Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Yankee-Bashing: "The brutal imagery by French schoolkids echo what they hear from their parents and teachers and see in the media"

On a regular basis, people in France — French citizens as well as foreigners — are informed of the usual blarney — that the French (and the Europeans) are wiser than everyone else, and more lucid than everyone else, and more humanistic than everyone else, and more pacifist than everyone else, and more tolerant than everyone else, and more reasonable than everyone else, especially les Américains. This is usually told in the following BUT language: "Granted, we may have flaws (indeed, we probably have many), BUT! in the final analysis, we're wise, lucid, etc, etc" — the corollary being "Granted, the Americans have many good points (indeed, they have much to teach us), BUT! in the final analysis, they are reactionary, greedy, treacherous, fanatical, clueless, sods."

What a BUT sentence does, offhand, is contrast two truths, but (and notice that here is that word again) the fact remains that the second part invalidates the first part. Imagine a lovers' quarrel: "I love you, Name, but (beat) you're a good-for-nothing jerk." Now invert this: "You're a good-for-nothing jerk, Name, but (beat) I love you." You don't have to be a graduate of the Actors Studio to realize that the tone of the first sentence will be different from (as in: slightly more bitter than) the second.

Of course, all politicians (of whatever country) who want to sound fair and wise do this all the time: "The opposing party/My distinguished colleague has some good ideas, BUT! what they fail/he fails to see…" That is to be expected in politics, with its active "duels", and is part of the show, so to speak. It's when this attitude becomes an automaticism in a population, and that its (passive, or at least non-duelling) members start to believe it unfailingly, that it becomes a problem…

After living for 10 years in France (and even longer in Europe), I have to say that it is the (very) rare conversation (on whatever subject — foreign policy, culture, any component part thereof, or anything else) where the basic content and message doesn't boil down to the following: When France or Europe is discussed, the negative part comes first and is invalidated by the positive message; when America, its allies, or capitalism is the subject, the positive aspect comes first, but is invalidated by the negative message. (You can check this out in some of the comments we receive, where the same outline returns again, and again, and again, and again…)

For instance, in the educational department, this becomes: granted, there may not be total objectivity in French schools, and sure we could do better, BUT: in the final analysis, this is nothing to worry about, and — snicker — aren't you silly to think otherwise. (The corollary: of course, people (Americans, other foreigners, or Frenchmen) can (and should) criticize the system, BUT if, in the final analysis, they do not laud it overall and realize how lucid and reasonable the French and their system obviously are, they are obviously blinded fanatics.)

Non, nos amis américains (our American friends): don't let anybody tell you (thanks to Joe) that, in the final analysis, European kids aren't getting a healthy education and a positive outlook on the world and an objective viewpoint of who (among Russia, China, Saddam's Iraq, Iran, Osama bin Laden, etc…) is the real enemy of humanity…

In his response to a post showing how today's pacifist language of forebearance has little changed from their predecessors' in the 1930s (and 1940s!) — "Hitler requires, not condemnation, but understanding" — one reader claimed that comparisons with Hitler were nonsense or exaggerated (deliberately misreading the post's true message) — and yet, as David Horsey points out, none of the thousands of French visitors to Carquefou (nor our reader) seemed to find the least problem with one French student's image of the axis of evil being Stalin, Hitler and… George W Bush.

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