Wednesday, March 28, 2007

America's France.

Even though the war in Iraq is now widely recognized in America as a major mistake of the Bush administration, anti-French humor is still fairly popular in some circles. Here’s a good example of a not-so funny column:
Yes, the French may be many things -- arrogant, supercilious, self-righteous. They may use too much cream in their cooking, not bathe frequently enough, and insist on their narcissistic notion that, Civilization -- il est France.
But on Iraq, they were right. Pure and simple.

So, is that supposed to be…. funny? The writer, Ted Reinstein, can’t even get his French right ["La civilisation, c’est la France" and not "Civilization -- il est France"]. What a moron! His article is actually full of senseless Franglais. Maybe he was trying to imitate Pepe le Pew– but at least Pépé was funny! He's not!

One topic that keeps coming back for some reason is WWII. You’d think that by now, some 2 generations later, it would be an old story. But no, some people seem unable to ever forgive France for losing WWII.

In WWII, France was known more for knuckling under to the Nazis than for aiding the fight against fascism. True, the lonely heroism of the vaunted French Resistance was real and legendary. Last week, one of its last surviving heroes, Lucie Aubrac, who freed her husband from the Gestapo, died at 94. But during the war, while Aubrac risked her life in the resistance, crooner and later-movie star Maurice Chevalier smiled like a stuffed pig and performed in Paris for occupying S.S. brass. And who is the more famous Frenchman today? "Gigi" beats the Resistance.

Well, that is a bit.. passé, isn't it? Even if it were so in America - and even that, I wonder - it is certainly not in France. (I bet very few of my high-school students would have a clue as to what the names “Gigi” or even Maurice Chevalier refer to)

When you think of it, this obsession for WWII France is ironic since it is after all Nazi Germany that was the big “evil” back then. Yet it seems the Americans are much more likely to forgive the Germans, even today.

While its position regarding Iraq was similar to the French one, Germany has a much more favorable score (83%), having returned to the same level as before the Iraq crisis. (Le Figaro via WatchingAmerica. )

France’s image in the U.S. may not not bad but it is not that good either:

A Gallup poll conducted last month indicates that only 57% of Americans have a favorable opinion of France. The country's image is improving but remains far below what it was before 2003, which was largely positive (70 to 80% favorable).
(Le Figaro via WatchingAmerica. )

Reinstein is right about something – it is not all Americans who bash against the French, but mostly Conservative pundits and their anti-French rhetoric is actually meant against liberal Democrats.

Conservative radio jocks called the French "wine-drinking, cheese-eating, surrender monkeys." (Which, truthfully, was only a slight recycling of the right-wing's usual label for liberal Democrats.)

Now this has had some direct consequences:

The opinions Americans have of France today varies according to their political sympathies: 69% of Democrats hold a favorable opinion, versus 40%for Republicans. Such a gap didn't exist prior to 2002. (Le Figaro via WatchingAmerica. )

You’d think the failure in Iraq would have changed that but not.

"The anti-French mechanism" declares Jeremy Shapiro, "is about betrayal, ingratitude, and the cowardice of France - and the conflict in Iraq crystallized this image. No matter what a person's political stripe, no one making policy would dream today of saying: I agreed with the French in 2003 …" (Le Figaro via WatchingAmerica. )

Hence the WWII jokes which fuel the myth of French cowardice. Even though the French government has kept a low profile, avoiding the arrogant I-told-you-so rhetoric, it is sometimes not forgiven to be right. (Of course, I personally disagree that Chirac was right but one must admit his vision of potential regional chaos has come true.)

Granted, the French are not more virtuous – there’s plenty of Anti-Americanism in France although it is not a typically French phenomenon in today’s world. This means there is much work to do for the people of good will on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the end, I don't mind a bit of French bashing if it were at least funny.... .


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