How the French Election Contributed to the Globalization of Glee

Using the words “happy” and “French” in the same sentence rarely makes any sense but when the new president’s name, Emmanuel Macron, was announced on Sunday, 66% of the French voter population screamed with joy.  (Well, maybe a few of them screamed with relief but it was a blissful sound nonetheless.)  Mr. Macron, the Centrist Independent candidate defeated Marine Le Pen, the National Front contender.  The presidential campaign had been full of diabolical twists and turns.  Macron came out of nowhere and Le Pen came out of hatred and populism.  But, suddenly on Sunday, the French broke into a collective smile – a genuine one at that.

Ecstatic French voters at Macron's victory announcement.
Ecstatic French voters at Macron’s victory announcement.

The French were not alone in their euphoria.  The whole world seemed to join in this Globalization of Glee as congratulations poured in from all over Europe, Asia and even from the USA.  It was a landslide victory for a 39-year-old man who, until three years ago, was an unknown entity on the French political scene.  The polls had him favored to win but only by a slight margin.  Twelve million voters abstained, which was clearly a sign in Le Pen’s favor.  Four million more voted blank (but we wouldn’t know that until the evening) and another million voters “spoiled” their ballots.  However, 75% of eligible French voters cast their ballot and overwhelmingly repudiated hate and nationalism.  I want to address those voters and simply say Merci, Merci, Merci!

Firstly, thank you for restoring hope and good sense to this world.  All eyes were on France for this important election and you came through for us.  After Brexit and Trump, we knew a Far-Right French president would mean the unequivocal end to Europe and the beginning of social uncertainty. You saved us from that – at least for the next five years.

Secondly, thanks for your electoral system.  I know you think it was a long, annoying haul listening to the eleven politicians who ran for president but it was relatively short compared to the years of campaigning we go through in the USA.

The French voting system is surprisingly simple.
The French voting system is surprisingly simple.

It was just a question of months here in France.  You had only one primary for the Socialist party and one for the Republican party.  There were only two weeks between the first and final round of the presidential elections.  The new president won by a simple majority of votes.  A vote in Lille counted as much as a vote in Paris.  No electoral college.  Just old-fashioned, simple arithmetic.  And, the icing on the presidential cake, is that there is only one week between the election and the inauguration of the new president.  One week! Emmanuel Macron was elected on May 7th; he’ll take office on May 14th and nobody cares about who will be singing at his inauguration.

Thirdly, thank you for your election media coverage.  Although some channels are getting a bit “Americanized,” the overwhelming majority of French journalists and presenters are serious characters who do their homework.  They ask relevant questions and cover pertinent issues.  There are times when guests talk over each other during a discussion and no one can understand anything but they are still addressing political issues.  None of your journalists gossiped about anyone’s family members during the campaign.  When there was a wiki leaks story concerning one of the candidates two days before the election, you journalists decided not to make a big deal of it.  Such a welcome change.

No wonder "The Thinker" is French!
No wonder “The Thinker” is French!

Another thing I want to thank you for is your arrogance and unwavering intellectual superiority.  I know that might sound strange but the fact that critical thinking is in the French DNA can be a good thing.  It might also be exasperating and rude but, in this case, it worked for the common good.  You didn’t take the easy road of populism.  You spent some time and brainpower thinking your way through a complicated, divisive and serious situation.  You decided that even though the choices were not perfect, the consequences of a far-right president were too dreadful to let this happen.  You elected an intelligent person who reads and writes.  We elected a person who tweets.

And finally, French voters, thank you for embarrassing Donald Trump and the Americans in general.  Trump did send a congratulatory tweet to Mr. Macron but we all know he would have welcomed Marine Le Pen with open arms, considering her to be a blonde, French version of himself.  He would have insisted he helped her get elected.  He might even have planned a trip to Paris to see his imaginary friend “Jim.”

Merci beaucoup!
Merci beaucoup!

Thanks for showing the world that the USA is not the political center of the universe.  And, in the end, thank you for being so…French!

The Disrespecting Women Effect in Presidential Elections

Everyone I have spoken to about the upcoming US presidential election, both in France and America, is shocked at the incredibly low level our presidential debates have sunken to.  The French news media broadcast both debates live but it’s really the second one that is the most embarrassing.  You see, when you’re an American living in Paris, your French friends and family feel it’s absolutely necessary to badger you with their opinions and questions about the elections.

The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.
The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.

They ask you how Donald Trump could have been nominated in the first place; why do Americans dislike Hillary Clinton so much; how does the electoral college work; why don’t the candidates talk about their policies during the debates; why is sex so important in the election and on and on.  Explaining the electoral college system to the French is boring and useless so I’ll just skip it.  Let’s talk about sex – and its part in both French and American recent and future elections.

The latest sexual development in the American campaign is, of course, the sound track of Donald Trump’s offensive comments regarding having a license to grab women’s private parts.  This caused Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain to withdraw their support of Trump, saying he had crossed the line.  This also gave hope to Hillary supporters who believe that the indecisive voters will now be on her side or not vote at all – which in the end is good for her.  I just want to remind everyone that Trump crossed the line with racist comments many months ago.  He also insulted families of soldiers who have died for their country.  But fellow Republicans didn’t raise an eyebrow until he was exposed as a sexual aggressor.  Just goes to show how women, or rather disrespecting women, could make or break this election.

Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.
Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.

Now the French have their sexually-related political problems too.  Remember Dominique Strass-Kahn?  He was the Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who was supposed to have run as the Socialist candidate for president of France in 2012 but encountered a major obstacle in 2011. That was when he was taken off an Air France plane in New York and arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a hotel maid.  His subsequent trial and eventual settlement blew his chances for political success and cleared the way for Francois Hollande’s win in May of 2012. Another potential-president bit the dust due to a woman-related issue.

Again back in the USA, the Trump campaign is hitting Hillary hard with claims that Bill Clinton has sexually attacked and abused women for many years.  The fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president doesn’t seem to deter Mr. Trump.  For the second debate, he brought in three women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey who have all alleged that Mr. Clinton sexually assaulted them

Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.
Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.

during different points of his career.  Their claims range from sexual harassment to rape.  Mr. Trump thought he would show that Hillary is not a defender of women’s rights.  He said and I quote, “Hillary was an enabler and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward.”  The second debate seemed like more of a reality-show-gone-horribly-bad or, even worse, a horribly bad TV show that suddenly becomes real.  I have never seen anything so hard to watch.

The French have now begun their debates in view of the presidential elections which will take place in May of 2017.  France is hosting primaries for the first time in its political history and the first meeting of seven candidates of the center-right party was held this week.  It was a tame, polite meeting compared to the Trump-Clinton debates, but it’s only the beginning.

The first French Presidential primary debate - a calm affair - for now.
The first French Presidential primary debate – a calm affair – for now.

The current president, Francois Hollande, has not yet announced his candidacy and will not do so until December.  That makes for only five months of French political campaigning, which seems like heaven at this point.  Women-wise, we’ll see what happens.  So far, so good, no major sexual scandals have emerged.  But, like I said, it’s just the beginning.

Can a French-Speaking Dummy of Donald Trump Save a French TV Show?

“Les Guignols”, a political satire show starring life-size muppets on French CanalPlus cable television network, went away about six months ago for lack of audience; lack of pertinence and just plain old out-datedness. However, it came back with a new boss, a new look and a new hero. The new boss is Vincent Bolloré, a wealthy French businessman who initially said he would get rid of “Les Guignols” show but then changed his mind. The new look is one of globalization, including a fast-paced opening theme song that flashes head shots of political leaders from all over the world.

Donald Trump as a muppet on "Les Guignols".
Donald Trump as a muppet on “Les Guignols”.

The new hero, at least one of them, is none other than Donald Trump, a Republican hopeful for the American presidency. What the heck is he doing there?

Mr. Trump is not the only new dummy on the show. In their quest for extending their media reach, Canal Plus has also added muppets of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. “Les Guignols” show is hoping to expand its audience by gravitating towards

A dummy of Kim joins Donald Trump on the French muppet show.
A dummy of Kim joins Donald Trump on the French muppet show.

the United States. They think that presenting American subjects tailor-made for public ridicule will up their ratings. The show will be translated into English and Spanish and will eventually be exported. Now, how ridiculous does this whole idea sound? Canal+ starts with an English-speaking Donald Trump politician wannabe. They turn him into a French-speaking dummy who says outrageous things and acts in an unflattering manner. Then, they translate him back into English and try to sell that to the American market! Why would Americans buy that? We already have the real thing we can make fun of. (Hmm…maybe they should try Canada).

I, however, was curious enough to watch one of the episodes with the Trump dummy. It definitely re-enforced my belief that this is one export that will never fly. What is funny (like in political satire funny) here in France is not always funny in the USA and vice versa. Same goes for political correctness – definitely not a global quality. I am posting the following video as an example but, just in case you cannot watch it in the USA (lucky you), I’ll explain what happens.

Coiffure extrême de Donald Trump – Les Guignols du 20/01 – CANAL+

The opening scene takes place in a business-like waiting room where several 30-something muppet men with shaved heads are sitting quietly. A woman carrying a small dog with longish, blondish hair walks in. One guy gets inspired; steals her dog and a fancy razor blade that just happens to be hanging next to her and hightails it to the men’s room. Once there, he shaves the animal and manages to paste the dog’s hair on his own head. He combs it over to the extreme right (of course) and goes back to the waiting room. Trump comes out of his office. When he sees the candidate who has adopted his hair-do, he points and shouts, “Wow, that’s great!” The voiceover now closes in on Trump proudly sporting his comb-over and says in French, “The extreme hair of Donald Trump – the worst hair-do in history.”

So, as you can see, it barely passes for funny in French and will certainly not be laughed at in the USA. His hair is not the problem though it doesn’t surprise me that the French would make that an issue. It’s a cheap, easy shot. Another point is that shaving a stolen dog is not politically correct in the USA. The skit would be banned for that reason alone.

My advice to the producer of “Les Guignols” would be to drop the Trump dummy. He won’t expand the show’s audience. There is really no time for that since Donald Trump won’t be in the political spotlight for much longer.

Kanye West muppet has staying power as a 2020 US presidential candidate.
Kanye West muppet has staying power as a 2020 US presidential candidate.

Keep Kim and Kanye though – they’ve got staying power. Kanye already announced his plans to run for President in 2020.   That means Canal+ has four more years to figure out how to make that funny.