International Lampoon

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

OPRAH WOULD HAVE BEEN GALLED BY THE INSENSITMTY OF IT all. Certainly, the Italian chapter of the Michael Jackson fan club was outraged. Here, during the four annual Carnevale parades last month in the Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio, the King of Pop was being royally lampooned by way of a 12-foot-wide, 21-foot-high caricature of his head titled, in English translation, "You Are Beautiful." One of 15 large floats among many in the parade, the papier-mâché parody featured a ghostly white face, a chin that might send Kirk Douglas into cleft envy and a nose that appeared to have been run through a giant pencil sharpener. Float designer Gionata Francesconi, 32, says he intentionally left up the scaffolding "to symbolize Michael's continual reconstruction. He's an example of the vain efforts people will go to to become perfect."

While hundreds of thousands of spectators along the parade route applauded and laughed—the parade traditionally pokes fun at Italian politicians and showbiz types—some were not amused, such as a handful of members of Italy's 1,500-strong Michael Jackson fan club. As "You Are Beautiful" swept by, the Jackson faithful whistled, hooted and even wept. "It looks awful," said a distraught Lidia Luongo, 18. "I apologize for my countrymen. I hope Michael doesn't cancel his next Italian tour."

Francesconi shares that hope. His dissing, he insists, is basically affectionate. "I think Michael Jackson is great, fantastic, a real animal of the stage," he says. In fact, Francesconi is even willing to make a peace offering of sorts. "If Michael wants the head for his next video," he offers, "I'll give it to him for free."

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