Populism, mass media, and politainment: from Berlusconi to Trump

March 8, 2024

Populism and mass media share a particularly close bond. This is largely because populism adeptly taps into the attention-driven dynamics of the media, both offline and online, including social platforms. We've grown accustomed to seeing populist politicians present themselves on internet blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. However, the alliance between populism and mass media predates the internet era. For figures like Perón and Vargas, radio was the primary medium.

Television further mainstreamed populism, emphasizing the personal portrayal of the politician. Silvio Berlusconi built his political career on TV, leveraging his media empire. This gave rise to "hybrid" formats where fiction blends with reality, politics meets entertainment, and the lines between the personal and the political blur. Politics increasingly merged with mass media entertainment, giving birth to "politainment." Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump are the most notable examples. Understanding the interplay between media, politainment, and populism helps explain why populism remains an enduring presence on the political stage.

Paula Diehl is a professor specializing in Political Theory, History of Ideas, and Political Culture. She is the founding director of the International Network for Populism Research at Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel. Her research focuses on democratic theory, political culture, the interplay between media and politics, and the political significance of imagery and performances. Paula Diehl has held guest professorships at institutions including Sciences Po, Maison des Sciences de l‘Homme and École des Hautes Études in Paris, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Bologna. Her most recent publication is Diehl/Bargetz (Hg.): The Complexity of Populism, Routledge 2023.


From 5.30 pm | Admission and Get-Together

6.30 pm – 6.40 pm | Welcome by Korbinian Kohler

6.40 pm – 7 pm | Introduction by Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Vossenkuhl

7 pm – 7.45 pm | Keynote Speech by Guest Speaker

7.45 pm – 8.15 pm | Discussion

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