Skimming the headlines at the New York Times website the other day, I was startled by a headline: “France’s First Lady, a Confidante and Coach, May Reek of Mold.” I paused and read it again. “France’s First Lady, a Confidante and Coach, May Break the Mold.” (I knew that that speed-reading course would turn out to be a waste of money.)
The article, by Susan Chira and Lilia Blaise, summed up the basics: Emmanuel Macron, the record-breakingly young new president of France, and his wife, Brigitte, met “when he was 15 and she was his 39-year-old drama teacher, married with three children.” He’s now 39, she’s 64. The couple deny, of course, that there was any hanky-panky between them while he was still her pupil, or a minor – and Chira and Blaise seem to accept that claim, or at least they don’t seem to care about it: what matters to them (this is, after all, the New York Times) is that “this unusual couple is already stirring a lively and erudite debate” – hey, naturally it’s erudite, we’re talking about France here, you lowbrow stateside deplorables – “about sexism, ageism, masculinity, contemporary marriage, political stagecraft and what a modern French first lady should actually be.” Good idea! Given the intensifying nightmare of the banlieues, the nightly car-burnings, and the brutal jihadist massacres in Paris, Nice, and elsewhere, this is, needless to say, exactly the debate France needs right now.
(All of which raises the question: do Susan Chira and Lilia Blaise actually exist, or does the Times now have a computer program to churn out this kind of nonsense?)
Anyway, the article went on to quote a French “writer on gender issues” who argued that Macron won the election “because he didn’t do any kind of macho performance, and that’s what we need. If she’s done that for him, great.” Chira and Blaise agreed: to many voters, Macron represents “a welcome antidote to past hypermasculine French politicians.” Hypermasculine French politicians? Who? I mean, who, post-Charles DeGaulle, could possibly be called “hypermasculine”? What did I miss? I mean, Pompidou, Mitterand, Chirac, and Sarkozy were hardly effeminate, but by the same token they weren’t – well, they weren’t Trump. They weren’t Berlusconi. They were Sorbonne types who looked as if they’d been born in a perfectly pressed suit and tie and holding a glass of chardonnay. “Hypermasculine”? Really?
In any case, yeah, in a country currently undergoing an aggressive, violent process of Islamization, that’s just who you want to be in charge: a dude whom everybody praises for not being masculine. The Gallic version of Pajama Boy.
But the article by Chira and Blaise wasn’t the end of it. In the New York Times nowadays, every piece that’s worth running is worth running several times within the space of a few days, with only a few cosmetic differences and a change of byline. The day after publishing Chira and Blaise’s silly screed, the Times proffered an even dopier item by veteran Paris-based columnist Roger Cohen. Entitled, idiotically enough, “Brigitte Macron, Liberator,” it opened with a pretentious string of cringeworthy clichés: “This [Paris] is a city of stolen moments, its romance tied to realism about the vagaries of the heart. Nothing surprises. Little is judged. In the realm of sex and coupling, a shrug of the shoulders is what you get from the French….Intimacy, for the French, is nobody else’s business. A strong respect for privacy prevails. It is combined with reluctance to attach any moral baggage to people’s love lives.” (Two words: Roman Polanski.)
OK, point taken. But Cohen kept running it into the ground: “The effect is liberating. France does sex and food with aplomb. Guilt is not really its thing.” Well, that’s for sure. No guilt about failing to stand up to the Nazis. No guilt about helping to ship all those Jews to the death camps. “People come to France for its beauty,” Cohen continued, “but what finally beguiles them is its civilization, at once formal and sensual, an art of living and loving.” Could anyone, anywhere, ever write anything about the French that sounds more hackneyed and familiar than this? But don’t be too quick to mock: Cohen’s been doing this forever, and he know what kind of claptrap the average Times reader wants from a Paris-based columnist, and by now he can churn this merde out in his sleep.
“I have been thinking of this non-judgmental French gift,” explained Cohen, “as the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife, Brigitte, prepare to move into the Élysée Palace next week.” Wow, that’s certainly a lot of “thinking” you’ve been doing there, Roger. Who else could possibly have come up with the brilliant conclusion that there’s something distinctively French about the Macron ménage? Mais oui! Why didn’t the rest of us notice this before you pointed it out? No wonder you make the big bucks.
Cohen proceeded to drive home his already painfully predictable point: Americans are drenched in “prurience”; the French have joie de vivre! Unlike us, they don’t judge their leaders’ private lives: “Jacques Chirac and his wife had separate apartments. François Mitterrand led a double life; his wife and mistress were both at his funeral.” And nobody cared! “That’s life. That’s passion.” C’est la vie! Cohen then brought up a woman he knows whose ninth-grade teacher, back in Alabama, was “embarrassed” to talk about human reproduction – but whose “teenage son and daughter,” now attending school in Paris, have encountered an “approach to sex education” that is “straightforward” and “no-nonsense” and “liberating.” Enthuses Cohen: “They’ve had classes on rape, on masturbation, on sexually transmitted diseases, even positions for sex.” Hey, maybe they’ll even have sex with their teachers and steal them away from their spouses!
At least one definite conclusion can be drawn from this anecdote: Cohen’s friend’s kids obviously go to school in one of Paris’s more exclusive neighborhoods, where it’s still possible to pretend that the City of Lights is just as spectacular as it used to be. Meanwhile, in other schools, elsewhere in Paris, the children of less privileged folk aren’t just being denied sophisticated sex education – they’re being deprived of all kinds of learning, more or less in accordance with sharia law. Among much else, they’re shielded from any honest information about the negative sides of Islam; they’re taught Islam-influenced version of historical events ranging from the Crusades to the Holocaust; and, far from getting handy tips on masturbation and sexual positions, they’re protected from French classics like Cyrano de Bergerac and Madame Bovary because those books’ frank treatment of sexuality and women’s rights violates Islamic moral norms.
None of which Macron will do anything about, because he’s one of those European politicians who support expanded Islamic immigration, who mindlessly sing the praises of “diversity,” who deny Islamic responsibility for anything whatsoever, and who blame their fellow native Europeans for any “tensions” that exist between them and their “new countrymen.” But what does any of this matter, as long as a few students in the best arrondisements in Paris get sophisticated sex education? Ooh la la and Vive la France!