Somebodys to blame

Article published on April 14, 2003
community published
Article published on April 14, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Sunday 21st April 2002, 8pm, Im ashamed, says the slogan on a protesters T-shirt in the streets of Paris.

Confronted with the sight of Jean-Marie Le Pens tender face Le Pen who is officially flourishing on his own for the first time, alongside our outgoing president young people of the media generation are inevitably responding with the succinctness and effectiveness of the advertising slogan: France is ashamed. Who is to blame?

On the street we angrily point the finger at the nasty fascists who gave 20% of the votes to the extreme right, and the 28% who shirked their civic duty by preferring the sun and spring holidays to the ballot box. In the television studios, as the tradition of the French Republic would have it, the left accuses the right (of demagogy), the right accuses the left (of diversionary tactics, failure to address major issues head-on), while the extremists make sure that the two camps are firmly united in their shared, eternal guilt. A combination of ironic congratulatory statements (Well done, its talk like that that wins Le Pen the election) and the type of below-the-belt remarks we are making a habit of these days (Since youre here, Monsieur Strauss-Kahn, tell us about that video of yours) dominates. Even in the grip of this surreal catastrophe, which sees the second round contested by one right-wing and one extreme-right candidate (surely Im hallucinating?), the election debate has degenerated into a crappy soap opera which, aside from not nearly fulfilling our expectations as horrified citizens, is proving just as incapable of even catching our attention as viewers who live off a diet of such televisual junk food.

So, whose fault is it?

The only party not yet attacked and impossible to attack: the media, which is ducking all criticism as if by some mysterious force. Yet it was the media who added to the blandness of the candidates by having them interviewed by inept journalists asking ridiculous questions. It was they who focussed the supposedly democratic discussions upon the issue of insecurity, and who took it upon themselves to punctuate their 8pm broadcasts with stories of the young immigrant attacking the little old lady, the re-offending rapist, the burning cars. Certainly it was they who duped us with opinion polls telling us that the outcome of the first round was settled, while the candidates themselves were already sending us to sleep during this time to the rhythm of their ritual, dreamlike promises. Could it be that, unbeknownst to us, TV was working for the National Front all along?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, in an entertaining advert you espoused the virtues of democracy. But by turning into a sleep-inducing debate an inedible product youve undermined it. The only heroes were those who managed not to switch off their TVs during this indigestible election period. When will you acknowledge your guilt?