Friday, January 28, 2005

Anti-American Nights: a Photo Essay (with Update)

(Note: Click on photos for larger images)

In the run-up to the inauguration of George W. Bush’s second term of office, an increasing number of notably conservative voices in the United States could be heard suggesting that the time is right for a thawing in transatlantic relations. On this view, the differences that arose between the US and certain erstwhile European allies – often in this style of discourse stylized into “Europe” as such – in the context of the Iraq War were merely of a conjunctural nature and the fundamental values that the US and “Europe” are supposed to have in common can be expected to reassert themselves now that the passions provoked by the US-led intervention have had time to calm. As in this opinion piece by Robert Kagan, an imagined unity of purpose of the American administration and the EU in the Ukraine election crisis is frequently cited as evidence in favor of this hypothesis. As I have repeatedly had occasion to point out in my posts on Ukraine (see sidebar), the current American administration has much reason to be wary of European favorite Viktor Yushchenko and his “Orange” coalition and – contrary to a myth widely disseminated on the “left” and adopted for their own purposes by some ostensibly conservative commentators like Kagan – it did not in fact take any notable measures to support them.

The expectation that the publics in those European countries that most actively opposed the Iraq intervention – Germany and France – will now suddenly be prepared to recognize a commonality of values and interests with the United States overlooks the effects of four years of ideological conditioning by the dominant media in those same countries. During this period, the media in question became the platform for a veritable campaign of incitement directed not only against the current American president – which would be a serious enough matter in itself given the democratic legitimacy he enjoys – but against America itself. I gather this claim will not seem controversial for regular readers of Trans-Int, as I have written extensively on the matter here. Newcomers might have a look, for instance, at “The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy” or “American Beheaders (or How a Publicly-Financed Franco-German 'Cultural' Channel Creates Moral Equivalence between America and its Enemies)”. Thankfully, moreover, bloggers in France and Germany have dedicated themselves to systematically documenting anti-American prejudice in their local media and the disinformation that is the result. For France, see, notably, the contributions of Eric Svane on Le Monde Watch [recently mostly in French] and ¡No Pasarán! [English] and for Germany, those of David Kaspar and Ray D. on Medienkritik [in English].

The effects of this campaign of incitement cannot be reversed so quickly. The fact, moreover, that many of the media outlets that have been the worst offenders are either state-owned – Arte in France and Germany, France2, ARD in Germany – or receive substantial state support, whether in the form of fiscal advantages or direct subsidies, suggests that the relevant public authorities are not interested in reversing them.

As evidence of the atmosphere of frenzied anti-Americanism that now obtains in the Franco-German “heart” of Europe – and of the complicity of public authorities in fueling the frenzy – I want to return here in the form of a “photo essay” to an episode that occurred in the trendy 3rd arrondissement of Paris, a neighborhood much favored by Parisian “bobos” [bourgeois bohemians], in mid-October. In anticipation of the upcoming American elections, the mayor’s office of the 3rd arrondissement hosted an event at the local townhall over two consecutive weekend nights, starting at 5 in the afternoon and going to 5 in the morning, titled “Les nuits américaines”: “The American Nights”. (Note: each Parisian district or "arrondissement" has its own "mayor" [maire] and "townhall" [mairie].) Here is a picture of the poster for the event:

Whereas the mayor’s office billed the event as a contribution to “understanding” and the mayor himself, Pierre Aidenbaum, in his opening address spoke of promoting “Franco-American friendship”, the poster already expressed a quite different spirit. Note the little globe attached to the finger of the Statue of Liberty by a string, the image thus cleverly connoting the common European phantasm that America somehow controls the destiny of the planet. It is not hard to appreciate how this phantasm could be of use to European elites at a time when the collective GDP of the 25 EU member states exceeds that of the US and the EU influence in international institutions – whether informally by virtue of the EU states’ financial clout or formally by virtue of the block of votes they represent on issues of common accord as opposed to the single vote of the US – is likewise markedly superior to that of the US. The blurb on the program printed by the Mayor's office, which featured the same image as the poster on its cover, likewise mobilized the phantasm of American global "empire", inviting visitors to try to understand a mythical figure named "Sam": "that American who is going to vote and determine our destiny, the future of the world". This is hardly a description that is apt to provoke "friendly" feelings - unless it can be supposed that the French prefer having "Sam" determine their destiny rather than determining it for themselves.

A brief glance at the content of the program for “The American Nights” (reproduced here), consisting of quaint folkloric performances in the town hall’s courtyard – break dancing, an Elvis film, a gospel choir, and the like – and ostensibly more serious panel discussions, lectures, and films inside, also makes clear the essentially hostile character of the “understanding” the Mayor’s office was promoting. Thus, for example, a lecture on “the power of the media in the United States”, complete with obligatory denunciation of Rupert Murdoch’s seemingly inescapable Fox News, was followed by a showing of Citizen Kane – just in case the public had missed the point. In the same spirit, the panel discussion on “The American Judicial System” was followed by a showing of the French documentary “Un coupable idéal” ["A Perfect Suspect", released in English with the more innocuous-sounding title "Murder on a Sunday Morning"] about a black teenager accused of homicide in Florida who will eventually be acquitted. Now, this apparently shocking turn of events - an acquittal! - is somehow for much of the French public supposed to be taken as proof of the racism of the American judicial system. Thus one French website introduces the film as follows: “Winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2002, this film was made by a Frenchman who went to the USA in order to look at the American system of justice. On the point of leaving for lack of material [sic !], he stumbled upon this story that allows him to make known, above all, American injustice.” Such programming choices on the part of the mayor’s office are hardly innocent – not to speak of the "breakfast-debate" on the topic “Sexuality, Hostage of American Democracy” or the fact that the session devoted to “September 11” featured the short film by the lefty British director Ken Loach on September 11, 1973, i.e. the date of the purportedly CIA-sponsored coup d’Etat against Salvador Allende in Chile.

In order to add an interactive, participatory component to its “American Nights”, the mayor’s office placed paper on the walls of the stately central hall of the townhall building and provided magic markers. In the name of “free expression”, visitors were invited to “express themselves”. The inevitable result is documented in the photos that follow.

The Frenzy Begins

Better Rimbaud and Mallarmé than Rambo Armed to the Teeth

War Criminels [sic.]

USA - The Best Democracy Money Can Buy?

USA: The only country which is not threatened by a coup d'etat,
because there is no American embassy there.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the "American Nights" was the presence on the opening night of a representative from the American Embassy in Paris. Here he is listening to the mayor's speech at the opening ceremony. Note in the background the graffiti: "War is a Weapon of Mass Distraction".

(Merci C.S.!)


It should be noted that some of the most rabid grafittis scrawled on the walls of the 3rd arrondissement's townhall during the "American Nights" were put there by a small group of American expatriate - let's say - "activists". Here is one of the "activists" eagerly getting down to business at the start of the festivities.

According to literature made available at the "American Nights", the "activists" apparently belonged to a group called "Americans Against the War". On first glance, the "contributions" of the "Americans Against the War" might seem to represent a mitigating circumstance with respect to the responsibility of the mayor's office in the orgy of anti-Americanism that the "American Nights" quickly became. They should definitely be kept in mind in attempting to evaluate the response of the French public to the Mayor's initiative. At any rate, the French contributions were generally in smaller letters.

Kissinger to the Hague Tribunal!

And some even refused the Mayor's invitation to ventilate.

I don't want to express myself (it's my right)

With respect to the specific responsibility of the Mayor's office, however, the "contributions" of the "Americans Against the War" represent, if anything, an aggravating factor. For in fact the mayor's office showed remarkable indulgence toward the American "activists". By the second of the "American Nights", the "Americans Against the War" had set up a table to distribute their literature in the entry hall of the townhall building.

They had been permitted to plaster their posters over the information plaque in the entry hall...

...and to hang their signature "Wanted: George W. Bush, War Criminal" banner.

Just to be clear: the above banner was hanging in the entry hall of the 3rd arrondissement's townhall - thus on the public premises of a Parisian municipal government building.