Friday, October 9, 2009

Lifted from Comments

A reader has urged me to lift the following comment on Frédéric Mitterrand out of the comments section, so I am doing so with a few modifications:

On the age of Mitterrand's Thai partner: I believe him when he puts the young man's age at 20. Why not? The words garçon, gosse, and ephèbe in the mouth of a 50+-year-old writer apply perfectly to someone of that age. So, Kirk, I think the charge of pedophilia is misplaced, and in this respect Mitterrand is right to allege that there is "un amalgame" between the two cases (his and Polanski's). He is guilty of sexual tourism, not statutory rape (a crime that Finkielkraut seems to be unaware is a crime).

Now, when it comes to sex between the old and the young, for cash, in foreign climes, I suggest that we put things in perspective. Anyone who has served in the military in a poor country or been on a mission or business trip to the Third World knows that this sort of sin is hardly uncommon. That's not the issue. I agree with Brent that Mitterrand admirably represents the "complexity" of one man's thoughts in regard to such behavior, in this case his own. He finds it sordid and yet cannot help himself. Reading him, we understand why he thinks of his own life as an example of "la mauvaise vie," and here I take the definite article to mean that he regards The Bad Life as an antithesis to The Good Life that is beyond the reach of the fallen sinner he represents himself as being.

For me, his primary error as minister remains his defense of Polanski, not his sexual tourism: there is probably not a colonel in the French army who has not indulged in some questionable sexual escapade abroad. Even the supposedly "puritanical Americans" tend to run wild when serving abroad. The sexual tourism issue is a problem for the government, not for Mitterrand (except insofar as his personal demons are involved). The government has in the past prosecuted behavior like his.* Can it maintain him as a minister and continue to brand behavior to which he has confessed as a crime? I put that as a question. I haven't made up my mind, but at the moment I am inclined to think that Sarkozy is right to resist the denunciations of the FN, elements of the PS, Christian Vanneste, et autres Savonarole des temps modernes.

*Kirk points out that sexual tourism is not a crime prosecutable in France, only sexual tourism that results in sex with minors. I don't know much about these matters, but I have spent enough time in the Third World to know that, for me, the unconscionable thing is the way in which the juxtaposition of wealth and abject poverty at once creates temptations and opportunities and subdues moral compunctions. Sexual exploitation is condemnable as such, and whether the exploited is 18 or 17 does not strike me as an exculpatory distinction.

This is a moral rather than a legal issue, however, and France rightly prides itself on maintaining a distinction between private and public life. If we dismissed all ministers guilty of immoral behavior, we'd have a hard time maintaining a government. Mitterrand's mauvaise vie may nevertheless be a public issue, however, because France, in prosecuting sexual acts committed abroad, is now in the position of having to clarify just what kinds of sexual exploitation--and even Mitterrand admits that his behavior was exploitative, referring to les miettes left for les gosses by les ripoux who manage the sexual traffic--it is willing to countenance.

16 comments:

kirkmc said...

"Sexual exploitation is condemnable as such, and whether the exploited is 18 or 17 does not strike me as an exculpatory distinction."

Prostitution is technically legal in France, so I don't think that argument will hold much water in this specific case. (Not that I disagree in principle, but Mitterand paying for sex is not something that the French would frown upon.)

meshplate said...

For those who are completists, here is the interview with Finkielkraut on France Inter this morning that preceded his debate with Michaud. What is he thinking? I am baffled. One specious sophistry piled on top of another.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xar0rp_alain-finkielkraut-france-inter_news

MYOS said...

I heard Finkekfraut and I could not believe my ears. Especially when he said that since the girl had had sex with her boyfriend, consent no longer mattered.
As Art said: "a crime that Finkielkraut seems to be unaware is a crime"...
Then again, rape has only been a crime in France since 1992, Finkelkraut may believe it was better in the 1980s.
We can't condemn him for paying for sex abroad 10 years ago, as long as he does not continue with it while serving. On the other hand, being a prostitute's client IS a crime in France: it could be a good opportunity for him to distinguish between his past behavior (about which he felt horrible, anyway) and his current one, etc.
I don't want him with-hunted but I do think something's iffy.
BTW, Marine Le Pen had added the word "jeune" (young) in her reading to justify her attack so the charge of paedophilia was always moot. She's trying to use Mitterrand to get disappointed Sarkozystes back to her and she's using ouverture very shrewdly.

meshplate said...

Remember Eliot Spitzer? In his case, there wasn't the faintest whiff of pedophilia, yet his resignation was almost immediate. It wasn't because he had a lover, but because he had been with a prositute and had charged the state for it as I remember. What's up with the French, and Mitterrand on this issue? Where is the sense that as a minister, you are held to higher standards. We are not talking about consenting lovers as Mitterrand would prefer to cast his encounters, but paid intercourse, which is an essential degradation of the dignity of the individual as Mitterrand himself recognized. Is that not enough to warrant a resignation? What he is arguing is as long as it's not pedophilia, it's okay. From a minister of the Republic?

Anonymous said...

"rape has only been a crime in France since 1992"

1. I assume you're talking about marital rape. 2. That law was passed in 1980. 3. Compared to other developed states France was actually quite quick to criminalize marital rape.

meshplate said...

Here is Spitizer's resignation speech. If you watch it right after Mitterrand's, one feels the latter's prevaricating and hairsplitting seems clearly dishonorable, and far from forthright. I see it much more clearly today as being a case of blaming one's critics instead accepting one's responsibilities.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TIOP5-8_-o

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Spitzer was under threat of prosecution, and he had been caught in a criminal investigation. As a former prosecutor who had gone after politicians and magnates for crimes similar to his own, he was hardly in a position to appeal to the "complexities" and ambiguities of the human psyche. He was a law and order man. Mitterrand belongs to a different universe. I don't say this to justify him, simply to suggest that a comparison of their two speeches requires a lot more contextualization than you imply. They're very different people. And please note that Spitzer seems on the verge of returning to active political life and has certainly survived to the extent that he is publishing op-ed pieces and appearing regularly in press coverage of major issues. The media still treat him as a man whose opinions count, not as a hypocrite who has discredited himself entirely.

meshplate said...

As I recall, Sptizer went after corruption on Wall Street: major white collar crimes. I always liked him and it's a pity that he isn't in the Obama administration, in Tim Geithner's job for example. We'd all be better off. I'm all for complexities of the human psyche too, but I don't believe that in the 70s or 80s. or whenever Mitterrand's visits to Thailand took place, that homosexuals were driven underground by their "shameful nature of sexuality" (la mauvaise vie?) towards male prostitution as the only outlet for their libidos. That may have been the case a century ago, or in Proust's time, but it surely wasn't the case in those years, which were perhaps more décomplexées and permissive than today. However, perhaps that's not what FM means by complexities and ambiguities of the human psyche. Perhaps I am being obtuse and should read his book.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

You should read his book, especially the chapter in which he recounts his pain at being mistaken for an exploitative pedophile because he has adopted a young North African child. He is also candid about the difficulties of his relationship with the boy. If we take his account of his Thai adventure as a plain recital of the facts, then I think we also have to consider this chapter as evidence of his empathy with children. He is a complex man, as he claims. Spitzer no doubt has his complexities as well, but if you were to ask me which one I'd rather sit down with to discuss life and literature, the answer would be Mitterrand. I would also point out that Spitzer's prostitute did not come away from her meeting with "miettes." Nor was she driven to her line of work by abject poverty. She wanted to live in a certain style, and she made a choice, as she made clear in selling her story to the press.

meshplate said...

I have a friend who used to work with FM on his TV programs. Indeed, he is reputed to be an interesting and sympathetic man. I am not for Spitzer and against Mitterrand, I am only ill at ease with his response. Everyone has a right to their private life. However, Mitterrand made his private life public. Once that threshold is crossed, I feel that he has to take the chips as they fall, especially now since he has come to the "moral" defense of Polanski and criticized American prudishness. As Mitterrand himself implied, let he who is guiltless cast the first stone. It all may blow over, but I am not sure given other dissatisfactions with Sarkozy's government that FM will get a free pass. He may yet be hoisted by his own petard.

meshplate said...

Proust's repost to Gide's criticism that he had not been honest about his own homosexuality in writing was: « Vous pouvez tout raconter, s’écrie-t-il ; mais à condition de ne pas dire : Je. » FM might have been equally circumspect and still had the pleasure of evoking whatever he liked as un homme de lettres!

meshplate said...

Is this a genuine story, or has Le Figaro been hacked by someone posting a phony story? I can't believe what I am reading:

http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2009/10/09/01002-20091009ARTFIG00605-frederic-mitterrand-temoin-de-moralite-pour-un-violeur-.php

meshplate said...

It is the genuine article. There seems no smoking gun here, but one thing is for certain. Mitterrand certainly stuck up for all the wrong guys, and it's coming back at him in a way that he didn't intend it to. But that's life in the fast lane of politics. He has now stuck up for a total of three rapists. It really doesn't look good.

MYOS said...

To Anonymous: although the law classifying rape as a felony rather than a misdemeanor (as it used to be) dates back to 1980, the applications were so restricted that until 1992, FRance was in the situation described here for 1963:
http://www.slate.com/id/2225274/entry/2231493/?from=rss
BTW, Alain Finkelkraut seems to b living in 1963.

As for Frédéric Mitterrand, I agree that if he had been straight, he would just be one among many politiciants who'd paid for sex while abroad, there'd be no with hunt. And Marine Le Pen clearly sought to create a confusion between homosexuality and paedophilia - it worked, too, if you read French forums you wonder if all the morons are posting or if that many people can be confused so easily, what with several ministers being gay in a conservative government and the Mayor of Paris, too.
At the same time, it's the context - his defense of Polanski. To me, it's more a question of gender and class - men with leading roles from important families just expect to be exonerated from what would be condemned in others and thus Mitterrand could not fathom Polanski being sued over anything. It's got nothing to do with his "adventures" in Thailand, which made him loathe himself (not something straight guys going to Thailand would generally express even if they'd done the exact same thing.)
For some reason I thought of Berlusconi....

Anonymous said...

I heard Isabel Alonso said that Finkielkraut's defense of Polanski on France Inter was "à vomir." Sadly can't find the link. I was going to say something longer about it, but I think she's summed it up nicely.

Anonymous said...

Amalgame: has it struck anyone how this word is flourished like a bunch of garlic to ward off (repress?) the blindingly obvious: Thailand is the world mecca for those after sex with minors. As a homosexual, Mitterand’s claiming he was only with an old boxer is risible, transparent falsehood that only points frantically to what he’s trying to hide.

Also if you say the word amalgame, it gets you out from having to admit Le Pen’s got a point. It’s not exactly dandy for a minister of France to be picking up a rent boy wearing a number in Pat Pong who deludes himself he bought love: « Il a ri comme s'il avait gagné à la loterie quand j'ai fait appeler son numéro…Il avait l’air vraiment content d’aller avec moi; j’ai senti qu’il serait vif et fraternel.” À vomir? »