Monday, May 07, 2007

I Was a Culture Slut


In a very funny recent article, Bill Maher argues that politicians have to stop using 'French' as a weapon. Or, more specifically, stop evoking France and the French as a handy means to end discussions and win fights. Apparently, Mitt Rommey's brilliant strategy for getting elected is to tie the Democrats to the French, say that 'Hilary equals France' and produce bumper stickers reading 'First, not French'. And then punch a mime and fart loudly. Then, when the talent agent says, 'That's a hell of an act. What do you Republicans call that?', Rommey replies 'The Sophisticates!'

The anti-French stuff is just too ludicrous to take seriously; how could you really hate a country that spends so much time worrying about the differences between types of bread? Nobody could really hate the French, could they?

A few months ago, the guard at the U.S. border was much amused to hear that I study French history.
''Wow! French history! You must hear a lot of dumb jokes about that, huh?''

''Just from border guards,'' I thought, but had the good sense to not say out loud.

Yet, it's true. I've heard all of the tired old jokes about the French- they're wussies, pretentious, snobbish, effete, have body odor, a lousy military, they're too tolerant of mimes, and hung up on Jerry Lewis, etc. etc. To be honest, none of the jokes really bother me because they tend to be so absurd. Again, it's like the star-bellied sneeches- nobody could seriously hate the French, could they?

Occasionally, though, I will encounter some indignant fellow who thinks I must be a real fool to study France; after all, I'm an American for crying out loud! My logic is fairly simple on the matter- certainly, it's much easier to study American history, but if I did, I would be spending all of my summers, for the rest of my career and perhaps my life, doing research in Iowa. Think about that. Now compare this to spending summers doing research in Paris. And having other people pay for it. It's pretty simple actually.

That usually shuts them up. Every now and then, though, I'll meet someone who seems really jealous or deeply upset about my Francography. As if I'm somehow cheating on America with France. To make matters worse, I'm working towards dual-citizenship with Canada! "How could you?! You slut!"

Nationalists are actually a lot like jealous lovers. There's the same bristling insecurity, the same clinging need for absolute devotion. It's never enough for the nationalist that you admire their country; you must admire it above all others. You have to give yourself completely to the nation, pledge eternal devotion 'till death do you part. Divorce is not an option. It's no wonder that patriots extol the soldier who is willing to die for his country above all civilians, who just have to live there.

But, that 'ain't me babe. Behind the bluster and the passive aggression of the jealous lover is nothing but fear and insecurity. It doesn't upset me in the slightest if Claire finds someone else attractive (even Andy Samberg! :P) because I know that she's madly in love with me. Similarly, I think a need to constantly shout "We're Number One! We're first, not French!" comes packaged with a heaping serving of dread that the nation is declining, slipping away, slowly dimming...
Besides, I'm culturally promiscuous. I see the world as an enormous buffet! There are things I like to sample from every country, in spite of the chauvinistic patriots and the so-called 'defenders of multiculturalism', who see cultural items as the patrimony of certain ethnic groups alone. I want to try everything, even if it makes me seem like an upstart or a poseur or a thief in the night.

And there are some things that I like about every place. I love French pastries, chansons, clothing, new wave cinema, and the breads, oh the breads! I love Italian foods, their Eurotrash fashions, the Italian neo-realist cinema, the Renaissance and the birth of humanism. I love English wit, indie-pop, skiffle bands, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and absurdism. I love Canadian politeness, their clean cities, dignity, humor, Stompin' Tom, hockey and poutine. I love American rock music, particularly 60s garage rock and 70s punk, blues, hamburgers, B-movies, noir films, open-heartedness, flag kitsch, jazz, and optimism. I could go on all day!

Sure, there are things that annoy or trouble me about every nation on earth and everywhere that I go. But, more than anything, I don't want to let anything force me to stand still. Especially not 'patriotism'- mistaking a sentimental attachment to certain places for a belief system.

2 comments:

gregvw said...

Well, I have certainly known a few French people who genuinely hate the French...

Rufus said...

Most of them I know have a sort of love-hate relationship with the French. French scholars, myself included, tend to get frustrated with them quite frequently, but also find them strangely endearing. It's like having a very moodly lover.