France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

August 20, 2009

Simenon’s Maigret: A world ‘without hope’?

Filed under: Paris,Simenon,Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 2:24 pm
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Well, I guess it’s no surprise that it took Georges Simenon to get me back to this journal; if he could write a book in nine days, I should be able to file one dispatch in one month. (When an interviewer asked if he ever took time out to relax, Simenon answered Mais oui; as it took him nine days to write a novel, if he wrote six in a year that left him with 311 days off.)

If I’ve been absorbed by France Culture radio’s ‘grand traversé’ dedicated to Simenon running every morning this week (click here to listen to the archived emissions), particularly the first hour, dedicated to archival interviews with the author, I’ve been disappointed by the relatively scant time devoted so far, in daily programming of 3.5 hours quand meme, to Simenon’s major creation, the Commissaire Maigret. And when Maigret does come up, as he did today in the discussion portion of the program, the ‘experts’ seem to fundamentally misunderstand his world.

According to this particular expert, the world of Maigret, or of the Maigret novels, is ‘sans esperance” or without hope. While this quality might apply to the other major part of Simenon’s oeuvre, the ‘romans dur,’ in which the criminal himself is the protagonist, typically perpetrating the crime at the beginning of the book and then degenerating before our eyes for the rest of it, the Maigret series, in which the detective is the hero, seems to me more an ongoing love affair with and portrayal of the principal character — his manners and his way to explore new worlds, his typical mode of access for solving the crime being to immerse himself in the milieu in which it took place. In effect, he’s our reliable old friend, the narrator we identify with as we encounter these worlds and communities with him. We feel that we’re with him when he enters a bistro and cries out, “Une demi!,” when he’s lost and morose and doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere in his investigation, when he ‘bavards’ with his inspectors. The most minute details of how he interacts with the drama become more important than the mundane details of the crime itself — even the way he becomes involved. In one tale, Maigret is ready to turn away a man who’s fled a small coastal village, where he’s accused of murder, to come to Paris to ask for Maigret’s help — until, crossing the bridge St. Michel, he gets a whiff of air that evokes oysters and ‘petit blanc’ and decides to take the case. (When he gets there, he discovers that the oyster harvest has been held up because of tidal problems, so he has to content himself with the petit blanc for the duration of the investigation.)

It’s not that the crime is incidental, but that the center of the story is not its grisly details, not the violence of the culpable, but Maigret’s quest — as much a quest for the solution of the crime as for understanding the personages involved. And because his ‘method’ (in quotes because Maigret would vehemently deny he has one) is to infiltrate the world, the milieu where the crime took place — be it that encircling an ecluse or lock, a port, an upper-class household, a demi-monde, a boarding house — the stories become chants to these communities, in Maigret’s case a tour de France alternating with immersions in the neighborhoods and rhythm of Paris. (Even more fun for those who have lived there; Simenon often situates the crimes on specific streets or in specific places in the general area described by Montmartre and, below it, the 9th arrondisement, often Notre Dame de Lorette, a street I know well.)

The point is that where the ‘romans dur’ start from an already ‘black’ point — the crime, usually violent — and descend into an even darker universe as we get inside the mind of the culpable, the Maigret novels use the fait divers as a trigger for a search for understanding, and an excuse to return to the world of a sensitive hero, Maigret, whose encounters with Paris, France, and occasionally other places are elevated and rich, steeped in the culture of the particular place, as it was in the middle of the 20th century. (One of my favorite passages occurs when, sur place investigating a theft and murder in a suburb, Maigret ‘pique’s the lobster delivered to the local bar from the hapless Sgt. Lucas for his own dinner, and pauses to call HQ. “Stay there!” he says, then, “I’m talking to the lobster,” which is trying to escape.

Speaking of food, in one of the archival interviews Simenon offers a ‘how-to-survive when you have no money’ story that rivals Dolly Parton’s claims that when she first started out, she made ketchup soup to economize. The 20-year-old George Sims, just arrived in Paris (at the Gare du Nord in my old neighborhood, which still, 86 years later, fits Simenon’s description as ‘the endroit ‘le plus raid’ in Paris), had taken a chamber in a boarding house where it was forbidden to cook. Here’s his advice for surviving on very little: “You buy a round of camembert — not a good one but the cheapest you can find. You eat a little morsel, and then you put it in the cabinet. Every day it gets bigger.”


March 9, 2009

De-regionalization: Balladur sets the record straight

In my February 26 post Chanson pour l’Auvergnot, I decried that if the Balladur Commission has its way, seven of France’s 22 regions might disappear, swallowed up by or merged into other. Appearing on France Culture’s morning program today, the former prime minister, Balladur himself, said that these exactions didn’t come from him or his report, which simply suggests that some regions are feeble and need to be reinforced. As far as regional identification, he also suggested that it might be instructive to ask the people themselves how they identify.

January 30, 2009

Laurent Joffrin’s Media Condescension

Here’s the thing about conspiracy theories: Even if at the end of the day they’re proven to have little factual basis, they don’t come out of nowhere but often start with a suspicion based in reason. Let’s take, for example, one of the most apparently extreme of recent times: The so-called 9/11 Truth Movement. If you look at it from the factual perspective, the idea that the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not the work of terrorist fanatics but the government is ludicrous. *But*, if you look at how the Bush-Cheney administration immediately went to work to exploit these attacks for own agenda of hegemony and abuse of human rights abroad and suppression of civil rights at home, well then, it becomes at least more understandable that some citizens might think that they went so far as to create the incident that created the opportunity. In effect, by simply dismissing the conspiracy theorists as lunies and not probing further into their motivations, one misses an opportunity to look at the genuine concerns that might have lead them to this improbable place.

But let’s apply this lesson closer to home.

Across the world, the public doubts the mainstream media, whether it be corporate- or state-owned. And they have reason. At least in the U.S., if not Europe, the corp. and state media went along, for the most part, with the Bush lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that justified an offensive attack. (Because for anyone who read or listened to alternative media or the rare lonely voice in corp. medfia, it was no surprise that the weapons weren’t there.) But let’s look at a more recent event, here in France. Listening to France Culture radio this morning, we’re supposed to believe that the same reporters and anchors who joined yesterday’s general strike — regular radio emissions were replaced with canned music — can report credibly and objectively on that same event. Surprise surprise, we’re told that the strike was a grand success. Sure, passing glance is given to the lower police estimates of march participants, but no one — no one — poses the question of whether the strike was justified. Of whether in a time where unemployment is mounting — even here in France — workers who at least have jobs aren’t being a little bit offensive to complain about their work conditions. Of whether the unions’ claim that they were also protesting the loss in purchase power wasn’t a cynical attempt to engage more of the public than the meager eight percent who actually belong to unions.

In between the mostly glowing reports on yesterday’s strike, the France Culture morning program featured Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the French daily Liberation, who’s been making the rounds (of various state-run radio stations) to hawk his new screed, “Media Paranoia.” According to Joffrin, apparently (haven’t read the book), for the most part, all that media mistrust and criticism cannot possibly have any basis in fact, but is a result of public paranoia about the media. To hear people talk, he says, you’d think he calls the (Liberation principal stock-holders) Rothschilds every day to find out what should be in the paper tomorrow.

It’s a nice try, Laurent, but it isn’t so much that we think that just because the Rothschilds own your paper that means you call them every day for marching orders. Rather, what concerns many in the public is that you all live, work, go to school with, party with, interact with and thus rarely question the basis of the thought and actions of your own rarified circle made up mostly of, if not government officials, at least politicians, commentators, and fellow journalists. *You rarely question establishment thinking.* In the United States that might mean that the New York Times is never going to really seriously question the official version, until it’s too late. (As the brilliant veteran British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk once said, the Times might as well change its name to “Officials say.”) In France, for an historically traditional Left-leaning journal like Liberation, the Establishment is the unions and the Socialist party, and you’re never going to question whether they’re right to go call and support a strike. (And, when the Establishment Left and Right back the European Constitution, you’re going to distort and mock the legitimate fears of those who oppose it.)

Instead of roundly dismissing roundly held public concerns as ‘paranoia,’ Joffrin might have looked at his own and his colleagues’ responsibility: How did we get here? What have journalists been doing, or not doing, to provoke such widespread public mistrust — and belief that they’ve advocated their founding principle of true independence? Instead, he’s content to cynically dismiss their concerns; those who criticize the media, as he said on France Culure this morning, “Are often extremists who blame the media” for not paying attention to their ideas “when the problem is their ideas.” Then when the public reacts by buying less newspapers, he has the temerity to warn, “If there are less journalists, there are going to be less people to challenge power.” Ou ca?

January 23, 2009

The Revolution will not be Radio-ized

So there they were on the antennae of the state-owned France Culture radio tonight, a politician from the Opposition Left and a politician from the Majority Right debating a law proposed by the government of the Right that would limit the time of parliamentary debate on the other laws the government proposed. I was just thinking how surreal this was — how out of touch they both seemed with the daily concerns of the general populace in this time of high unemployment and low purchase power and overall insecurity, when suddenly a young man seized the mike at the live remote broadcast from the Centre Pompidou and started to talk about a real issue: The detention of a ‘sans-papier’ at one of the infamous centres de retention. Of course neither the representative of the Right who believes that 250,000 amendments per parliamentary session is a bit much, nor the representative of the Left protesting the nerve of the representative of the Right to try to limit his party to 250,000 amendments were going to defend the right of the young man to speak for one minute, let alone the hosts of the program who had decided to give over 45 minutes of primetime to this very insider debate, so the member of the public had just enough time to say “I’m going to read a little tract” before his mike was cut off and the hosts on location sent it back to the studio where an automated voice apologized for the perturbation, calm space music started playing, and a studio presenter promised that we’d soon rejoin the crew at the Pompidou for the live broadcast. “We await the return to calm.” When it eventually did, the host on location complained that these little interruptions have been taking place more or less every Friday, when the show is broadcast live from this national modern art museum, and it was commencing to ‘ennerve’ him. It’s one thing to debate in front of the public about debating rules among their political representatives; quite another to debate *with them.*

January 20, 2009

Yes he is

Well, it may be a transformational moment for the U.S. of A. today but the France Culture radio guest analyzing it this morning fell right into the old French race trap.

Everything was going well until, fielding a question from the program’s token female commentator about the role of Michelle Robinson Obama Princeton ’83 or ’85 (comme moi), Bernard Manin said that one thing she brings him is that she’s African-American. “He’s not.” Come again? (tr.: Comment ça?) Supposedly, Mr. Marin teaches at New York University, but I guess he makes his race calls from his white French prejudices. Refresher to the professor: Obama’s father was African. He was born in America. Et voila: He’s African-American.

The professor did accurately if unwittingly respond to another reflected question that the election of the first AFRICAN-AMERICAN president has posed to France: Could it happen here? Not as long as those of Arab or African descendance — no matter how many generations they’ve been here in France — are STILL referred to as Arabs, Maghrebians, Africans, and Blacks, and not just simply French.

December 8, 2008

Secret Origins

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:08 am
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It’s not that the French media are so obsessed with race that bothers me — because hey, so is the United States — it’s the contradiction of, on the one hand, maintaining that France is a race-blind country, and, on the other hand, never losing an opportunity to describe any non-white American firstly by his or her ‘origin’ — *even if the person was born in the United States*, and thus has only one origin, American.

When a colleague from the States wrote me yesterday to report that President-elect Obama had appointed retired general Eric Shinseki as his secretary of veteran affairs, it was because Shinseki had been a sort of dissident within the Bush military machine. (Maybe dissident is too strong a word; he’d simply said it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq, countering the Bush chicken-hawks view that 100,000 would do it.) It wasn’t until today, when the appointment topped the French news, that I learned Shinseki was a Japanese-American. (Or, as the French newscasters put it, ‘d’origine Japanese.’   Never mind that he was born in Hawaii.) But it got worse. France Culture radio’s Washington correspondent strongly implied that the ‘unspoken’ significance of Obama’s announcing the appointment on December 7, the annivesary of that day of infamy in which the Japanese (the ones originating from Japan) attacked Pearl Harbor (in Hawaii) was that Shinseki was Japanese. In fact, non. I hate to disappoint the race-obsessed French media, but, were I to hazard a guess, the signficance of Obama’s announcing his nominee to head the department of veteran affairs (autrement dit, des anciennes combatants) on this particular day was that it was our soliders who gave so much of their young lives on December 7, 1941, when nearly 3,000 of them were killed, many in their barracks.

PS: Giving credit where it’s due, as is often the case, commentator Mark Kravitz, who understands American society better than most, was the exception to the rule on France Culture this morning, noting that the principle of diversity in the U.S. is not what the French think it is.

December 4, 2008

Everything but the News is on strike; Europeana, meet Qantara; Catherine Deneuve is in Lebanon; French News workers out of work

For the second consecutive week, France Culture was more or less on strike today. Last week, my morning began — because it starts for the last year with the 7-9 morning program hosted by Ali Badou with a stable of commentators, newscasters, and one or two special guests — with a program with just Badou and commentators but no news. So when the top or bottom of the hour arrived, we were mistreated to bad mix tapes. Or rather ‘tape,’ as the same one played throughout the day. This morning it was the reverse; just news, with Ali and allies AWOL. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET PAID ENOUGH. That’s right folks. Journalists being laid off all over the planet, independent pubs like our own Dance Insider feeling the knock-off effect, and these guys (because they’re mostly guys), WHO HAVE JOBS where their colleagues are losing or fear losing theirs, go on strike because they’re not getting paid enough. This week in my department of France, the entire 22-person staff of French News, a 21-year-old vigorous English-language monthly whose offices are based in Perigueux, find themselves without work as the publication is going under because of financial difficulties exacerbated by the crisis.  And their confreres are striking because it’s not enough to have secure jobs, they want to be paid more. Oh-lah-lah.

Not wanting to listen to the same old music — literally — again, I switched to France Entiere, and there got some useful cultural news that seems to have — you’ll divine why in a minute — eluded the U.S. cultural gatekeepers’ radar. Apparently Catherine Deneuve took a little trip to Lebanon in 2006, not long after the Israelis bombed large swathes of it to rubble, and rode around with a Lebanese actor and film crew encountering people and, well, bearing witness. The film, Deneuve  acknowledged on France Entiere today, is not expressly political nor engaged, but…how could it not not show Israel in a negative light, from the footage of devastation and from episodes like the one in which we hear aircraft suddenly flying low over-head, prompting the alarmed matinee idol to ask worriedly, “Qu’est que c’est?” When her interloper explains it’s Israeli planes taking photos, she let’s out an almost angry sigh… Hmm, wonder why we haven’t heard more about this film — called, btw, “Je veux voir” or “I want to see” — from the U..S. press? If you happen to be reading this in NY, you can see it at the Museum of Modern Art (whose website refers to the Israeli invasion by the more gentile nomenclature ‘incursion” ((‘Pardon me, Madame, if I incur you by bombing your homes and when you listen to our instructions and try to flee them, your cars with you in them.’)).) I also learned, in another segment, that while Brussels has been bogged down in a 2 million digitial Euro library that doesn’t work, a group of Mediterranean nations, including this one and Algeria, and the afore-devastated Lebanon, coordinated by the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arab, has launched the much simpler — and effective, it actually works! — ‘Qantara’ — whose goal is to demonstrate, through, among other things, images of artifacts you can actually find on its website, the traditions that have united these sometimes disparate-seeming cultures over 2,000 years.

December 3, 2008


This was the word chosen by the newscaster on France Culture this morning to encompass the government’s backing down on three major cause celebrés in recent days: 1)Facing opposition within its own center-right majority in Parliament, the government agreed to a compromise on whether to open stores on Sundays: Yes for the already open, in grand metropoles, and in zones touristique, no everywhere else, although there are exceptions to the exceptions; even though it qualifies as both a grand metropole and a zone touristique, the Lyonnaise area will rest closed on Sundays, apparently due to strong opposition from area deputies. 2) Facing the fact that the Socialist mayors who run most of the big cities were refusing to enforce it anyway, education minister Xavier Darcos said he would not take them to court for not guaranteeing ‘minimum service.’ This was a regime the government tried to set in place whereby in cases of teacher strikes, city hall was obligated to provide baby-sitting. 3) After blaming sabotage of the national train network (the rails, not the trains) on a cell of alleged anarcho-leftists, the government has been forced to release all but two of the alleged coupables. The only evidence remaining against the ‘cell leader’ appears to be a ladder and a book on anarchist phllosophy.

I have no truck with anarchists. In reality, what this often means is not simpy a void — a passive non-belief in and non-allegiance to governed society — but concrete and rephrehensible violent action. Incredibly, the hosts of my favorite Lefty Yank radio program, Democracy Now, recently let stand a statement by the domestic terrorist — yes, terrorist — William Ayers that he bombed police stations in the ’60s because, well, those were different times, and anyway, they never hurt a single person. Anarchists, at least those who resort to violence, as well as so-called ‘revolutionaries’ like Ayers, like to say that in targeting government buildings they aren’t hurting anyone, they are going after power. Well guess what? Notwithstanding that it hasn’t always played out this way, police stations are, in theory — and often in practice — not symbols of ‘repression,’ but guarantors of security in the *good sense* of that word. So when a so-called anarchist or ‘revolutionary’ attacks a police station, their real goal is to make the rest of us feel *less secure* and *more vulnerable* and thus create nihilistic chaos. (And while we’re defending the police: Much has been made here the past few days — mostly by other journalists — of the supposedly excessive manner in which police picked up a former editor of the Left-leaning daily Liberation, whose only alleged infraction was alleged libel against an Internet company, Free. Okay, maybe they shouldn’t have handcuffed the guy. But maybe, also, more of the journalists should be reporting (as I’ve only heard two do so far) that the reason police had to go to the journalist’s house to get him was that he’d allegedly failed to appear three times at court dates.)

But returning to the alleged anarcho-leftist saboteurs. It looks like the government rushed to judgment too fast. Not to me to judge them but, easy as it is to identify single culpables for one or two derailing incidents, anyone who’s tried to travel between Paris and anywhere else, not to mention in the regions, knows that the SNCF train network has a real infrastructure problem, to say the least. (And don’t even try using its website; easier to walk 2 miles to a train station and ask the clerk.) That’s what’s got to be seriously acknowledged, looked at, and repaired.

While we’re on the subject of schools, and of alleged feats:

The much-vaunted European digital library, Europeana, continues to be down. (When I contacted a publicist for the institution to complain that I couldn’t even find the site’s supposed greatest virtue, its search engine, he said gleefully, “Well, we have a great video!!”) Unfortunately, this didn’t stop one of the library experts appearing on France Culture this morning from singing the praises of this 2 million Euro (annually) boondoggle. (Demi-traduction: Bidondoggle.) On the same program, one of the guests also pointed out that when he recently presented himself at a local police post to report a minor robbery, he had to rewrite the desk sergeant’s report, so full of ‘faults’ was it. Similarly, he claimed, the reason metro station agents often can’t help him find a given street is that they don’t know what letter it starts with. (Moi, ce n’etes pas les lettres de commencement qui me trouble, c’est ceux qui suive! Ou plutot leur son.)

There’s a connection here! Or rather a disconnect.

Europe is spending 2 million Euros per year on a boondoggle of a bibliotheque (hey, can I get sued and shackled for this?) that so far, DOES NOT WORK. (They claim it’s because there are too many of us that want to use it.) Meanwhile, this year the government eliminated 11,000 teacher positions, including — this is crucial — 3,000 of the 11,000 special education teachers, or RASE. Meanwhile — skipping to another connection here, I know — it’s considering a law which (if I understood correctly) would make it easier to send young people to prison.

In California, my home state, where school funding has suffered ever since, 30 years ago, the state voted to eliminated the property tax, teachers are now thinking of paying for supplies by placing ads on test papers.

Does France know what it’s in train of losing?

November 26, 2008

François Bayrou versus the media

Boy, I tell you: If there’s one factor that would determine me to become a French citizen it would be the chance to campaign and vote for François Bayrou. It might only be one small pinky finker in the dyke trying to stem the Left-wing media tide against him, but maybe if my friends on the French Left saw a Lefty American vote for the man ill-defined as ‘centrist’ they might start to question the pidgeon-hole the French Lefty media has tried to box him into. One need only to have listened to the Left-leaning crew of my favorite radio program, the morning show on France Culture, to be reminded of how a determined effort by this same media during the 2007 presidential election succeeded in convincing enough French that the man from Pau was ‘flou’ or mushy to beat him down from a second-place 19 percent in pre-first tour polls and prevent him from reaching the second and final round, thus paving the way for Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory against the hopelessly entrenched Socialists.

The lowest moment came during the final 30 minutes, when commentator Olivier Duhamel refused to accept that Bayrou was not rejoicing at the squabble between Segolene Royal and Martin Aubry for premiere secretary which threatened to engulf the Socialist party over the last week. (Royal, who lost by 102 votes, finally conceded last night.) Allowing that he might reap a benefit here or there, Bayrou explained simply that for this battle to consume so much time and energy and attention at this particular time was not good because it detracted focus from the real world at a time when we needed it most. This was not good enough for Duhamel, who proceeded to waste five prescious minutes trying to get Bayrou to admit he was dancing for joy. Et voila, these were five minutes that the president of the Mouvement Democratic could have used to answer the morning’s final question, from the only commentator who was not piling on (and who indeed was chastising the others for doing so), Catherine Clement. She’d asked what he’d do for Culture. Bayrou, who had earlier pointed out that, contrary to what Socialist propaganda would have us believe of him, it’s not capitalism but humanism that he exalts as a mode of life, began by noting that the tenets of this humanism were three non-merchandisable elements of society: Education, Research, and Culture. Clement pressed him to expand on Culture; when he said he wasn’t sure in what sense she meant, she elaborated, trés presicely, that the State has been pushing responsibility for cultural expenditure to the regions and even localities — a crucial question for the artistic sector, in which I count myself, across France. Bayrou had barely time to begin, “Pour le spectacle vivant…” when host Ali Badou cut him off because there was no more time left — which would not have been the case if Duhamel, unrestrained by the host, had not wasted five minutes trying to get Bayrou to act like HE expected a politician to act. Bayrou had already alienated, or at least riled, his host by saying he should go hide himself for not opposing the government’s proposed changes in the audio-visuel regime on the grounds that they would enable the president to appoint the heads of France Television and Radio, thus robbing journalists of their independence. (Once again proving the abrogation of the Socialists on crucial issues where a firm stance from the supposed Opposition is called for — who’s flou now? — the Socialist leader in Parliament yesterday flatly refused Bayrou’s call to censure the government on the audio-visuel law.)

If I have one constructive suggestion for Bayrou — offered from one who has the same tempting but sometimes self-defeating tendency — it would be that he should guard himself from the urge to personalise his polemics in this fashion. (He also likes to employ Pinochio’s nose to evoke politicians who in his view are being hypocritical. “They wouldn’t even fit in a stadium!” he once said of one group.) Take it from one who knows from personal experience, Monsieur Bayrou: Just because you have the gift of a rapier wit doesn’t mean it’s always the best weapon to employ. Or to use an old American aphorism (thank you, Mark Dendy!): You can catch more flies with honey than vinager. (Tr, approximatif: “On a plus de chance a tiré des mouches avec le miele que le vinaigre.”)

November 25, 2008

Pirate Radio: The news is on strike to protest the elimination of commercials

I guess it’s no surprise that after reporting last night that the teachers, the students, the parents, the train workers, and the emergency hospital workers are on strike, the News decided to join the party this morning, presumably taking the weather with it. (There was only one mishap of mal-coordination; apparently the transport workers who decided to call a Flash strike in Bordeaux last week forgot to tell the teachers, delaying the start of the demonstration.) Thus the hourly 15 minute and half hourly ten minute newscasts on France Culture this morning were replaced by randomly mixed top 40 music, the news team calling in sick to protest a government proposition to eliminate commericals from the four public television stations after 8 p.m. . (As strikes in France often mean not that the employees don’t show up for work, but that they show up but just don’t work, my theory is that it’s the errant newscasters who are torturing us with the randomly mixed music.) Curiously enough, the theme on this morning’s France Culture program — host Ali Badou and the commentators apparently got notes excusing them from not showing up for work — is pirates. So maybe the News is actually being held hostage by Somalia-based corsaires. (Perhaps we can keep the commericals going long enough to collect ransom, anyway.)

The plan to strip commericals from public television, my two regular readers will recall, was launched by President Sarkozy at a press conference earlier this year, in a deft move to deflect reporters’ attention from the fact that the candidate for purchase power had turned into the president of the empty treasury. (Although I guess if we have no money with which to buy, maybe it’s best to eliminate commercials which tempt us with the cars, vacations, and sheepherd tended cheese beyond our reach.) Why is this cause for grievance among audio-visual workers? It’s not that they love commericials, apparently, but that they’re worried about how the State will replace that money and, worse, that the solution — more money directly from the State — will return public television to the days of old, when there was, as non-striking commentator Alain-Gerard Slama put it today, a general inside every television (De Gaulle, not Electric). And indeed, in addition to taking away commercials, President Sarkozy wants to give to himself the power to appoint the president of the France Television uber-network which supervises the public television stations. (Il faut dire que the president did have a good point when he said it’s hard to tell the difference between ‘public’ television and ‘private’; the one broadcasts Cold Case, the other Law & Order. There do seem to be more historical dramas on the public television France 2, most concerning an Occupied France peopled predominantly by heroes of the Resistance, the collaborators relegated to supporting roles. Recent history, from the Algerian War to the 2005 riots in the suburbs, are less frequently treated. As for France 3, the other main public television station, I love my nightly Marseille-set soap Plus Belle la Vie but it’s hardly something you’d find on Channel 13, the egg-heady NY public t.v. station.) Modem Party leader François Bayrou has piled on, saying he’d support a parliamentary resolution opposing the new audio -visual law, raising the question: How can he oppose opening stores on Sunday because we need to teach our children that there are more important things than consummation, on the one hand, and on the other oppose eliminating the commericals which install that ideology on a nightly basis? (The France Culture morning program has just terminated, seguaying into a rap song that begins with a word I can’t repeat without censoring: “N*****s are people.” Now it’s returning to the same mix played two hours ago. Evidently the newscasters just left an old mix tape, recorded off an AM top 40 broadcast.)

PS It seems that History is also on strike, Emmanuel Laurent’s daily France Culture program on that theme having been replaced this morning by afore-mentioned still-running mix tape.

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