Fall Down – as these fresh faced idealists are all about standing in local elections and promoting causes at a neighbourhood level, such as environmentally friendly, anti-consumerist and pro-education policies. He’s had success too in mobilising up to 2 million people at V Day rallies calling for those with criminal convictions to be ejected from Parliament and taking on big business, from banks to telcos, in a long-running anti-corruption drive.

Beppe Grillo’s Blog, (dressing it up with any fancy titles is not for him – it simply does what it says on the tin, allowing him to tilt at whatever gets his goat and he thinks you should be thinking about) where he continues to rail against a variety of inequities, has been ranked as “seventh in the web world” by Forbes and number one in Time’s first annual blog index of 2008.

Typical fare, when not having a pop at mainstream Italian politicians, financial institutions or particular corporations, is a piece which appears this week under the headline Cannibal Work: “There’ll be a reason why the Bushmen and the Iroquois worked one hour a day to feed themselves and today we work 8 to 10 hours a day for 40 years until we are at the threshold of death, just to survive. Work is devouring us. What has changed for the worse since then? What is the meaning of the word “work”? What’s the use of an increase in work? To consume our existence in a mine or in a tiny office until we are burned out, going out like a candle? To buy useless goods to grow the GDP? To accumulate material wealth that won’t follow us into the afterlife? To pay taxes to a hypertrophic State? When did this madness begin?”

Righteous, witty, topical, Beppe will doubtless continue to be a thorn in the side of corrupt establishment figures and a counter-cultural hero, talisman and inspiration to millions of political idealists in Italy and abroad, in no small part due to the combined power of the written word, incendiary ideas and the internet.

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