Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Jaloux !

Over the past few weeks, I have hardly had time to cut my fingernails, much less blog. I have been working day and night it seems for the past month. My singing career, on a tear only a month ago, is now in serious trouble. This in a country that supposedly has a 35-hour workweek. Actually, this is not inconsistent with my customers’ approach in recent weeks. Several of them think I do work 35 hours a week, … for each of them!

Despite all this, I am able to get a few minutes of radio news in each morning, and it was refreshing to wake up the other day to news reports of Newsweek’s latest exploit. As we all know, Newsweek has been in the news lately, but not exactly for the reasons it would have liked. It’s had to retract a story about alleged desecration of the Koran that has produced a firestorm across the Islamic world. My (French) radio station followed up with the item that Newsweek had found a sure-fire way to divert attention from that “news story” to one it thinks all its readers can agree on: France-bashing.

Apparently it was the cover story on last week’s international edition. I tried to find a print version of it, but my work schedule limited my search to the newsstand outside my office, which had only “Time”. I would have had to go to the railway station to find more. Anyway, we can all read the article here.

The article trots out the usual charges. French government showers money on unimportant things. The social welfare system needs reform. France has a rich past but its present is mediocre in every way. It is having trouble integrating its growing Muslim population. Its president is old and out of touch. In fact, the article harps so much on Jacques Chirac that one wonders if the editors realize there are 60 million other people in the country.

Even the caption under the picture accompanying the article on the magazine’s web site is called into service: “Lonely figure: After 10 years, Chirac looks weary”. In the picture, Chirac looks as if he’s ready to keel over. So would I if a picture of me were printed at a gravity-defying angle!

I’ve seen so many books and news articles with titles like that of last week’s article (“France: Delusions of Grandeur”), so much attention lavished on this Texas-sized country with a lot of old churches and surly waiters smoking Gitanes on their interminable breaks, that I’m beginning to think some quarters of American journalism are not so much disparaging of French people’s attachment to their history as they are ... jealous of it.

Many French people already believe this to be true. Several have told me personally, knowing that I’m American, that they view the United States as a country without a history. They sense (or think they do) a need for history amongst Americans and they associate Americans’ fascination with France and the rest of Europe as an expression of this. I tell them that we Americans view European history as our history as much as theirs, that it was Europe that gave birth to our country, but they don’t buy in. They want to see something deeply rooted – geographically – to the country. They want to see old stone buildings (“de vieilles pierres”). Are they on to something?

I’m going to drop out of sight for another week or so, but I promise to back with something exciting. I’m going to see lots of people I haven’t seen in years, 25 years for some of them.



At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Jeff Z said...

Tell your French hosts not take it too hard. As bad as Newsweek (international) may have treated France last week, they managed to treat the US even worse this week in Newsweek (Japan): http://ridingsun.blogspot.com/2005/05/newsweek-america-is-dead.html

I guess it beats actually researching, analyzing, and reporting.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Exactly my feelings about Newsweek in general! By the way, this week there was an article lauding France for its growing population (mostly due to immigration, but that would have taken research to figure out.)

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Jeff Z said...

While there is no question that when it comes to physically tangible history: buildings, paintings, cuisine, etc., there is no question that France is one of the most enviable (and envied!) of countries, there are other ways in which history lives in the daily lives of nations. In the US, this takes many forms (as it does, of course, in France, with its rich intellectual and cultural history), but one of the most fervent was on display this week in the excited discussion of the filibuster rule in the senate, where some of my friends and co-workers (as well as numerous media commentators) engaged in debate about the constitutional legitimacy and legislative precedents of the situation. While it seemed natural at the time, after participating in these discussions, I was impressed by the active inclusion of people and ideas, going back to the founding of the republic, as if they were being made contemporaneous with events. In the minds of Americans, this history is not only alive, but actively participating in the current debate in the most practical, specific, and immediate way. While we are often dismissed or even disparaged as a young country with a small history,it is worth remebering that our government is one of the oldest in the world.

PS: More deeply unfair media France bashing: http://www.forbes.com/home/global/2005/0523/024chart.html


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