Thursday, February 02, 2006

necessary side-step

Excellent article at the always excellent PrintCulture:

If the French did not exist, the Daily Show would have to invent them. Gag writers need a butt for their jokes[...]

Francophobia is a mix of political sensitivity and lingering feelings of cultural inferiority. The saddest thing about the cultural inferiority which some feel towards France is that it is entirely unjustified. There are still interesting films coming out of France; for example, I recommend Irma Vep, The Dreamlife of Angels, and I Stand Alone. But Charles Berling is no Belmondo, and Yves Bonnefoy is no Baudelaire. Without going to all the trouble of staging an imaginary world olympics of mind and spirit, I think there is a consensus today that France no longer dominates in art, poetry or film. But, paradoxically, only Francophiles like myself would know that.

I believe that those who hate France do so not because they know anything at all about it, but rather because they suspect it exists, and this suspicion of an outside is disturbing. America is slipping into an enraged and unstable solipsism. France acts as a stand-in for the external world, a synecdoche for Europe or the entire U.N., but disagreement from France hurts more because we know their name, making theirs the unkindest cut. In this sense, America feels personally betrayed and responds with Et tu, Bruté?

By exaggerating France’s so-called anti-Americanism, commentators hide the total isolation of current American policy from world opinion. America has no friends it has not bought, or more sadly, been bought by.

France is still synonymous with intellectualism in the mind of the anti-intellectual. The U.S. will not accept criticism, while France is critical in its very heart. This is the “arrogance” of the French. Today the right to criticize is beyond endangered; it is practically extinct, the first casualty of our half-figurative, half-literal war.

I think many Americans know they are in the wrong and they are ashamed, and the entity before which they feel their inner shame rising most acutely is France[...]

All this said, I think it would be smarter to sidestep Francophobia than attempt to combat it. Defending France outside of liberal circles may be playing into enemy hands. In the short term it may be, like homophobia, something of a lost cause.

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