The Arts Voyager, 10-7: French Press Review
Occupy Apple; Don't Paint it Black; Primary Colors
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak
Alone among all the journalists I've read this week, American and French, only Nicolas Demorand, the former turbo-charged host of the morning drive program on Radio France's middle-brow France Inter network, manages to implicitly connect the two biggest stories of the past several days, the death of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs and the growing Occupy Wall Street movement (which the French group into the larger global movement of "Les indignes," those indignant about the financial exclusion of the majority to the benefit of the minority).
Writing about Jobs in today's edition of the French national newspaper Liberation (or Libé, as locals refer to it), Demorand makes sure to touch all the bases of what you've read elsewhere, giving 'nuff respect to Jobs for the succession of game-changing devices introduced or exploited by Apple, concluding, "The point in common of these products: The maniacal attention to simplicity of utilization and to elegance, the Apple logo having assured the renown of the brand among the moneyed creative class as well as the masses."
Here's the rub though, according to Demorand: "Despite its success, Apple has figured out how to preserve its reputation as a business esthete, progressive, and even dissident.... This mystification is one of Steve Jobs's most brilliant inventions -- because Apple is definitely a product of its times, and generates its mountains of cash in exploiting, like so many others, social dumping, having its products made in China in bunker factories. The second largest publicly held company in the world, dominating the stock markets of a number of countries, it's been a long time since there's been anything cool (in the social and citizen sense) about Apple. The brand imposes itself with brutality, locks its software and services to construct a closed universe, to keep its clients under control and make them pay. And to formulate the tough law of the digital economy: The king will be he who possesses at the same time the platform to diffuse content and the apparati capable to exploit them. Thus the leonine and pitiless conditions imposed by Apple on producers and publishers of music, games, books, newspapers, and software. With this simple alternative: submit or die free. Such is also the heritage of Steve Jobs: authoritarianism in jeans and sneakers."
Don't Paint it Black
Here's the thing about France though: It's a nation of contradictions, a country of political free-thinkers and social conformists. Thus, the same culture that produces and embraces an independent iconoclast like Nicholas Demorand and gives him a pulpit in mainstream media venues can still be staunchly conformist.
Thus, as reported Thursday in the journal Sud-Ouest, which covers a broad swathe of the southwest of the country, a tribunal in Bordeaux ruled that an artist couple in Agen had no right to paint their house black (or rather, dark grey; see the link above and the other links below for pictures).
Ideally situated between the Midi and the Dordogne, on the banks of the mighty Garonne, so close to the Atlantic that you can smell the sea from its shores, and overlooking the Gascony Valley, Agen boasts a kaleidoscopic polyglot of architectural styles: Mediterranean, Basque, Spanish, medieval, modern; one of the most colorful is the old Jewish quarter in the ancient city, with low-storied buildings in a myriad of colors and styles. I toured it during a visit with friends for the annual Big Prune festival; with California, Agen is one of the biggest prune producers in the world. In France, prunes aren't relegated to seniors with plumbing issues, but are a central part of the cuisine, particularly in the southwest. And the Big Prune festival held each August is one big fete.
When it comes to allowing a party of colors to desecrate its landscape, though, the city is not so ribald. This is what the painters Pascal Galois and Jean-Jacques Bauwerearts-Huyghebaert discovered three years ago when they started to paint their basque-style villa, nestled in the Ermitage quartier high above the city, black / dark grey, to make it, so reports Sud-Ouest, look "less pretentious," the black-grey helping it blend in more with the surrounding foliage. They also wanted the exterior, monochrome color to reflect the artistic work they were creating inside their home-based studio. Finally, they told the newspaper, they wanted to pay tribute to the artist Aurelie Nemours. For city hall, however, which acted on a complaint by a neighbor, despite the official reason given, that the occupants had failed to request a permit, the color scheme represents above all, reports Sud-Ouest, "a grave lack of taste." For Jean-Jacques Bauwerearts-Huyghebaert, the city's actions, and the concomitant halt in the painting -- about 75 percent done -- make him feel, he explained to Sud-Ouest, like he has been "disfigured, because for an artist, one's work is the expression of one's being." Bauwerearts-Huyghebaert and Galois plan to appeal the Bordeaux court's decision.
The French political system can be much more open to change than French society. Thus it is that the Socialist Party, holding its presidential primary Sunday, has not only taken an American idea but improved upon it, coming up with a process much more Democratic than the U.S.'s. Whereas presidential primaries in the United States are stretched out over six months and conducted state by state, giving an un-Democratic importance to money and disproportionate weight to smaller states which vote earlier, often creating a financially-driven process of elimination which gives the later-voting states little real choice, the Socialist contest will be condensed into two votes, both nationwide; an election with six candidates Sunday, and a final round with the top two finishers later, with the vote open to anyone. Thus the entire country gets to be exposed to and choose from the ideas of all six candidates, party secretary Martine Aubry, her predecessor Francois Hollande, 2007 losing nominee Segolene Royal, Manuel Valls, Arnaud Montebourg, and Jean-Michel Baylet -- as ideas go, a real variety of choices, representing the spectrum of the rainbow.