Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What evil in the world does one Frenchman decry? "One of the most offensive slurs ever used in the French-bashing orgy that started in 2003"

Bear with me: I wasn't expecting to write about SuperFrenchy again soon. (Twice in two weeks ought to be enough, I figure, for, say, a three-month period.) However, he is back with his bogus (or at least overstated) argument about Matt Groening's “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. So below — below the following paragraph — is my original response to his (next-to-)latest rant nine months ago. It is, incidentally (actually, not incidentally), the post that apparently broke the camel's back and got No Pasarán banned from his site.

(Notice how, at every point of his blog, the man who (just incidentally) works or worked for the French government comes out sputtering against the Simpsons' audacity to mock the French, (the alleged) "spit[ting] on us and on our ancestors’ graves", and any criticism whatsoever of France because of a dozen dead troops in Afghanistan (and all honor to them and to all their dead comrades, whatever their nationality), but how he has (and how those who think like him have) no compunction — none whatsoever — about 1) using the Simpsons to ridicule Americans or 2) caricaturing and demonizing American soldiers' effort in World War II or 3) using a tongue-in-cheek title for the war in Iraq [in his favor, he does get positive points for not retreading the most inane statistics on Iraq's civilian deaths] or, indeed, 4) caricaturing or mocking every war ever fought by the United States or 5) just making inane comments that supposedly prove the superiority of Europe and its society.)

Without further ado, here is my original response.
I don't "disagree" with SuperFrenchie. What I don't like are his double standards.

"Me, I think that what’s insulting is the expression [cheese-eating surrender monkies] in the first place." Really, SuperFrenchie? Is that so? Well, I have lived in France for over 10 years, and I don't know how many times I have heard such charming expressions as "Les Américains, c'est de la merde!" (The day before yesterday encore, at a café near le Parc Monceau, it was "Are you American? (pause) You should be ashamed of yourself.")

But what is really significant is that when you hear such comments, whether in leftist, in rightist, or in centrist circles, is how regularly everybody else seems to take such an ugly attitude as "normal"; i.e., no other Frenchman rushes in to confront the guy (or the gal) or even just to try to tone things down. (At those times, people did not know I was American, of course (or half-American). So among the things that SuperFrenchie (or any average Frenchman) does NOT tell you about France is what the French say behind Americans' (and others') backs.)

In fact, SuperFrenchie goes nigh berserk about "one of the most offensive [slurs] ever used in the French-bashing orgy that started in 2003". But Frenchmen like him will do little if anything about the pervasiveness of anti-Americanism in France, such as the fact that French schools teach children that Americans are nothing if not dumb, clueless, greedy, treacherous, and malevolent. SuperFrenchy goes berserk over "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and alleged French-bashing, but that a show like Les Guignols is shown daily on French television doesn't bother him one bit! (Aah, c'est pas la même chôôôôôôôse!…)

SuperFrenchie has complained about books by American authors hostile to France. However, in France, they have "got books and editors saying that the main enemy of America has always been France". Is America being the main enemy of (or threat to or danger for) France and, indeed, of all humanity, not what you read about not only in untold French tomes, but in French newspapers day after day, month after month, year after year? Rather than American books being gratuitously anti-French, as Frenchmen allege, the fact that such literature is so ubiquitous in France is — precisely — the reason why a number of books on the subject have come out in America recently.

As to whether there is a difference between French enmity and its American equivalent, one traveled American points out where it lies: "Any criticism of France occurs in small doses and almost never in the mainstream media — unlike the near daily nonsense in the Paris papers."

But even those (small) doses are too much for France!

So: The French dislike being called cheese-eating surrender monkeys. In fact, he wags a finger at us as he smugly says that "calling others animal names is as low as it gets!" But the French like nothing more than calling other people(s) names (whether referring to animals or otherwise). And these names are always taken as nothing more than objective fact. (Thanks to cette rationalité française éternellement lucide.) For instance, God forbid that the charge of the British being the Americans' poodles or of Blair being Bush's poodle be considered an insult in France. It is taken a nothing less than an incontrovertible fact.

To quote Jean-François Revel:
Dans le charmant vocabulaire politique français, on traite Tony Blair de « caniche de Washington » et on multiplie les déclarations arrogantes à l'égard de l'Espagne, de l'Italie, de la Pologne et des autres pays du Vieux Continent qui ont suivi les Américains. C'est la façon délicieuse dont nous méprisons les autres membres de l'Union européenne.
And France's foreign minister (later prime minister Dominique de Villepin!) could write a book likening America to nothing less than a greedy, blood-lusty predator shark. Who in France objected then (and with how much force)? Oh, such a depiction, we must understand, is only an objective (and entirely self-serving) description; oh, so that's perfectly okay…

The constant here is that there is little that les Français love more than to make gratuitous charges against others. But being on the receiving end, and they are far less smug. In other words, they can dish it out, but they can't take it themselves. Indeed, in la société de l'ouverture et du débat, the theory that in one single case (Iraq or any other), the French may have not acted all that courageously cannot even be entertained — even only as a theoretical debating point! — without being immediately, automatically, and (very) angrily refuted offhand.

In fact, while SuperFrenchie says he welcomes "Groening’s regrets[,] I’d say he should have thought of it back in 1995. And I hope he’ll think twice next time before calling me and my family cowards and animal names!" So there you have it: you can call Uncle Sam and/or its allies and/or its capitalists "bloodsuckers" and "poodles", but heaven forbid that a humorist (!) — a humorist who bashes America (conservative, liberal, everything) 100 times more in his TV show than any foreign nationality, French or other — even considers (even considers one single time) that the French acted as cowards or, indeed, that they are anything less than a wonderful people deserving of nothing but praise. This, when France's president (not a humorist — not intentionally, at least) called Eastern Europeans blabbermouths and turncoats qui feraient mieux de se taire.

So there you have the root of the anger: The only response and reaction acceptable to French policies, whether by Americans (neo-cons or other), East Europeans, or other foreigners, is one of gratitude and kowtowing to the people who always are more lucid and always know best…

Indeed, for fear that it may be "misused" in the future, nothing untoward (except in a sympathetic way) must ever be said against les Français (and their culture of… debate), in a tongue-in-cheek way or otherwise…

Nobody in his right mind can fail to notice the difference between French anti-Americanism which has gone on, for decades year in and year out (and even centuries), concerning every subject under the sun, on the one hand and, on the other, the current attitude in the United States, which has far less (hardly anything, in fact) to do with amounting to being a "parodic counterpart of French anti-Americanism" than with the sentiment — real or false — that in the Iraq crisis, Marianne not only refrained from coming to Uncle Sam's help, but that she tried to stick a knife in his back.

John J. Miller and Mark Molesky appear to be doing hardly more than echo L'Ennemi américain, Philippe Roger's study of anti-Americanism in France over the centuries, an anti-Americanism that carries nary a counterpart in the United States vis-à-vis France. Moreover, theirs' is not a book like the one called 50 Good Reasons to Hate Americans, and it certainly has not become best-seller in the U.S. the way the latter has in France.

In contrast to the constant attacks on Uncle Sam in le Hexagone, how many quotes can you find from American leaders and the élite towards France? Before 2002-2003 — as SuperFrenchie states himself! — not many. And, more importantly, insofar as anti-French quotations can be found (and I can't think of any), to what extent does the leader owe his popularity (if any) to his anti-French remarks? Mark Twain and Dave Barry have also written about the French in humorous terms (which led to Twain being dubbed a "racist" by BHL!!), and Art Buchwald's first columns (for the New York Herald Tribune's Paris office) are replete with funny observations about France and its inhabitants. Except all three also wrote that way about other nationalities, being harshest with… Americans themselves!

The French can dish it out (they love to do so), but they can't take it!

In fact, what is it we always hear: we/they are not against Americans, we/they are only against their leaders and Washington's policies! But Americans — and even Frenchmen! — can not be against only Paris's policies without suffering opprobrium.

Certains prétendent que la marionnette de Stallone ne caricaturerait pas le peuple américain, mais bien leurs dirigeants politiques, les commandants militaires, les chefs des grandes multinationales, etc, et que ce sont contre ces leaders, et non le peuple entier, que l'on se défend… Or, nous avons vu que ce type de discours n'a rien de neuf : il se trouve que ces arguments soutiennent la présente thèse, car en d'autres mots, ses adeptes appellent les leaders américains racistes, barbares, sans sentiments humains, et avides de pouvoir et de dollars. Or, si de tels monstres (le mot n'est pas trop fort) sont au pouvoir depuis un demi-siècle, il s'ensuit logiquement que les sujets qui les ont élus peuvent difficilement être, dans leur vaste majorité, autre chose que… bêtes, avides, racistes, ou tout du moins (criminellement?) inconscients, et donc qu'ils sont quelque part, eux aussi — directement ou indirectement —, des monstres.

To say that that is not the same thing is deliberate hypocrisy; the number of times I have heard people say (with a self-righteous sniff) they did not like Americans or there was no way they would ever spend a vacation in the United States proves it so. But they will never tell you that outright.

Or they will add: "Oh but you have to understand us/those French individuals. It's (only) because what's going on now…" Well, apparently the same thing cannot happen in the opposite direction; nobody should be allowed to understand anger at France without its citizens suffering a major blood pressure going on.

And here is a good point to ask what is it exactly that happened? What is the difference between the "bashing" of the two nations? Here is one answer: French ugly attitudes came about (they have been existing forever, as we have seen) while sitting passively without risks on the sidelines; America's anger comes at somebody sitting on the sidelines offering gratuitous slander (not advice, thank you very much) while their (America's) politicians, their people, and their troops took risks (good ones or ill), took action, and put its citizen (soldier)s in harm's way, i.e., in mortal danger.

To quote Jean-François Revel again:
Les Américains n'auraient pas demandé mieux que d'accepter un partage des responsabilités si la France n'avait pas menacé de brandir son veto au Conseil de sécurité. [Mais] Notre ministre des Affaires étrangères s'est transformé en commis voyageur, en Afrique notamment, pour inciter à voter contre les États-Unis. Ce fut une faute de goût considérable. Autant la France avait le droit de dire « non, je n'approuve pas l'intervention militaire pour le moment et je ne m'y associerai pas », autant elle n'aurait pas dû se muer en centrale de propagande antiaméricaine
One Frenchman once said that jokes about France during the Iraq crisis hurt. They hurt the French. The French feel hurt.

In other words, according to those poor things, the Yanks were/are not only duplicitous and treacherous, they are insensitive and rude, those clueless clods.

Wait a minute, do you mind if we get real here? For just a moment?

How do you think Americans feel for being called imperialist? For being called duplicitous? For being called treacherous?

How do you think Americans feel for hearing, Yes, of course 9/11 was a tragedy, but, somehow, somewhere, they deserved it

Oh, that's not being insensitive. That's being intelligent and lucide! I see… (It's just a total coincidence, I suppose, that being lucide happens to mean slamming the American government's position and being pretty much in total symbiosis with the French government's policies…)

And how about America's allies in the Coalition. How do you think they feel for being called poodles? And for being told, ils feraient mieux de se taire?

While we're at it, how do you think the Iraqis feel about the various peace activists, governments as well as individuals, who opposed the American action? What about the Iraqi people's hurt? Isn't it slightly more important than that of the French?

Because the difference with the members of the so-called "peace camp" is that while the latter remained passive, the Americans and their allies took action. Whether or not you agree with their policy, they put their soldiers into harm's way. (As for the leaders themselves, you can hardly deny that, at the very least, they took unpopular — and electoral — risks in making the popularity-defying decisions they did.) The hurt the troops risk suffering is somewhat of a more poignant type than that which members of the peace camp have the luxury of haughtily complaining about from the comfort of their living rooms (or government offices or computer desks).

And you complain of the hurt suffered by the French?!