Friday, February 18, 2005

Inveterate Arte: A Sign of Respect?

In her recent speech at Paris’s prestigious Institute for Political Studies (or “Sciences Po”), Condoleezza Rice spoke of a common European and American struggle to promote freedom and face down what she identified as agreed upon threats: “Terrorism, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and regional conflicts, and failed states and organized crime”. “Our transatlantic partnership will not just endure in this struggle,” Secretary Rice concluded, “it will flourish because our ties are unbreakable. We care deeply about one another. We respect each other.”

We respect each other?

If Secretary Rice had a chance during her visit to watch some of the programming on Arte, the jointly-financed French-German public television channel – about which I have had occasion to write before on Trans-Int – she might reconsider this remark. Keep in mind in considering what follows that Arte receives direct financing from the French and German governments on the order of some 350 million Euros per year. It has no advertising revenue. Given that much of its programming either consists of rebroadcasts from or is co-produced by German public television, Arte also, in effect, receives massive indirect subsidies from the German government.

On Thursday of last week (February 10), just two days after Secretary Rice’s speech in Paris, Arte broadcast an animation clip mockingly portraying a State of the Union Address by her boss, President Bush. In it, real audio of President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address – n.B., his first such address following 9/11, which was overwhelmingly devoted to national security and the terrorist threat – is spliced together with taped additions in such a way as to have the President refer to his audience as “parasites” and to make the substance of his speech a plea for the importation of “illegal drugs”. Among other visual effects, such as dollar signs floating across the screen and a shot of Laura Bush applauding while holding what looks like a jug of liqueur, the clip also repeatedly included images of President Bush with devil horns...

...or with horns and fangs.

The animation clip – which is promoted on the Arte website here [link in French or here in German] and can be viewed in full on the website of its creators by clicking here – was shown during an episode of the weekly program “Tracks”. As the name implies, "Tracks" is ostensibly dedicated to popular music. In fact, however, “Tracks” provides a sort of inventory of everything its producers deem “hip”. On Arte, anti-Americanism – those who check out the “State of the Union” animation on the animators’ website will note that it is preceded by the message “Inspired by the USA” – is hip.

So too, perhaps not coincidentally, is the “Black Bloc”, the self-styled anarchist formation that has gained fame for its violent clashes with police at “anti-globalization” demonstrations worldwide. The same episode of “Tracks” featured a glowing portrait of Danish “Black Bloc” “activists” [link in French and here in German]. Especially in light of Arte’s public status, the channel’s admiration for the “Black Bloc” should give Secretary Rice and the members of the American Foreign Service she heads some cause to pause about whether France and Germany are indeed involved in a struggle with America and not rather a struggle against it.

Readers may familiarize themselves here [link in French or here in German] with the names and titles of the German and French public servants responsible for Arte.