Just Above Sunset
March 14, 2004 - Sabotage of the Capitalist Message, Demonstrations, and Heated Debate

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Last week I commented on advertisers spraying rosemary scents in the Paris metros to encourage these urbanites to vacation in Arles or Aix or wherever.  See the World View item from Wednesday, 3 March 2004 here.  Or scroll down to March 7, 2004 - Will Mel Gibson Conquer France Too? (and a few other odd items).

Last week we got this too:

Anti-Advertising Group Takes Campaign to Paris Metro
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Rebecca Harrison

The basics are this:


PARIS (Reuters) - With her eyes blackened and her mouth defaced, the leggy blonde pictured eating yogurt on the advertising poster was not looking so hot by the time Robert Johnson had finished with her. 

"Advertising makes you aggressive," scrawled 30-year-old Johnson across the poster in Paris's Republique metro station before glancing furtively over his shoulder, tucking his black marker into his pocket and jumping back on the train. 

Johnson is not just a bored young delinquent.  He and hundreds like him -- they all use the same pseudonym -- are at war with what they call the "tyranny of advertising" and they use paintbrushes, markers and spray cans as their weapons. 

The Paris underground system is their main target. 

Activists have defaced thousands of the poster ads that line its walls, angering authorities and provoking a one million euro ($1.22 million) lawsuit, in what they say is an unprecedented campaign against the invasion of public space by big business. 

Inspired by the Canadian-born author Naomi Klein's "No Logo" -- the anti-globalization bible that adorns the bookshelves of generation X-ers from Seattle to Stockholm -- the metro warriors say they are tired of being force-fed advertising. 

"We are not terrorists, we are not vandals, but there is no legal way of fighting back," said 34-year-old Alexandre Baret, one of 62 activists being sued for damages. 

"I feel like I've been taken hostage by advertising, and this is the only way I can make my voice heard."


The whole item is long, with lots of detail. 

The questions raised are discussed, and Metrobus, a unit of advertising major Publicis that manages the advertising space on Paris's public transport, and metro operator RATP, are determined to smash the movement and are suing the activists for one million euros in damages.  The case goes to court March 10th. 

Publicis claims that the advertising is in the public interest because it provides state-owned RATP with 65 million euros a year - enough for 20 new metro carriages or 300 buses. 

And about 270 people were arrested.  Of those, 62 were charged. 

Reuters also reports that philosopher and teacher Vincent Cespedes, who has written several books about the impact of advertising on young people, said an average Parisian is exposed to 2,500 ads a day, and that this feeds greed, alienation and depression. 

He says that in France, unlike in other European countries such as Britain, there is no strict code for advertisers, only a watchdog that rarely intervenes. 

In France, one quickly discovers, sex is used to sell almost anything from holidays to handbags, prompting campaigns by feminist groups that write graffiti over them there naked boobs and butts one sees on metro walls and street-side billboards all over the place.  No wonder they didn't get the American outrage at Janet Jackson. 

"Advertising, particularly in France, totally warps the image young people have of women," said Cespedes.  "One of my pupils said the other day he reckoned white women were all whores because they'd sleep with you for a yogurt."

Obviously, I need to stock up on yogurt.  


Over at the Washington Post I see this:

Le Pen Sees His Cause Catching On: French Far-Right Leader's Party Predicted to Fare Well in Regional Ballots
Keith B.  Richburg, Washington Post Foreign Service, Monday, March 8, 2004; Page A12


PARIS - Two years after he shocked the French political establishment with a second-place finish in the country's presidential election, the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is once again hoping to embarrass the elite and confound the pundits with a stronger-than-expected showing by his National Front party in regional elections later this month. 

"The National Front is going to reach 20 percent nationally," a beaming Le Pen predicted, in the sitting room of his palatial home in the suburban hills of Saint-Cloud, west of Paris. 

"Everybody is opposed to the National Front," he said.  "Everybody is hostile.  But despite that, we continue to grow."



Le Pen seems to be making the most of the two issues he sees as vote-winners: corruption among the ruling elite and immigration.  He sees the latter as responsible for a host of ills, from rising crime to social tensions highlighted by last week's passage of a law banning Muslim girls' veils from public classrooms. 

Le Pen, in the interview, said he opposed the law - which bans all "ostensible" religious symbols - because it fails to address what he calls the core problem.  "It's not a problem of the veil," he said.  "It's a problem of immigration."

"Immigration is out of control," Le Pen said.  "We aren't managing the problem."

Well, he’s seventy-five.  And this former paratrooper says he regularly meets with Frenchmen of North African descent who tell him, "It's crazy to let in everybody."

Yep.  We’ve got Pat Robertson and Lou Dobbs.  They get Jean-Marie


Then I hop on the net to watch the French news on TF1 - as they stream the 13h00 and 20h00 broadcasts for me.  And?  Quelque 900 personnes représentant plus de 2.000 responsables de laboratoires ont signé leur lettre de démission, à l'issue d'une assemblée générale à l'Hôtel de Ville de Paris …”

Well, if you don’t like watching the French television news in streaming video in French, here’s the scoop –

See Thousands of French Scientists Revolt
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Elaine Ganley, Associated Press Writer

Our friend Ric at MetropoleParis says there’s always a demonstration of some kind. 

This was Tuesday's -


PARIS - More than 2,000 French scientists resigned their administrative duties Tuesday to protest funding cuts they say hobble French research and risk pushing the brightest minds to countries where science is a prestige industry. 

In solidarity, some 5,000 researchers wearing white lab coats marched through Paris after the scientists voted to resign, while thousands of others held protests in other French cities. 

The unprecedented action culminated several months of protests by state-funded researchers over budget cuts, the freezing of funds and a recent decision by the conservative government to eliminate 550 full-time research posts. 

"I think the government underestimated our discontent," said Thierry Letellier, of the recently formed group "Let's Save Research."


Demonstrators in white lab coats?  Cool.  Not much like May of 1968, is it? 

Well, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the previous Friday that the government was prepared to make available up to three percent of the gross domestic product for research by 2010.  He pointed out that is at least $3.7 billion extra between now and the end of the current legislature's term in 2007.  Didn’t stop the protests.  But he also said, "We won't do petty bargaining," in an interview published Tuesday in Libération. 


Four of France's leading scientists, including two Nobel prize winners, said in a document sent to Le Monde that the entire French research system, with underpaid and under-appreciated employees, needs a “profound revision.”

And one Bertrand Monthubert, a researcher in mathematics with CNRS in Toulouse, said budget cuts have forced his unit to cancel some conferences, reviews and visits by colleagues from abroad.  And he claimed young researchers change fields or go abroad - adding that he knows "lots" of young researchers who have moved to other European countries or the United States. 

Horrors!  We don’t want them!  We hate the French because they didn’t like our war. 

Who cares?  According to a poll published Tuesday in the daily La Croix, eighty-two percent of the French support the researchers' revolt. 



Finally this:

Gloves come off in a very French row over defence of the language
Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian (UK), Saturday March 6, 2004

Now here’s one I like, but I used to teach literature and linguistics. 


It is the kind of row the French adore, the kind of row, indeed, that could probably only happen in France: two distinguished defenders of the language of Molière slugging it out in the national press over the best way to stem its slow and seemingly inexorable decline. 

In the red corner, Bernard Pivot, who for many years hosted France's main literary TV chat show and still presents its hugely popular annual dictation contest, Les Dicos d'Or; in the blue, Maurice Druon, venomous, arch-conservative octogenarian and former secretary general of the illustrious Académie Française. 

"His great misfortune," wrote Mr Pivot of Mr Druon in Le Figaro this week, "is that he would like the French language to be in his image: starched, outdated, reactionary, egotistical, haughty, sinister...Under his pen, French is like a Louis XIV chandelier.  How could today's youth want illumination from such an antiquity?"

But Mr Pivot, fulminated Mr Druon, was merely "an organiser of literary circuses, a presumptuous showman, a parader of dancing bears" who had promoted himself "the nation's chief primary school teacher" and committed the unpardonable sin of "stuffing his most recent dictation with slang". 


Wow!  Good stuff! 

Well, you can read everywhere about how English, the language, is really dominating the world.  Will French survive? 

Henley points out that 1986, according to EU figures, 58% of European commission documents were originally published in French, compared with just 30% last year.  As for European council documents, only 28% were written in French last year, against 59% in English - whereas the two languages were level as recently as 1997, at about 42% each.  The new mainly eastern European entrants joining this year, most of whose diplomats prefer English, will inevitably entail a further drastic reduction in the use French. 

Note this:


"What's at stake is the survival of our culture.  It's a matter of life or death," Jacques Viot of the Alliance Française, which promotes French abroad, warned recently.  For Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, Mr Druon's boss at the Académie, "the defence of our language must be the major national cause of the new century". 

For Mr Druon, a leading figure in the conservative camp, rigour and discipline are the answer.  Blaming teachers, television, advertisers, the government, America and Mr Pivot for the decline, he wrote in a full-page article in Le Figaro last week that "a huge effort by the entire French nation" was required. 

Politicians must make the protection of the language a plank of their electoral campaigns, Mr Druon wrote.  Local and regional defence committees must be formed.  Lax teaching methods must be overhauled, incompetent newspaper subeditors sacked, a television language watchdog formed, Anglicisms mercilessly rooted out and destroyed. 

"The French no longer respect their language," said Mr Druon, "because they are no longer proud of themselves or of their country.  They no longer love themselves, and, no longer loving themselves, they no longer love what was the instrument of their glory - their language."


The sky is falling!  The sky is falling! 

Yeah, and on the other side you have Pivot saying, "a language must continually evolve, open itself up, enrich itself."  That’s the way it is.  His idea?  Don’t worry Anglicisms, neologisms and slang.  Go with the flow and "encourage newcomers, welcome daring inventions."

Otherwise?  Rejecting and despising them will only mean that French comes to resemble this Druon fellow - "immobile, muffled, mothballed and sclerotic."


I love a good fight.  I think I need to go back and read Samuel Johnson on why English doesn’t need any "academy" to keep things pure.  We like our language messay, and growing, and full of borrowed terms.  Heck, it more fun that way.   And you can say more, actually.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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