July 27, 2009
The Berlusconi Sex Tapes, and the Scandal that isn’t.
There’s something a little odd going on with these sound tapes of Silvio Berlusconi and the “escort” that have been popping up in the Italian media. The oddity being that while the escort herself seems to be incensed with the way she’s been treated by the prime minister (and there are a few others getting suitably irate as well for the usual reasons of sexual politics), the general public appears to be, well, not caring about it all very much at all. So a septagenarian soon to be divorced billionaire, an Italian one at that, has been having sex with a woman who has sex with rich men as a profession? And? seems to be the general reaction.
There’s an element of a (possibly apocryphal) story about Mike Bloomberg to all of this. He was once being interviewed, and it was pointed out that he was known as something of a serial dater, to which the response was, “I’m a single billionaire in Manhattan. What do you expect me to be doing?” An answer that has the merit of simplicity.
The background to the stories about Silvio Berlusconi currently running is simply that he’s always been known to have an eye for the ladies. Embarrassingly so in fact, to the point that his wife recently said she’d had enough of it and would be seeking a divorce. Fair enough. And then there was a kerfluffle about his hosting a house party at which the Czech Prime Minister was photographed naked around the pool with some amazingly lightly clothed young women and … well, it didn’t do the Czech much good politically, but didn’t seem to harm Silvio all that much. His alliance did very well in the elections to the European Parliament all the same.
These latest stories though would originally strike you as something of a different stripe. Patrizia D’Addario has come forward stating that she is a) a paid professional, an escort girl, b) someone who has had sex with Silvio Berlusconi recently, and c) has audio recordings (from her mobile phone) of some of the time surrounding such an assignation.
All of this would, of course, be enough to sink the career of any American politician, as Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford have demonstrated: one with hookers and another simply with somone who was not his wife. Even Bill Clinton wouldn’t have survived having been recorded with a professional lady of the night. However, this just doesn’t seem to be happening with Berlusconi, and I think there’s two reasons for it. The first is that this is Italy, but I don’t think that’s the major point.
The second, and more important to my mind, is the detail of what is coming out of the tapes. Not the point about her being a pro or that Silvio slept with her (this hasn’t been specifically denied as of yet, so we might assume that he actually did), rather, that he didn’t in fact pay her. Ms. D’Addario is heard, on one tape, complaining to her contact (I’m not sure we use the word “pimp” at this level of the oldest profession, do we?) that she had not in fact been paid by Berlusconi. She’d been given some little gift, a turtle of some kind—maybe a little cheap as compared to the Cartier watches of old, but not quite a cash transaction. The contact did, indeed, pay her to be at the party which started it all but again, that’s not the Prime Minister paying out for sex, that’s a courtier trying to impress the boss.
Further, the gift which Berlusconi did promise her was help with the details and intricacies of a failed planning permission: help which she now complains she has not received. It’s some years since I lived in Italy (now preferring Portugal), but I doubt very much that anyone at all in the Latin world is going to be shocked by a man in power offering to use that power in order to gain access to some horizontal tango time. Nor, to be truthful, that having done that tango that the offer becomes a tad difficult to pin down.
There is also, of course, the possibility that this is going to do Berlusconi a lot more good than any harm that might come from it. The man is in his 70s after all, and in two different recordings, Ms. D’Addario makes comment upon his performance in bed. Both times favourably: first, mentioning to her contact that they “did it all night” and secondly, more directly to Silvio (or rather, the voice which is alleged to be Silvio) that she had enjoyed herself tremendously and even had an orgasm—something which she hads”t enoyed since her boyfriend departed some months previously. In a Latin country, it just isn’t demeaning for a man in his 70s to be accused of actually pleasuring, not just having sex with, a professional, nor is it regarded as reputation destroying that he has the sexual energy of a man decades younger.
We British used to have such a robust attitude, too: in the 1860s, Disraeli was urged to tell the populace that Palmerston, then into his 80s, had fathered an illegitimate child upon a low-born constituent. With an election looming, Dizzy demurred, claiming, “If we do, the old man will win in a landslide.”
The interesting question in Italian politics now is: Will modern day prudery gain the upper hand or will the more robust attitude to the intermingling of sex, power, and money win out?
If Ms. D’Addario were to reveal that she were pregnant by the Prime Minister, then I think his continued re-election would be assured.
Image: Olycom SPA / Rx Features