mercredi 7 octobre 2009

Tel père telle fille

I figured it was only a matter of time before someone brought up Frédéric Mitterand's 2005 autobiography entitled La Mauvaise Vie, in which he writes about paying for sex with young male prostitutes in Thailand. Now he is Ministre de la Culture in Sarkozy's government and, from this pulpit, recently expressed indignation over the arrest in Switzerland pending extradition of Roman Polanski, for an "indiscretion" he committed 31 years ago on a then 13-year old girl. Notice the symmetry: 31 and 13. Angelica Huston weighed in on Polanski's misadventure, noting that the 13-year old was no dupe, but most people are horrified at the thought of a grown man drugging and raping a 13-year old, right? Am I right about that? So of course it is only natural that many people would be shocked by Frédéric's ardent and indignant defense of his friend Roman, though surely not surprised. Marine Le Pen stepped in the big steaming pile of doo doo first (see video clip), by passionately (almost hysterically) denouncing la mauvaise vie de Frédéric; she was soon followed by the official spokesman for the Socialist party. It is not surprising that Marine Le Pen, looking and sounding more and more like her father, would take advantage of such a grand opportunity to criticize the current government. It is cowardly of the Socialists to have waited for the Marine before taking a stand. But that's just politics as usual in France (and elsewhere, for that matter).

The trouble is, this ethical issue has now been usurped by the politicians, and the old left-right cleavage is all we can see. I hate Marine Le Pen, just loathe her. Even more than that, I hate finding myself in agreement with anything that comes out of her big mouth. It is not quite fair to say she started it; Mitterand should never have loudly defended Polanski. One of the commentators under the Le Monde article noted that whenever a French politician gives in to the literary temptation, his or her words come back to bite. There may be some truth to that. Given Mitterand's avowed sexual past, he probably should have just passed over Polanski's arrest in silence, or stated for the record that the matter was now in the hands of the US authorities seeking extradition. Now that Marine has brought his book to our attention, it is hard to see his earlier defense as other than self-justifying to some extent. When Mitterand's book came out, it was quite well received as an honest, well-written account of a man grappling with his own demons and doing so in a dignified way. He was interviewed on numerous cultural programs and praised for his candor on more than one occasion. His "mauvaise vie" was out there for all to see, brought to public attention by le concerné. What now?

I think there is something else going on as well. This whole business has created or revealed an ongoing malaise in France. The French are seemingly more comfortable talking about sex than - for example - we Americans are. To oversimplify, the French talk about sex with the same ease we Americans show when we talk about money. Every Frenchman is a libertin at heart, or feels he ought to be. Don't forget that the Marquis de Sade was a Frenchman. There is a tradition to uphold, and a reputation. There is both a sexual and a religious component to this: the libertin is first and foremost a free thinker who does not follow the laws of religion. And many, though not all, of those laws concern sexual conduct. I doubt that this philosophical stance translates into actual libertinage of the sort associated with de Sade. But it does translate into a societal compulsion to withhold judgement about the sexual conduct of others. However, when this conduct involves thirteen year olds or sexual slaves in third world countries, la liberté des uns se trouve face à face avec la liberté des autres. On what grounds does one defend the sexual liberty of Roman Polanski when its expression entails the coercion of a minor? How does a lover of liberty justify paying for sex with underage slaves, who are often kidnapped and held against their will?
That's the real French paradox!