Monday, September 5, 2011


In just a couple of days, I will be returning to Paris, France, where I spent half my junior year of college, experiencing the kind of satisfaction and contentment  that can only come from not being at college.  I estimate that a good 96% of these happy feelings were brought on by the following stimulus:

Yes, that is breakfast cereal, and no, I am not joking.  I do NOT joke about breakfast cereal.  Nor do I joke about yogurt.  It is against the Snark Code.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that cereal and yogurt are all there is to Parisian culture.  Far from it. On the contrary, Parisian culture also consists of the following components:
  • American television
This served as one of my main entry points into Paris life, thanks to my host family's eight-year-old daughter.  It was she who introduced me to French culture by means of inviting me to watch her favorite TV show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, starring notoriously non-French actors Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain.  She was unabashedly in love with Dean Cain, who I understand has since had the nerve to be 45 years old without telling her.  At any rate, she used this great passion as a jumping-off point to explain to me the finer points of French culture.

For example: "Ahhhh, Clark.  Il est très beau."  (Ahhhh, Clark.  He is very handsome.)

Or sometimes: "Il est très beau, Clark, n'est-ce pas?"

I, being not immune to the finer points of French culture myself, can thoroughly appreciate such a cultural nuance when one is pointed out to me.  So I went on letting my little instructor instruct me, and Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain went on nattering away at each other in badly dubbed French, and all was right with the world.

Other times, we would watch Pokémon, which was equally edifying if not more so.  Speaking as one who spent many a youthful morning watching episodes of this program in English, I can honestly say that you have not grasped French culture until you have assimilated the following cultural difference:

WHO'S - THAT - POKÉMON?? (bit of music) (go to commercial break)
(back from commercial break) IT'S - PIKACHU!!! (Pikachuuu!) (bit of music)

QUI EST - CE - POKÉMON? (bit of music) (go to commercial break)
(back from commercial break) C'EST - PIKACHU!!! (Pikachuuu!) (bit of music)

But here's what you don't see on French TV: French TV.  Okay, I admit I'm exaggerating.  There are numerous French networks featuring plenty of domestic programming, for example Les Guignols de l'Info, a show featuring puppets who host the evening news.  (This strikes me as a considerable trade-up from, say, Dan Rather.)

But American programs do seem to predominate - dubbed, closed-captioned, or otherwise.  The same is true of movies.  I would guess that, at a conservative estimate, 113% of the movie posters I saw over my time in Paris were for films featuring one of two Jennifers, Aniston or Lopez.  The last time I checked, "Jennifer" was not even a word in French.  This would appear to be highly suspicious.

When I mentioned this to my sister, she theorized, "Maybe you have to go to the U.S. to see French TV."  This seems at least plausible.  In many places in the U.S, you can get the channel TV5 Monde, which shows multiple genres of French TV and films round the clock.  For example, there is the Movie With Sex Scenes That, In Accordance With French Law, Are Not Sexy But Really Just Kind of Grunty and Unappetizing; the Filmed Stage Play Where People Talk At Inhuman Speed; and of course, most importantly, The Really Boring Navel-Gazing Talk Show Where They Navel-Gaze and Talk About Nothing in Particular.  (However, I do not think this channel has ever featured anyone named Jennifer.)

Often enough, the U.S. even has French television on its own channels.  For instance: French in Action, a television series originally designed to teach people French, aired on PBS and was rerun for years afterward, often shown in all-night marathons.  This series was insanely popular with all kinds of people, including people who did not want to learn French at all.  My intellectual theory is that this was because the series starred Mireille, a French girl featuring large gazombas unencumbered by foundation wear.  The series was filmed in 1987, which means Mireille has now inspired a generation of male viewers to develop a wild urge to conjugate the subjunctive, if you get my drift.

From this state of affairs I can only come to the obvious conclusion: France and the U.S. have switched entertainment industries.  Really.  Think of the implications.  This could very well mean that Audrey Tautou is actually from Omaha, while, say, John Wayne was secretly born and raised outside Marseille. This is troubling, I suppose, but assuming it's true, I ask only two things.  First, a major role in the next Astérix film; and second, that if ever we have to trade industries back, we in the U.S. won't have to give back MythBusters.


Anonymous said...

Monoprix is an amazing chain. Can't figure out why everything isn't the same price, like in a USAian dollar store, but prices are good and the quality of the goods is almost up to any US Department Store.

La Professora said...

I too have spent quality time in Europe -- granted in Spain, not France -- and have seen my fair share of TV there. If we can set the terms in your proposed exchange, can we have their commercials? We can give them our political campaign adverts in the exchange. Add _The Daily Show_ to _Mythbusters_ on the list of programming we'll keep and I'll sign that petition.

David Barry said...

This post is perfect. Well at least it is until the bits about TV in America, since I've never watched TV there.

My first Sunday in France, I turned on the TV for the first time and saw... Walker, Texas Ranger. On a related note, I sometimes wonder how much French music the radio stations would play if they weren't legally required to have 50% French songs.

You missed the French gameshows though - they might not do drama or sitcoms or movies, but there are a gazillion game shows on the free-to-air networks.

The Old Wolf said...

T'as Dave Barry qui lit ton blogue et qui l'aime bien... t'es arrivée, ma chérie.

Monoprix est en effet très bien. En Suisse l'on avait Migros, lequel n'est aussi pas mal.

Au diable la téle, mange plus chocolat!

[Ô bon Dieu, le mot "captcha" pour ce commentaire était "salop".] O_o