mardi 24 septembre 2013

Another American in Paris

This is a painting I've known for decades now since it hangs in the Gare de l'Est in Paris, a railway station close to where I live.

This station was the departing point to the front in eastern France for hundreds of thousands young French soldiers from 1914 up to 1918.

Just, little did I know that the painter was an American one who had lost one of his sons some months before the end of this nameless massacre.

The young man we see wearing a white shirt in the middle of the painting is holding a bouquet of flowers in his rifle which reminds of the French expression "partir fleur au fusil" which indicates how light-heartedly people at the time thought the war would be a matter of few weeks before the Germans would be flatly defeated.

There is a strong temptation to imagine this young man is actually Albert Herter's own son since this painting is made in remembrance of him and how could possibly his father not want to represent his beloved deceased in a painting dedicated to the dead of WWI?

This is another piece of information I've learned about the links that tie Americans and Paris. Guess there are still many others that I'm not aware of.

mercredi 4 septembre 2013

Punishment and rehabilitation

So Ariel Castro has been found dead by hanging in his cell.

Ever since I was a young man, I've always opposed the death penalty for many reasons, the least being that at the very moment the so-called penalty applies there's no penalty any longer. But the imbecile crowd is pleased and convinced "justice" has been made.

The State, through its officials, knows this isn't a question of "justice" but the ultimate goal of the death penalty is to frighten the masses and asserts its power in the name of protecting the citizens.

But sometimes the ones who've been convicted to death commit suicide and the State isn't at all pleased with this last act of rebellion of individuals.

This is another question I've been asking to myself when I was young (I no longer do since I know the answer): Why aren't death convicts given the possibility at any moment to put an end to their life the way Erwin Rommel was?

The belief is widely propagated that justice is all about punishment and rehabilitation, just that in the case of the death penalty there's no rehabilitation prospect and what is left is the notion of punisment which -precisely- is not a punishment as we've seen above. Talk about "justice" then when there's neither rehabilitation nor punisment.

For the State, death as final outcome of trials isn't the point of course since the whole affair has nothing to do with "justice" but all to do with asserting its terrifying power. For the masses on the contrary, death epitomizes the strictest punishment "justice" can deliver, the one considered the best and most adequate outcome of any judiciary process whereas it is the very opposite, just another tragical farce based on sheer sadism for barbarians.

Most of us believe death is deliverance and in the same time, all those who support the death penalty (many of them believers) consider it to be the most terrible punishment. So which is which then?

(The film is Death by hanging by Japanese flm maker Nagisa Oshima)

lundi 2 septembre 2013

Déjà vu

Whenever I peruse the cartoons in the international press, it‘s always a sure bet that, when it comes to portray France and the French, I will meet 5 permanent fixtures cartoonists all over the world resort to:

1°) The Eiffel Tower.
Well, nothing wrong here, it helps to settle the setting. A bit repetitive but, well, no doubt, we’re in Paris, France.

2°) The béret.
Well, why not? Although it’s meanly worn on the country but I can see some in Paris too. Spaniards also wear the beret and much more than the French.

3°) The baguette.
It’s one among many other products bakers make and sell and one that is essentially to be found in Paris. But then again, it’s OK.
Now, this is really much more surprising. Where does that cliché come from? No French that I know of or see in the streets, on flicks or ad posters never wear striped jersey.

I once thought that it was a souvenir of Auguste Renoir’s painting at the time of Guy de Maupassant, but after I checked, the jersey wasn’t striped.

It eventually dawned on me that it had to do with le Mime Marceau (the upper part of his costume) who apparently made a smashing impact on the perception some Americans seem to have regarding the French. 

Because I’m positive on this: Next to no French ever wears a striped jersey, even on the beaches in July/August. But never mind…

5°) Napoléon.
There seems to be a real obsession with this historical figure, and not only among American cartoonists. You can be sure to find him in cartoons from Germany as well as Norway or India, Brazil or wherever.

Whichever French politician is portrayed, he’s entitled to his caricature as Napoleon. Be it De Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac and now Sarkozy, all French leaders are would-be Napoleon. Like every new Russian leader is the new Tsar of all Russias...

Let me tell you, if there’s something the French don’t exactly mull over it has to be Napoléon.

Of course 2 or 3 of these clichés are often to be found in the same cartoon.

My feeling is that cartoonists the world over haven’t much idea of what modern France and the French are and they all have to use again and again worn out clichés. On the other hand that’s what caricatures are made of: clichés and prejudice. 

If only they could be funny…