03 February 2008

Strange Bedfellows

The new first lady of France: All rise.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy got married yesterday to the singer and songwriter Carla Bruni. This inspired me to look up some of her many famous ex-lovers, and courtesy of Wikipedia, I can drop a few names: Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Kevin Costner, Donald Trump, Yannick Noah, the actor Vincent Pérez, and the former prime minister Laurent Fabius. She’s got eclectic tastes; they call her “Maneater,” but her diet is extraordinarily well balanced. However, it’s not my purpose to gossip, because there are very serious policy questions at hand.

The first question: She always identified herself as a left-winger. Will she now start to vote for her right-wing husband? (One can’t take it for granted. In the last, closely contested election, Sarko’s then-wife Cécilia didn’t vote at all.)

The most urgent policy question is this: Now that she’s first lady, will radio stations be obliged to stop playing her songs? I suspect the answer is oui, at least during electoral campaigns, and I base this on the gorgeous example of Béatrice Schoenberg.

Béatrice, the ex-wife of the composer of Broadway’s Les Misérables, is married to Jean-Louis Borloo, who was employment minister under Jacques Chirac and who is now in Sarkozy’s cabinet, saddled with a title that is too long to record here. Something to do with the environment. Or something. Even when I look at the title, I don’t really know what it means. But he’s not a bad fellow. And I have a huge, sloppy, embarrassing crush on his wife.

La Belle Béatrice: When she delivered the news, you paid attention.

Until recently, Béatrice was the weekend anchor on the evening news on France 2, a state-owned (but politically neutral) television network. During the run-up to the presidential elections last spring, left-wing critics jumped all over Béatrice, insisting that even if she was objective (and only a few tried, unconvincingly, to prove that she wasn’t), Caesar’s wife, or Borloo’s, must be above suspicion. She was shunted off to a little science program, and Americans with long memories will remember that’s precisely the vehicle CBS used to get rid of Walter Cronkite, after he left the evening news.

So, come the next campaign, I fully expect to hear authoritative left-wingers insisting that Carla’s songs are full of coded messages exhorting listeners to vote for Sarko. The French are very good at that sort of thing: theirs is, after all, the culture that gave rise to Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and to Deleuze and Guattari. It will be no challenge whatever to deconstruct, and then to denounce, the politics of Carla’s music.

Yet there will be a double standard of sexism at work, because not even the most rabid Sarko-hater would try to ban the songs of Johnny Hallyday (who is at once France’s most beloved star and Sarkozy’s biggest fan). Even to suggest such a thing would be political — and quite possibly literal — suicide.

Johnny: The most/only powerful man in France