Friday 8 October 2004

Chrac admits French Cultural Inferiority

Time to engage in the ancient and honourable pastime of Frog-Bashing. It's racist, it's uncultured, it's wrong, but it's fun, and they make themselves such irresistable targets...

In fact, Monsieur Chirac asks that French Culture be given the same status as a threatened species. Or possibly that of a patient in intensive care, requiring a constant stream of money to keep it alive.

From the International Herald Tribune :
HANOI: President Jacques Chirac of France warned Thursday of a catastrophe for global diversity if the United States' cultural leadership goes unchallenged.

Speaking at a French cultural center in Hanoi before the opening Friday of a summit meeting of European and Asian leaders, Chirac said France was right to stand up for cultural and linguistic diversity.

The French president warned that the world's different cultures could be "choked" by U.S. values.
Like, er, Freedom, perhaps? The right not be be dominated by an Aristocratic Upper Class, be they Nomenklatura, Titled Nobility, or effectively hereditary bureaucrats, as in France? It's a dead giveaway that it's the Values he's against, not the danger of over-concentrated power.
This, he said, would lead to a "general world subculture" based around the English language. This, he maintained, would be "a real ecological catastrophe."
Equal only to that caused by the eradication of Smallpox.
Citing Hollywood's overwhelming leadership in the movie industry as an example, Chirac asserted that only with government assistance could countries maintain their cultural heritage.
Monsieur Chirac obviously doesn't count the thousands of Bollywood movies put out each year, which have audiences in the tens of millions. But of course, they're not en Francais so of course they don't count. And they're made by little brown people, not Cultured Europeans.
Vietnam is a former French colony, but only 375,000 of its 81 million people speak French. English is considered by most people a far more valuable and practical second language, particularly among those in business.
Ironically, English is turning into the new lingua franca - "the language of the Franks".

Being Australian, there's lots of things about US culture that I don't like. That's OK, many Americans don't like bits of their culture too. And it gets really difficult talking about "US Culture". California Rolls, Tex-Mex, Chop Suey, Boston Beans, Clam Chowder... Washington (state) is about as different from Washington (DC), as Birmingham (Alabama) is from Birmingham (England). Or Melbourne (Florida) is from Melbourne (Australia).

While staying at the Quaker Square Hilton in Akron (Ohio), in the heart of the Bible Belt, it was difficult to believe I was in the same country as Santa Monica (California). Parts of LA were so much like the daggier parts of Sydney that it was odd that they all drove on the wrong side of the road, and talked a bit funny. Akron, with its 15 channels of Preacher feature TV-Evangelists was, um, a bit different. A little ludicrous; a little frightening; not something that fit easily in my comfort-zone. But certainly different.

There's enough Cultural Diversity within the Anglosphere to make any suggestions about it being a Monoculture laughable. And it survives despite, rather than because of, cultural protection mechanisms. The US exports "Sesame Street", the UK exports "Bob the Builder", and Australia exports "The Wiggles", and the marketplace is big enough for all of them to fight it out. It's as American as Apple Pie, as British as Curry and a Pint. And for that matter, as Japanese as Tempura (and note the country domain of that URL - it's .fr).

France - or Outer Mongolia for that matter - can be in the race too. All they have to do is be better than the competition. Just look at the way Australian diets have changed over the years. We now eat a lot more asian-style cooking, quite a bit more Mediterranean-style, and rather less of the Roast-and-two-veg of Europe and the UK. The perfect accompiment for Kangaroo fillets is Turkish beetroot dip. California Rolls are excellent with a trace of Vegemite in with the Wasabi.

Monsieur Chirac is venting on about US and Anglophone "Cultural Domination" without realising that the Anglosphere is constantly re-inventing itself. English has rightfully been called "The Borg of Languages", typified by a question one German engineer asked me when I was in Bremen: "What's English for 'Kindergarten'?"

And in France they have campaigns by the Acedemie Francais to stop people from using words like "e-mail", as they pollute the racial purity of the French Language.

Quelle Fromage!


Zoe Brain said...

Thorath: I don't have to, you've done a pretty good job already.

Pedro Oliveira said...

I can't believe that Chirac did it again!!! Must be some kind of french tradition for Indochina presidential trips. Yesterday I was reading Revel's L'obsession anti-americaine, which was written in 2001/2002, and there was a reference to the same type of statements there. No doubt, plus que ├ža change...