Which dictator is good

Mussoloni "Superstar" - the power of images

Changing self-image

The media staging of Mussolini is one of the special features of the fascist dictatorship in Italy. Mussolini used this specifically to secure his rule and thus established the leader myth.

From the beginning he controlled his external image, the "Duce" left nothing to chance. Pictures he didn't like were simply not published. As required, Mussolini adapted his external image to the respective situation and so it is not surprising that different images of the "Duce" have been propagated in the more than 20 years of dictatorship.

Before he came to power, Mussolini relied primarily on the "general manner". Many pictures show him in the typical military uniform of the "black shirts", his fascist fighting leagues. With his head held high he looks proudly and heroically at his viewer from the cardboard and with this attitude proclaims the imperial claims of the new, fascist Italy.

After the "March on Rome" in 1922, Mussolini changed his tactics. What is needed now is the image of the loyal statesman. With the image of the normal politician, Mussolini wanted to reassure his conservative allies and signal confidence abroad.

Pictures from this time show him working at his desk, in tailcoat or in monarchically inspired uniforms. Scenes that show Mussolini as a loving family man are also popular at this time.

In the 1920s, when Mussolini was still in the prime of his manhood and youth, he also consciously used his own body, in stark contrast to Hitler later. Pictures of Mussolini with a bare upper body, on the Adriatic beach as a swimmer or while skiing are not uncommon. He aimed at a masculine form of self-expression. That was of course not without problems, because a Mussolini got older too.

In the 1930s and especially at the beginning of the war in 1939, the spread of Mussolini's likeness as a military leader increased again. From this time there are almost only photos of the "Duce" in uniform. In addition to photos, the film in particular plays a major role in spreading the "Mussolini myth".

Propaganda on the screen - the "Istituto Luce"

"Mussolini - Superstar" - this dream came true for the "Duce" primarily through the establishment of the new film institute. In 1925 the newly minted dictator took over the "Istituto Luce" in Rome. It was founded in 1924 by the journalist Luciano De Feo with the aim of producing information films for his compatriots.

With his film projects, he wanted to help the poor south participate in educational initiatives and to help curb illiteracy in Italy. But the oldest public cinema and film institute in the world was misappropriated just a year later.

Equipped with the most modern film technology, Mussolini had a gigantic propaganda machine at his disposal with the new "Istituto Luce". With the help of the film, the fascist propaganda could now be carried into the remote corners of poor southern Italy - even if the films were supposed to officially serve the cultural upbringing and education of the Italians.

From 1927 Mussolini ordered that a kind of Italian "Tagesschau", the "Giornale Luce", should be shown before every film. In this way, Mussolini could be sure that most Italians were informed of the latest political developments - in his own interest, of course.

In the mid-1930s, the "Istituto Luce" began producing some controversial films such as "Scipio, the African" by Carmine Gallone, which can also be seen as a justification for Mussolini's war in Ethiopia.

A postcard from the "Duce"

Another popular means of spreading the "Duce Myth" was postcards. The postcards were produced and distributed by private manufacturers. The demand from the Italians was enormous - the cards were printed in the millions. Many wanted the likeness of the "Duce" at least as a postcard on their bedside table.

Mussolini watched over the choice of motifs as well as the distribution of photos. The postcards showed the "Duce" as a military leader, with children, but also often as a modernizer of Italy. He was energetic as a harvest helper in the fields. The postcards showing Mussolini with farmers were meant to convey that he had a big heart for the needs of the common people.

Other motifs show him with a pickaxe while redeveloping city districts or as a simple worker draining the Pontine Marshes. The drainage of the malaria-infested swamps around Rome was an important propaganda topic in the Mussolini era. In contrast to Hitler, of whom there are mainly military portraits, Mussolini was much closer to the people.

Mussolini: womanizer and macho

Mussolini also showed his "closeness to the people" with women. He used the female gender for his self-presentation. Although there are seldom pictures of his family and especially of his wife Rachele, the word-of-mouth propaganda still worked flawlessly. Most Italians knew about their leader that he had numerous affairs.

Mussolini embodied the typical cliché of the macho Italian. And that impressed - not just the men. Today it is an open secret that Mussolini often received female admirers in his palace in the Piazza Venezia in Rome for a "shepherd's hour".

But he also had long love affairs. In addition to the Jewish intellectual Margherita Sarfatti, who remained loyal to Mussolini until the 1930s, his most important lover was Claretta Petacci. She even voluntarily followed the "Duce" to her death in 1945.

The myth lives on

The "Duce" is dead - but his myth still lives on in the hearts of some Italians. Every year several thousand right-wing extremists make a pilgrimage to Mussolini's birthplace near Bologna.

In Predappio, the yesterday not only visit the dictator's crypt, but also stock up on Mussolini devotional items in the small town's souvenir shops. From Mussolini shampoo, champagne and calendars to "Duce busts", everything is available here.

The sale of fascist souvenirs and symbols is officially banned in Italy too, but the law enforcement officers are not that careful. Especially since the business with fascism washes good money into the coffers of Predappio.

But not all residents support the Mussolini cult and so there are now projects that deal critically with the era of fascism. An example: the house where Mussolini was born, with its changing exhibitions.

Author: Sandra Kampmann

Status: 11/30/2017, 11:13 am