Just Above Sunset
March 20, 2005 - France Picks Its Nose (Formerly 'French Baffled By Nose')

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PARIS: The hit British TV reality show 'Great Brits' has been given a Gallic scent of garlic, amusing offshore news organizations somewhat more than the French, who have seldom wondered who among them is most popular national hero because Charles de Gaulle snared the top spot between periods of being a traitor and the ex-President of France.


Despite the heavy advance promotion by France-2 TV  for last Monday night's 'Le plus grand Français de tous les temps,' I easily managed not to watch it. I have nothing against diverting television entertainment but French TV is usually too silly to be diverting, even though veteran host Michel Drucker is not a total jerk. For Monday's amusement he was back-stopped by Thierry Ardisson, who used to pretend to drink jars of whisky in the Palace disco on Saturday night TV.


To compound my error, I failed to read Le Parisien's account of the show on Tuesday. The sun was shining on the terrace of the Raspail Vert café when I looked at the paper, but I had neglected to bring my specs and read the wonderful weather forecast instead even though it was happening at the time.


It was the Wednesday post by Alan to the List that alerted me to the Brit interest in this matter. First off, I don't think the French are 'baffled' - Le Parisien often says the French are baffled by this or that, but most French only become aware of their bafflement by reading the paper.


Brits are, of course, fascinated by heroes. For their TV show they picked Winston Churchill as their top of the tops hero 'of all time.' It must have been a difficult decision considering all the world-class scoundrels they have to choose from.


The French are constantly being polled so they have become accomplished liars. According to the official history surrounding this affair, exactly 1038 of them were asked to pick their 'top heroes' last September. Fortunately there were enough answers so that a master list of 100 major personalities could be composed and from this the top ten were selected, to be put in numerical order from one to ten, somehow.


The official history says that somebody will vote for the top ten, while documentaries are shown, one at a time, on this 11-episode TV show. Various personalities will be on hand to champion their heroes, so the whole thing will be vastly entertaining, or diverting at least.


That Jules Verne outpolled Bonaparte tells us something vital about the French that baffles the Brits. The first football hero on the list - Zinedine Zidane, a true hero! - is preceded by singer-composer Serge 'Gitanes' Gainsbourg and followed by Charlemagne, Lino Ventura, François Mitterrand, Gustave Eiffel, and Emile Zola. Trust the French to have a German and an Italian in their top 100 list.


The dead Yves Montand tops the living Johnny Hallyday but Brigitte Bardot - still with us - trumps lit guys de Maupassant, Dumas, Balzac and Verlaine. Same thing happens between the dead François Mitterrand and the living president, Jacques Chirac. Near the bottom, the goat smelling Jean-Paul Sartre scores slightly ahead of the living Catherine 'Like Roses' Deneuve, who in turn is two places ahead of Gérard 'The Mogul' Depardieu.


But all of these are also-rans. The top ten list, alphabetically, runs like this: Abbé Pierre, Bourvil, Coluche, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Marie Curie, Charles de Gaulle, Victor Hugo, Molière, Louis Pasteur and Edith Piaf.


The good Abbé has been campaigning for an improvement in housing conditions for the French since 1947, and to judge by what he says every December, housing here is still in a sorry state. I only mention this as an example proving that a French hero need not be successful or rich, and it is not strictly necessary to only have one name.


The main problem with choosing one 'true hero' from the top ten list is that the other 90 candidates are excluded. This is at odds with French democracy, which usually stipulates that elections have two rounds - one to get rid of the riff-raff, and the final when the knives come out.


For another example, there is Louis XIV sitting at place number 50, exactly halfway between one and 100. Famous for building Versailles because he was scared of the Parisians, famous for his toilet, famous for living a long time and getting taxes collected on time, Louis 'Le Roi Soleil' Bourbon was a very big hat in French history. Too bad we can't vote for him.


As for the ten above, you may be able to vote too. The polls are now

open for 'Le plus grand Français de tous les temps' here.  




Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis



Background –


One of the British news items regarding this poll –


French baffled by list of national heroes
Jon Henley in Paris - Wednesday March 16, 2005 - The Guardian (UK)

Victor Hugo, Molière, Marie Curie and Charles de Gaulle are still in there fighting. But Alexandre Dumas, Jean-Paul Sartre and Belmondo and even - bit of an upset, this one - Napoleon are sadly out of the running.


Nearly three years after the BBC's hit Great Britons series, the French, not without some rather Gallic misgivings, have been asked to choose Le plus grand Français de tous les temps, or The greatest Frenchman ever.


"Dial one for Zizou [Zinedine Zidane], 2 for Zola," was the headline in Le Figaro, unimpressed by the latest British televisual export to hit French screens. "It's by no means certain the French will take to this game as willingly as the English ... There'll be no suspense on this side of the Channel. The General will win hands down."


The TV channel France 2 unveiled numbers 100 to 11 on Monday. Voting is under way and will continue through 10 documentaries in which selected celebrities - including the interior minister, Dominique de Villepin, and actor Antoine de Caunes - will champion their chosen contender.


Selected by a representative sample of 1,038 people, France's top 100 contained some surprises. "What the hell were they thinking of?" asked Le Parisien, noting that the anti-globalisation activist José Bové (87) and film director Luc Besson (91) were deemed to have contributed more to Gallic glory than Jean-Paul Sartre (96) and Simone de Beauvoir, who did not even make the list. …


We are old too that the full list contains ninety men and ten women, of which sixty-eight are dead, and thirty-two alive.  Forty-fourcome from show business, twenty-two from arts and literature, seventeen from politics and wight from sports.




The top 10 contains few major upsets, with the possible exception of the anarchic comic and one-time presidential candidate Coluche, and the legendary comedian and actor Bourvil, who starred in 55 films and recorded 300 songs.


France's favourite priest, the Abbé Pierre, who founded the Emmaus charity for the poor and homeless, is in there, as are undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, two-time Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, General de Gaulle, the great romantic poet and novelist Hugo, the 17th-century dramatic genius Molière, groundbreaking chemist Louis Pasteur and singer Edith Piaf.


Among the notable also-rans, the late president François Mitterrand (24) trounced the incumbent, Jacques Chirac (42). However, the diminutive Corsican emperor who created modern-day France could only manage an undistinguished 16th - while the show's two hosts, TV presenters Michel Drucker and Thierry Ardisson, both made the top 70.


Whatever.  Of course the smart money is on General de Gaulle or Edith Piaf.  But it could be Zinedine Zidane.  José Bové is at 87 and rising.  I think Fox News should run one of these here - George Washington or Bill O’Reilly (a toss-up, in all senses of the term).


Then there is the question of philosophers on the list –


Paris, city of the dead

Sartre barely makes the top 100 national figures in a poll, but he was the last great French intellectual
Hywel Williams – The Guardian (UK) - Thursday March 17, 2005


… Now comes the news that France's most famous 20th century intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre, has been relegated from the premier league by French public opinion. The poll to discover the country's 100 favourite national figures, conducted by the television channel France 2, puts him at 96 - just behind anti-globalisation hero José Bové at 87. La Grande Sartreuse herself, Simone de Beauvoir, fails to appear at all. When it comes to its taste in intellectuals, the French, it seems, are as vulnerable as the rest of the west to showbiz values.


This year is the centenary of Sartre's birth as well as the 25th anniversary of his death. And for most of his life he was box-office material. Small, ugly and smelly, he was the supremely useful French intellectual of the 20th century because he seemed to confirm so many prejudices about the breed. Some who met him thought the odour that emanated was goat-like. And the sex life certainly inclined in the same direction. De Beauvoir, so much the purer writer of good prose, thought her partner "had a diabolical side to him: he conquered young girls by explaining their souls to them".


But if Place Sartre seems some way away from arriving in Paris, the philosopher retains his importance as the last great French intellectual - the one who operated right across the waterfront in plays, essays, novels and more technical philosophical works.


He was a romantic about reason, and communicated that real lasting passion. After his time, the class of intellos succumbed to the relentless, pointless introspection of uninteresting minds. The 1970s saw the emergence of some really preposterous figures, such as Bernard-Henri Levy and André Glucksmann who were marketed as les nouveaux philosophes and remain boringly among us.


The vulgarity of their PR-directed minds made these thinkers into arch operators at turning thoughts into commodities. They jumped on the free-market bandwagon. It's the main chance - and the camera lens - that supplies the only consistency in their careers. Their true talent consists of the ability to weave a web of words around any issue - so that the verbiage conceals and confuses rather than reveals. What really gets a showing is the self-conscious cleverness of a pointless arabesque.


Claiming the mantle of the original 18th-century philosophes who, in the name of reason, braved persecution and prosecution, seems just about the most impertinent part of the whole show. For, despite the appearance of dissent, these writers are a part of the French establishment. They are complicit in that establishment's readiness to flatter the thinker and to fetishise his thoughts so that both can be turned into episodes in the history of taste. Which is why B-H L, like Coco Chanel's pearls, is a confection designed for display - and is about as genuine an article as those same pearls.


The salon is the real French tradition to which the country's current intellectual class belongs. And in a salon, ideas are not judged according to their truth but their pragmatic use in the business of managing and sustaining a career. At least Sartre showed how truth should castigate power - whether it was Stalinism in the late 40s or the US in the 50s. This failure of the post-Sartrean philosophers is just one aspect of a wider, generational collapse. Among historians there's no successor to Fernand Braudel, and literary criticism knows no genius equal to that of Roland Barthes. And a visit to a French Left Bank bookshop is depressing, with all those rows of Gallimard books so beautifully produced and so full of vacuous wordplay. Vanity publishing with an intello twist has buried real thought and elevated the bogus. Which is why, even in the early spring sunshine, Paris is a city of the dead - a beautiful tomb for a dead culture.


Ah, maybe so.


From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


De Beauvoir, so much the purer writer of good prose, thought her partner "had a diabolical side to him: he conquered young girls by explaining their souls to them".


And boy oh boy, he must have been good at it, too, considering he had to divert their attention from that goaty smell of his!  Talk about working with a handicap!


From Dick in Rochester –


You gotta admit - he ain't no Jerry Lewis!  And, well, a horse smell never bothered Catherine The Great.  Why should a little goat smell be a problem?


From our Wall Street Attorney –




My friends have a hard time being serious about Jean-Paul Sartre.  Who doesn’t?





Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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