Friday, June 6, 2008

Les Grands Frères

During her (apparently premeditated) meltdown in front of the National Assembly, Rachida Dati referred ominously to la politique des grands frères allegedly instituted by the Left to deal with les banlieues. She didn't explain exactly what she meant by this phrase, although it was possible to divine from her remarks that it referred to a devolution of authority from the state to certain males living in the troubled neighborhoods. Ultimately, she implied, they abused this authority to victimize others, especially women, among whom she included herself.

Rue89 has published an article explaining the use of the phrase and the reality of the approach, which was "neither left nor right," according to the author, but rather a policy implemented by mayors desperate to find some way to reach people in their unsettled quarters. She cites the experience of Serge Dassault in Corbeil. No one would accuse Dassault of belonging to the Left.

Assises du Roman, Villa Gilet, Lyon

Not political, but since I translated a few pieces for the Assises du Roman at the Villa Gilet in Lyon, I thought I'd mention it. Here's the program.

Villepin Attacks the Media

Dominique de Villepin has compared the French press to "cat food." He also likens its abjection during the presidential campaign to the abjection of the American media in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Finally, he claims that the press between the two World Wars was "infinitely more venomous, infinitely more courageous" than the press today.

That odd paratactic construction leaves it unclear whether Villepin considers venom to be the cause of courage, the consequence, or simply the accompaniment, the sauce to lend piquancy to the main dish. I wouldn't have thought the interwar French press could be held up as a model of anything other than corruption, venality, and vituperation. Think of the Stavisky Affair and its attendant revelations of journalists bought and paid for. Think of Albert Camus's wartime editorials lambasting the wretched newspapers for which he wrote before WW II.

That said, there is cause for concern about the state of the French press today. Many people would argue that it is biased. I think, rather, that the problem is superficiality. As far as one can judge from his own superficial critique, Villepin agrees: "After five minutes, there's nothing to read." If there were a culture of more thorough exploration and critique, bias could not thrive as readily as it does. I'm not sure that the financial crisis of the media is the whole story. The decline of the daily press seems to me to have deeper roots. As government became more technocratic and less literary, the technical competence of the press as of the public failed to keep up. The advent of television altered the affective relationship between political leaders and their constituents. The Internet provides space for more ample development at relatively low cost, but it also allows readers to tailor what they read to their tastes and therefore never to confront opposing views.