Thursday, July 05, 2007

Waterloo was won on the Playing Fields of Eton

The French sometimes exceed themselves in presenting alternative points of view. For instance, today in the news, President Sarkozy was criticized for jogging, "a sport which emphasizes individualism and performance." French intellectuals would prefer automatons and failure, of course.

No Pasaran! has the outlook of the Communist daily, Liberation, which asks, "Is jogging a part of the right-wing life-style?"
More fundamentally, the polemic which is making a rage on the Internet on “running, is it right or left?” all started with comments surrounding the President’s running. Then on it’s the symbolism and further on its values. On the left, the author of a blog called “diner’s room” has a banner saying “No-jogging”. The reasons given are that “jogging is harmful for everything and in every way It harms your health, elegance, the way you walk, and the dignity of disabled ex-servicemen and prostitutes”

Quick to retort was Loïc Le Meur, a jogger, Sarkozy supporter, and adamant defender of successful young entrepreneurs who want to excel and take care of their bodies. Whether from the right or left, the argument makes [fitness writer] Odile Baudrier smile: “We went over this on our pages a few years ago. Jogging, of course, is associated with individualism, a values traditionally linked to the right. At the same time, in the research of the wellbeing, judgment is divided.” One could add that the contact you have with nature makes it something for the ecologically inclined. And that as a sport [tr.: form of exercise] accessible to those with any income, that it is straightforwardly Communist. “Traditionally, French intellectuals always had a certain contempt for exercise, Patrick Mignon points out. Only the head counts.
To the contrary, totalitarian ways always stressed the development of the body. Between the two, one too often forgets that humanists of the enlightenment preached for a completely balanced education including both the training of the body and the mind.”

No Pasaran's writer believes that the left prefers cycling, as more "French" than the muscularity of jogging and other American pursuits:
Never mind that they’re mimicking the jogging craze of the US in the 1970’s, they give rise to nutty tribalism about the cycling being proper exercise for good leftists. Of course they will find a bunch of nodding morons who will agree that his holiness François Mitterand’s name can be invoked here, as everywhere, along with some throwaway trash phrase about the fascism of anyone who hasn’t drunk from their tub of kool-ade. They always do.

And just to end up on a note of anti-American anger at our war movies, here's
Eric Svane on a Fourth of July riff:
When Black Hawk Down opened in France, Le Monde's Samuel Blumenfeld let off a broadside, and, for good measure, fired a couple of shots at Behind Enemy Lines as well. Why? Because the movies were badly filmed? No. Because the actors did a lousy job? No. Because the filmmakers took liberties with the truth? Hardly, since both were based on actual events (one showed a battle on the background of the Somalia famine and the other described the Serbs' mass graves in the former Yugoslavia).

No, the films were lambasted because they presented a "questionable ideology" and had "propaganda designs". Of what type? You better sit down and hold on to your seat when you hear this: to give "a valorous image of the patriotism and the endurance of American soldiers". Ohlala! Isn't that shocking?!

The film reviewer went on to bemoan the fact that warlord Aideed's soldiers are shown as "sadistic, cheating, vicious […] the alter egos of the savage Germanic tribes […] in Gladiator, by the same Ridley Scott." A director whom the critic castigates for leaving something out. Oh, what is that, pray tell? For not showing…"the ordinary racism of certain American soldiers or questioning the African policies of President Clinton".

(Apparently, Blumenfeld has not been informed that part of the reason for the movie's existence was to criticize the Clinton administration's policies in the 90s and that a notice explaining this at the end of the film was removed only because of the shock of September 11. Incidentally, it has never seemed to inconvenience the film critic much that films criticizing Paris's African policies, or Jacques Chirac in the manner of Fahrenheit 9/11, do not exactly abound in France. As to the hypothesis (which I happen to share, I don't know why) that the two Hollywood movies present "a valorous image of the patriotism and the endurance of American soldiers" simply because… that happens to be the truth, let's not get into that, shall we, I don't think Blumenfeld would understand…)

In other words, American patriotism, in today's world, is so ridiculous, and so insidious, that even among the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II and even among the mass killings of a famished population, it is that treacherous danger which the world must fear and fight and denounce by any means available. The danger is so terrible that it eclipses the war crimes of Somali warlords and of Yugoslav butchers. Yes, you heard that right: That the militias in fact did machine gun the Somali crowds, what importance compared to the fact that a G.I. or two may have uttered racist words! At least the people shot dead by their own people did not suffer from any type of racism. What a relief!

Who cares about the Bosnia mass graves! Who cares about the Mogadishu massacres! Compared with the simple fact that Hollywood distributes films that might be called patriotic, and the terrible danger their content (along with that of McDonald's, Coca-Cola, etc) represents, those atrocities evaporate into nothingness.

Of course, Rwanda was Clinton's fault as much as Katrina was Bush's fault. The Rwandans may have spoken French and New Orleans may have suffered under a hundred-fifty years of corrupt Democratic leadership which allowed the dikes to become dangerously susceptible to political bidding on the levee maintenance, but it's always the US president's fault whatever happens anywhere. Svane notes:
To leave the film world behind for the international stage per se, Le Monde once asked if one shouldn't "fear the implementation of a Pax Americana" in Yugoslavia. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming when I read that! The reason I find this accusation extremely offensive is that, for four years, Yugoslavia was beset by war, with murders, killings, and rape, with hideous crimes, mass graves, and genocide. Finally, the international community put an end to it. But because the Americans were the ones who were paramount in this undertaking, the French abstain from calling the end of the tragedy a positive event. The Serbs are the worst criminals to stage a war in Europe since 1945, and for now, at least, their killing is over. But what danger do some Europeans fret about? That peace came under the orders of Uncle Sam...

Svane uses the Fourth to put forward the following Vive L'Amerique statements:
As everyone here in Europe knows: any society which does not offer the type of guarantees, equality, and social protection that the European models do is not worth living in, or believing in, and any government that does not try to implement same is not worth keeping in power. And anybody, in turn, who might believe differently can only be under the spell of a smoke screen, which deserves only to be deplored, scorned, and mocked. So, America, with its "itch to fight" and its "excess of testosterone" which has "inflamed the country" (the French verb, enfiévrer [to make feverish], suggests a disease) can only be of an object of ridicule and scorn, as well as a danger without precedent.

Following 911, I expected French friends and acquaintances of mine who came back from visits to the U.S. to return with some sense of respect or admiration. Don't kid yourselves! Many shared the same tone of exasperation and disbelief in their voices: How can one be so patriotic (that is, so superstitious)?

It was a rhetorical question, and some were surprised that I answered it. My answer was that I didn't know what they are talking about. What happens when one goes to the United States? One sees a lot of flags and… That's about it. Ain't that right? One does not see hysterical demonstrations walking down the avenues. One does not see signs reading "Down with the Taliban" or "Death to Iraq". One does not hear the "cowboys" shout "Vive la guerre!" I have not seen many Americans set fire to Iraqi or Afghan (or Vietnamese) flags. I don't remember seeing any throw tomatoes or molotov cocktails on the Soviet or Chinese embassies.

When one points out that George W Bush made a speech in an American mosque, or that he observed Ramadan, or that he spoke of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, the reaction is only horse laughter or scorn, because of course — of course! — it can only be a sham. (As it happens, it is not in America that mosques [or synagogues] are burnt down at alarming rates.)

Svane finishes with a resounding crescendo and final denouement:
While many countries favor solemn military parades on their national holidays, or at least a predominant role for the military, the Fourth of July is, above all things, a party. Oh, of course there is the flag ceremony, with a handful of military people present from each service — army, navy, air force, marines — but it's above all a party, with barbecueing (hotdogs, burgers, spare ribs, etc), games, and fireworks.

And if the military — and veterans — have a special place at the festivities, whether on July Fourth or other holidays, they are only a piece of the puzzle which also includes bands, pompon girls, floats, ethnic pride groups, cowboys, Indians, and clowns — I've seen a parade where the marching soldiers were preceded, followed, and surrounded by dozens of clowns. (Try that on the Champs-Élysées, in Red Square, on at Tien An Men!)

As I write this — 4 juillet oblige — I am listening to the Jingle Cats sing The Star-Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle Dandy. For some reason, I have trouble imagining a lucid Frenchman, a down-to-earth Russian, or a wise Chinese person setting their national anthems to cats' meows. Non, their wailing takes other, less enjoyable, directions.

Wailing Europeans and other Uncle Sam detractors ought to make sure they keep their droning continuous and never-ending. Because, if instead of endlessly lamenting the distressing state of Americans' patriotism, they were to shut up and try and study it a little more closely and a little more rationally, they might come to believe that Yankee patriotism is not so mystical, or frightening, or perilous, as is commonly believed. Then they would have less to wail about. Can you imagine that!? Wouldn't that be awful?!

As for me, for some reason, I prefer the laughter and the joy of the American spirit.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Good post, and I might put Erik Svane on my bloglist.

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