Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Les intellos s'agitent

L’histoire en bref… The story in brief… Jean Sarkozy, the French president’s son, was riding his scooter when he ran into the back of a BMW, then sped off. The owner of the car jotted down the scooter’s license plate and turned it in to the police. Somehow these worthies were unable to track down the owner of the scooter; however this was done by the car owner’s insurance company. In December 2007 the complaint against Sarkozy was tossed out of court, leaving the (Arab) car owner grumbling about a two-tier justice system. Enter Siné from stage left, who wrote about this in Charlie Hebdo. An uproar ensued, not about the facts of this case, but because Siné was accused of making an anti-Semitic remark in his article. Another “journalist” denounced him on television as an anti-Semite, others sprang to his defense… both sides began marshalling forces, writing editorials, pro and anti. Siné was “fired”…

OK, so this blogger doesn’t know Siné from a hole in the ground and can’t speak to his motivations. However he is bemused by this aspect of the French – their curious amalgam of “low brow” humor with “high brow” and how this plays out in the intersection of politics, philosophy, and intellectual (or at least what purports to be) thought. In the U.S. the headlines would probably be about political families and their influence, etc. and would be denouncing the use of this influence (first, skating on a charge; second, threatening to sue a newspaper for undesirable coverage…). It certainly wouldn’t result in intellectuals popping out of the woodwork to opine on whether the writer was or wasn’t anti-Semitic, dropping historical, philosophical, and literary allusions left and right (see the Bernard-Henri Lévy article in Le Monde referencing Voltaire, Rastignac, Alphonse Toussenel, the Dreyfus Affair, etc.)

Speaking of Levy, this blogger isn’t that impressed. For example, he says:

“La question n'est pas de savoir si tel ou tel - en l'occurrence Siné - "est" ou "n'est pas" antisémite. Et l'on se moque bien des brevets de moralité que croient bon de lui octroyer ceux qui, comme jadis pour Dieudonné ou, plus tôt encore, pour Le Pen, disent le connaître "de longue date" et savoir "de source sûre" que l'antisémitisme lui est étranger. Ce qui compte ce sont les mots. Et ce qui compte, au-delà des mots, c'est l'histoire, la mémoire, l'imaginaire qu'ils véhiculent et qui les hantent. Derrière ces mots-là, une oreille française ne pouvait pas ne pas entendre l'écho de l'antisémitisme le plus rance.”

“The question is not to know if this or that person - in this case Siné - "is" or "is not” anti-Semitic. And one makes fun of the arbiters of morality who think it good to absolve those , like recently for Dieudonné, or earlier still for Le Pen (Ed note: Levy is referring to a French comic often given to making anti-Semitic remarks, and to a far-right politician), by saying I know him "of long date" and know "from sure sources” that anti-Semitism is foreign to him. What counts are the words. And what counts, beyond the words, is history, memory, the imagery that they convey and which haunt them. Behind these words, a French ear can’t help but hear an echo of the most rancid anti-Semitism.”

Levy appears to attempt to tar Siné by association with unsavory characters; and goes on to say that it doesn’t really matter if he is or isn’t anti-Semitic since because French history has had its fair share of anti-Semitic episodes any words that could conceivably be negatively construed in this regard are “rancid.” Phew, is this what passes for intellectualism and ‘deep thought’ in France?

So that the reader of this blog (should he/she so desire) can decide for himself/herself, here is what Siné penned:

“Jean Sarkozy, digne fils de son paternel et déjà conseiller général UMP, est sorti presque sous les applaudissements de son procès en correctionnelle pour délit de fuite en scooter. Le parquet (encore lui!) a même demandé sa relaxe! Il faut dire que le plaignant est arabe! Ce n’est pas tout: il vient de déclarer vouloir se convertir au judaïsme avant d’épouser sa fiancée, juive, et héritière des fondateurs de Darty. Il fera du chemin dans la vie, ce petit!"

“Jean Sarkozy, worthy son of his father and already UMP general advisor, left almost under applause from his court appearance for his hit and run offence with a scooter. The prosecutor (him again!) even insisted upon his release! It needs to be said that the plaintiff is an Arab! And that’s not all: he just stated wanting to convert to Judaism before marrying his Jewish fiancée heiress of the founders of Darty. He’ll make his way in the life, this little guy! ”

P.S. This blogger admits to loving watching “Les Guignols” on television when he lived in Europe!

Paris Journal - A Scooter, a Sarkozy and Rancor Collide - The story
De quoi Siné est-il le nom , par Bernard-Henri Lévy - The denunciation.
Siné viré, Charlie Hebdo en deuil, Philippe Val dans la tourmente - Some support
La chronique de Siné non publiée dans Charlie Hebdo - Sine rebuttal - "not fired"
Charlie, Siné, Val, grosse fatigue... - Neutral "a media tempest in a satirical teapopt"

Charlie Hebdo - Wikipedia
Dieudonné M'bala M'bala - Wikipedia

Coluche - Wikipedia
Citations Coluche

P.P.S. A primo example of the French love of "low brow" vulgarity was Coluche (read the links for more), pictured at top. Above is one of his campaign posters from when he ran for the French presidency! Whenever this blogger hears laments from l'Academie Francaise about the degeneration of French culture (usually caused by something coming from the U.S.) he immediately thinks of those icons of French high culture, Coluche and Jerry Lewis! Vive la France! As VGE used to say at the beginning of each one of his speeches (when running against Mitterand in 1981) "La France est un grand pays!"

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