Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Clichés and Generalizations Are OK for Everybody — Except for the French

With a snotty attitude, Dominique Dhombres sneers that on
CNN, the BBC, Fox News, and all the usual suspects, you could see nothing but burning cars, masked thugs hurling cobblestones and fire extinguishers, CRS policemen going nuts, wounded lawmen, the Sorbonne under siege. Metal barriers flew through the air, as did the tear gas grenades. You would have thought that the entire country, and not only the Quartier Latin, was on fire. … If the camera pulls back [however], it is nothing more than a banal upholding of law and order.

No need to go back to the magnifying phenomenon that allows the foreign viewer to get a top-rate spectacle and, especially, to comfort him in his clichés: the storming of the Bastille, the barricades of May '68, Cosette, Gavroche, in one word, the Parisian street at the triple peril of History, musical comedies, and Hollywood.

(Oh yes, the author manages to throw in a few diatribes against Hollywood and American simplicity.) A few words for you, Monsieur Dhombres.

New Orleans.



I could go on.

You may remember Monsieur Dhombres. It was he who famously said that if only the rest of the continent could be made to see what a corrupt country and what a dangerous threat America was, then Europe might finally start to unite.

In a book review of Marc Lazar's L'Italie à la Dérive, Sophie Gherardi notes that the charges usually levelled at Silvio Berlusconi in France — "the vulgar buffoon, Big Brother, the Mafia capo, the new Mussolini, the low-level crook, the cynical millionnaire" — all just happen to be "anti-wop" clichés.

Being French means being allowed to be snotty about everybody else, caricature everybody else, and skewer everybody else (and first and foremost the Americans), while the slightest foreign hint that French society might not be totally up to par is to be immediately shot down — just like it was in Dhombres' most recent writings.

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