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La France dans le regard des États-Unis

 | 
Frédéric Monneyron
, 
Martine Xiberras

Autour de la crise irakienne

20- How Americans Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate France: Jews, Evangelical Christians, and the New Right

Andrew Diamond

Résumé

Alors que les Etats-Unis s’engagent dans la guerre en Irak, le pourcentage d’Américains à avoir une opinion favorable de la France chute à 34 % contre 64 % qui expriment un avis défavorable. De tels chiffres placent la France aux côtés de pays tels Cuba ou la Libye. Que l’opposition de la France aux tentatives américaines de rallier l’opinion internationale à la cause de l’invasion de l’Irak soit en grande partie responsable de cette évolution est un fait bien connu. Mais cette explication ne suffit pas. D’autres pays ayant exprimé des vues similaires – l’Allemagne et la Russie par exemple – ne sont jamais tombés dans une telle disgrâce et ont retrouvé leur image positive beaucoup plus rapidement une fois la controverse terminée. Ces sondages traduisent également le fait que, contrairement à ses partenaires de la « coalition des Etats non consentants », la France semble être devenue, du jour au lendemain, le bouc émissaire préféré de tout un éventail de comédiens et d’experts.

Cet article analyse comment et pourquoi la France en est venue à représenter, pour les Américains, cet Autre maléfique et réfléchit à ce que cette diabolisation révèle de la culture politique américaine de l’après-11 septembre. Si, par le passé, des tendances francophobes avaient déjà pénétré le discours public américain, c’est désormais dans l’Amérique profonde que les sentiments anti-français sont ancrés, ayant trouvé un public réceptif chez les Américains de classe ouvrière et moyenne majoritairement indifférents ou favorablement prédisposés jusqu’en 2003. Examinant les représentations de la France dans les médias juifs, chrétiens et grand public et dans la rhétorique de l’Administration Bush, cet article révèle comment la France a joué un rôle important dans l’articulation du nouvel esprit messianique et dans la puissante fusion de Dieu et de la nation qu’ évangélisme, sionisme américain, néo-conservatisme et Guerre contre le terrorisme ont introduite dans le paysage politique américain.

Texte intégral

1 « France and chicken... somehow, they just go together. ». Americans across the nation saw these words in the shop windows of the country’s second leading fast food restaurant chain in the days leading up to the fourth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attack against the World Trade Center. In addition to informing us about the availability of Subway’s new chicken cordon bleu sandwich, this advertising slogan reveals the continuing presence of France in the popular American mind. Indeed, in the post-September 11th United States, where unprecedented numbers of citizens have taken to adorning their automobiles and homes with nationalistic symbols – flags of all shapes and sizes, « Support Our Troops » ribbons, and a range of patriotic declarations conveying a sense of pride in belonging to a country that has stepped up to the task of fighting evil and terror when other countries would not – France remains a critical register of what Americans feel themselves not to be. More than that, France remains an object of collective contempt. In a range of settings – popular and elite – in the United States today, the mention of France seldom passes without provoking derisive humor or outright scorn.

  • 1 S. L. Gilman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness, Ithaca: Cornell (...)

2This, of course, was not always true. Sander Gilman’s work on stereotypes emphasizes that such mental representations are « protean » rather than fixed, and that they shift and crystallize in relation to changing historical circumstances1. The history of the image of France from the early years of the American republic to our present day is a case in point. The French Revolution, the « XYZ » affair, the Dreyfus Affair, appeasement and collaboration in the 1930s and 1940s, De Gaulle’s colonial wars and nationalist foreign policy, and, finally, French resistance to the U. S. war in Iraq in 2003 all substantially altered the prevailing image of France in the United States.

  • 2 Neoconservative pundit R. Kagan expertly exploited the idea of a feminized Europe when he claimed, (...)
  • 3 This and all other Gallup polls mentioned below are archived at: http://poll.gallup.com.

3This is not to say, however, that these events brought about a tabula rasa. In each moment, new images of France formed out of the residue of older ones that had previously entered mainstream discourse and become elements of national culture and collective memory. French opposition to American war aims in Iraq, for example, would have evoked a far different response in the U. S. were it not for the pre-existing system of representation that had formed out of the legacies of Vichy and De Gaulle. Nor is this to say that stereotypes of France have always been either monolithic or univocal. While ideas of French military and moral weakness have exerted a powerful and lasting influence on American perceptions of the hexagon since the 1940s, such negative images have coexisted and even intermingled with positive ones. In historicizing American Francophobia, it is easy to lose sight of the prominent role France has played in the American imagination as a desirable Other. Until quite recently, the use of France as a point of reference in advertising campaigns mostly involved its association with things beautiful, sensual, romantic, authentic, and pastoral. Although such qualities have also contributed to its negative stereotyping as a feminized country resisting modernity and the hard realities of world geopolitics, particularly in the context of the War on Terror, they were for many years the predominant materials out of which Americans constructed their images of France2. In the Manichean Cold War world, France, despite its differences over NATO and other diplomatic quibbles here and there, was clearly on the right side in the eyes of most Americans. Even as late as February 2002, a Gallup poll revealed that their Gallic ally ranked high among the countries about which Americans had the most positive opinions, a position it held throughout the 1990s with between 70 and 79 percent of those surveyed viewing it sympathetically3.

4A little more than one year later, as the war in Iraq was getting underway, the percentage of Americans holding a favorable opinion of France plummeted all the way down to 34 percent and those voicing an unfavorable one, a group that hovered between just 12 and 20 percent during the 1990s, shot up to 64 percent. Such results placed France in the company of countries like Cuba, Pakistan, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. That France’s opposition to U. S. attempts to curry international support for an invasion of Iraq was largely responsible for this sea change in public opinion is well known. Yet this explanation only goes so far. For example, other countries that held similar views on U. S. military action – such as Germany and Russia – fell not nearly as low in American eyes and recovered much faster after the controversy had blown over. By February of 2004, Germany’s support in the U. S. had bounced back up to 69 percent, while France’s had climbed much more sluggishly to a still historically low 49 percent. Even more suggestive, a near majority of Americans (47 %) were still voicing a negative opinion of France while only 26 percent were doing so about Germany. Such polling numbers reflected the additional fact that, unlike its partners in the « coalition of the unwilling », France seemingly overnight became the prefered whipping boy for a range of entertainers and pundits – from television and radio talk show hosts to prominent journalists and news media figures to politicians and other civic and business leaders toting anti-French agendas for a variety of reasons. The practice became so pervasive that it acquired its own name: « French-bashing ». The remainder of this paper will take a closer look at how and why France has emerged as a truly popular bad Other in the United States, and suggest what its systematic demonization reveals about American political culture in the post-9/11 era.

  • 4 T. G. Ash, « Anti-Europeanism in America », New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, No. 2, 13 February 2 (...)

5What has struck observers of recent American French-bashing as particularly new about the phenomenon is its broad scope. As both Timothy Garton Ash and Justin Vaisse have recently argued, anti-French sentiments have taken root in the « heartland », finding a receptive audience among working-class and middle-class Americans who were mostly indifferent or somewhat positively predisposed before 20034. However, while French-bashing has surfaced in some of the most nationally visible and audible of places – on the widely viewed television talk shows of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Regis Philbin, on immensely popular syndicated radio broadcasts hosted by Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, and Glenn Beck, and perhaps most regularly on the nation’s most viewed cable news network, FOX News – anti-French sensibilities are, as I have said, neither monolithic nor univocal. They are, for one thing, most common among Republicans. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in April of 2003, for example, revealed that a full 52 percent of Republican respondents considered France to be either « unfriendly » or « an enemy of the United States », while only 29 percent of Democrats did.

  • 5 This poll can be found at TNS-Sofres.com.

6Yet, even among Republicans it is necessary to distinguish between two forms of Francophobia – an older, more elite version that emerged within the neoconservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s and a more recent, more popular incarnation that took shape rapidly during the spell of frenzied nationalism that marked the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It should be emphasized that the widespread emergence of this second form – an at times impassioned style of working-class Francophobia – represents the real watershed in the history of the idea of France in the United States, and that this trend seems to be more than a passing fad. The Subway campaign, for example, comes at a time when a clear majority of Americans disapprove of both their President and the continuing presence of U. S. troops in Iraq. Further evidence of the resilience of anti-French attitudes despite such fallout was provided by a TNS-Sofres poll conducted this past June, which revealed that American public opinion toward France still remained strikingly unsympathetic more than two years after the diplomatic clash over Iraq5. Indeed, utterances against the French continue to circulate regularly through public discourse, perceptibly but by now somewhat unremarkably. Under such conditions, anti-French sentiment has become more and more an element of common sense – naturalized and normalized into the broader ideological framework of Bush’s America. This new mass Francophobia shares a great deal with the older neoconservative form, particularly its sense of outrage at the audacity of France and its European neighbors in opposing America’s unilateral mission in the world, and it would be easy to conclude that what we are now witnessing represents the triumph of a neoconservative vision within the Bush Administration and the effective transmission of this worldview down to the Republican Party base. Yet, this perspective attributes too much power to the state and its powers of persuasion, however formidable these powers may seem. Why France continues to function as a bad Other as support for the Administration that championed this Otherness begins to bottom out has more to do with earlier trends which largely took shape not in Washington but throughout the American heartland.

  • 6 For an incisive and witty account of the cultural politics of this « red-state/blue-state divide », (...)

7The term « heartland » has taken on new meaning over the past five years as the Republican Party has managed to re-invent itself as the defender of average working families in places like Kansas, Ohio, and Florida who, as right-wing pundits would have us believe, have lost control of their country to smooth-talking East Coast Liberals who like to sip lattés and take vacations in places like France6. The success Republicans have enjoyed in inflecting the term as such has tended to obscure other social and political forces that have been at work at the nation’s grassroots. Residing amongst the churchgoing middle-class Americans we normally associate with the good people of the heartland are synagogue-going, middle-class Jews, who, over the past half-decade or so, have become strongly implicated in the demonization of France.

  • 7 M. E. Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land:  500 Years of Religion in America, Boston: Little Brown, 1 (...)

8The story of how this has come to pass should properly begin at least as far back as the 1970s, when, according to historian Martin Marty, American Jews began to mobilize in defense of Israel as a means of reaffirming their cultural identity in the face of waning religious observance7. Yet, for the purposes of this discussion, it could start in the spring of 2002, when, after a string of attacks against Jewish synagogues and schools in France, the U. S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center issued its first ever travel advisory for Jews planning trips to France and Belgium, informing potential travelers to exercise « extreme caution » when visiting these countries, and the American Jewish Congress took out ads in Variety magazine and the New York Times calling for a boycott of the Cannes film festival and proclaiming an end to all its trips to France. Building upon momentum from former New York City mayor Ed Koch’s highly publicized call months earlier for a boycott of French products in reprisal for anti-Semitic remarks made by France’s ambassador to Great Britain, the AJC’s boycott became an instant media spectacle. Referred to repeatedly in reports on the boycott was the parallel the AJC had drawn between the collaborationist Vichy regime of 1942 and the France of 2002. Reading the media coverage, one got the impression that it was actually common to hear people shouting « Vive Bin Laden » and « Death to the Jews » in French city streets, as the authors of the boycott announcement claimed.

9While it is hardly the intention here to deny the severity or gravity of the attacks perpetrated against French Jews in this moment, the manner of their representation in the United States reveals a great deal about why many Americans continue to think of France as an anti-Semitic country today. Despite overwhelming evidence that nearly all of these attacks were perpetrated by working-class Muslim youths acting out of some sense of sympathy with the plight of Palestinians then facing a particularly violent phase of Israeli military repression, the idea that this phenomenon reflected a broader and more historically deep-rooted form of French anti-Semitism nonetheless framed much of the reportage that circulated through the Jewish media outlets. Working during this time as the French correspondent for the U. S.– based Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the world’s largest Jewish newswire, I had something of an insider’s view of this process. What I remember most was the way that the editors at JTA and other Jewish publications systematically pressured me to highlight the larger French angle – the lethargic response of the government, for example, or the link between this unresponsiveness and popular French support for the Palestinian cause.

10What became readily apparent was the fact that the issue of French anti-Semitism in the United States, in some sense, had more to do with Israel than it did with France. This link is hardly the stuff of conspiracy theories. To understand JTA’s slant on French anti-Semitism, for example, one need only consider the fact that the agency’s President, Howard Friedman is also a longtime board member and the current President elect of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or AIPAC) – the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the United States. AIPAC, it is important to remember, waged an aggressive campaign to rally congressional support for a dramatically compromised version of the U. S.-sponsored « Road Map » for peace in the Middle East against the objections of France and much of the European Union. In fact, many credit AIPAC for pressuring the Bush Administration to unilaterally endorse Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza while maintaining its West Bank settlements and refusing the right of return to Palestinian refugees – a move that France and several other European governments harshly condemned. It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that as JTA’s chief, Friedman would seek to provide American Jews with a framework for understanding why the French government would so doggedly oppose the goals of the Sharon government – namely, its long and intractable history of anti-Semitism. Taken to its logical endpoint, this thinking seeks to cast the French as an essentially and unavoidably anti-Semitic people, in much the same way that Daniel Goldhagen’s bestselling book Hitler’e Willing Executioners did to the Germans in 1996. How such thinking spread through the Jewish heartland – how it took hold so rapidly in places like Kansas, Ohio, and Florida – can be glimpsed in the hundreds of Jewish organizations and community federations and hundreds more Jewish community newspapers that subscribe to JTA’s services. This is a powerful network held together mostly by its common goal of protecting the interests of the state of Israel, and while important differences over what these interests are still prevail, the influence of hardliners is growing rather than decreasing – a trend that should keep the image of an anti-Semitic France around for a while to come.

  • 8 See J. Lobe, « Conservative Christians in the U. S. Biggest Backers of War in Iraq », Third World N (...)

11Why these hardliners are rising to the top of the pro-Israel lobby and why more and more Americans are beginning to hate France for its stance on Israel also has to do with other interrelated trends afoot in the heartland over the past three or so decades: the explosion of evangelical Protestant church membership, the growth of fundamentalist and millenarian beliefs among this membership, and the fusion of these beliefs with nationalist structures of feeling and national policies. Thus, while Jews across the country were awakening to the Israeli cause in the 1970s and 1980s and mobilizing locally to pressure lawmakers so were increasing numbers of evangelicals, whose millenarian (or end time) beliefs translated into pro-Israeli fundraising drives and a continuous opposition to peace initiatives that offered Palestinians either land or the right of return. In the wake of September 11th, evangelicals, who constitute as much as 27 percent of the population and perhaps as much as 40 percent of President Bush’s base, have far outpaced the rest of the country in both approval of the war in Iraq and support for the Israeli government’s tactics of dealing with Palestinians. According to an October 2002 survey conducted by Stand For Israel, a politically influential organization of Jews and Christians led by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, some 69 percent of conservative Christians favored military action against Baghdad and nearly two thirds claimed to have supported Israel’s handling of « Palestinian terrorism » – totals that exceeded those of the whole US adult population by ten and eleven percentage points respectively.8 With such strong views on these issues, it is not difficult to understand why evangelicals would be quick to buy into negative stereotypes of France.

  • 9 Transcript, « Friend or Foe: France’s Relationship with America », November 22, 2004, CBN.com.

12Yet, unlike in the Jewish media, where Francophobia is a featured item, it is somewhat more difficult to detect in the much larger landscape of the Christian media. It surfaces in more subtle ways, as, for example, when Pat Robertson made sure to invite on to his widely televised The 700 Club show the author of the vindictive anti-French tract, Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’e Disastrous Relationship with France. In that interview, which was choreographed to produce a salutary dose of French-bashing for its audience, Robertson echoed a view that is undoubtedly common in the heartland when he matter-of-factly stated: « The truth is, France is a second-rate power and can’t even compete with Korea ». « So », he then asked his guest, « is there something in the French psyche that says we are going to restore the glory of Napoleon? »9 Moreover, this was not the first time Robertson had engaged in the French demonization game. In his apocalyptic novel, The End of the Age, which recounts a plot hatched by a Hilary Clintonesque first lady and a Muslim billionaire to make Antichrist president of the United States, Robertson seizes the opportunity to give Antichrist the French surname of « Beaulieu ».

  • 10 These quotes and their sources can be found on the French-bashing watchdog website Miquelon.org.

13Moreover, if France provokes the ire of fundamentalist evangelicals for its opposition to America’s mission in the Middle East – a mission they feel should help restore all the Biblical land of Canaan to the Israelites and thus bring the world closer to the second coming of Christ – the hexagon is also negatively viewed by moderate evangelicals for its commitment to secularism and its low level of religious observance. Evangelicals tuned in to the Christian Broadcasting Network, a media empire that has grown exponentially since September 11th, are all too aware of the recent law banning religious symbols in schools and the earlier law against religious cults, both of which have received considerable coverage. For all these reasons, it has been congressmen from the Bible Belt – people like the now retired Dick Armey and Tom DeLay of Texas, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Trent Lott of Georgia, and a number of others – who have made the most ardent French-bashers and the most hardcore Israel supporters. DeLay, for example, a man who has claimed that « God is using me... to stand up for the Biblical worldview in everything I do » and who appeared as a guest speaker with the Reverend Jerry Falwell at a « Christian Solidarity with Israel » rally, has also been one of the shrillest anti-French voices in Congress, once warning France and Germany that they were « walking a fine line that is very dangerous ». The highly influential House Majority Whip Blunt, moreover, a former President of Southwest Baptist University and one of AIPAC’s closest friends in Congress, has been overheard on numerous occasions telling anti-French jokes, including the one that goes: « Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris? It’s not known. It’s never been tried ». And finally, Dick Armey, a congressman for 18 years, who for many of them participated in the « secretive » Council for National Policy, an organization founded by the co-author of the enormously popular apocalyptic Left Behind novels, and who, just prior to his retirement in 2002, advocated in no uncertain terms the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on MSNBC’s highly rated show Hardball, once told an interviewer: « ... I learned real early on that if you’re having a discussion about foreign policy, just say something disparaging about the French, and everybody will think you know what you’re talking about »10.

  • 11 B. O’Reilly, « Renewed Call to Boycott France », February 18, 2003, FOXNEWS.com; for the front-page (...)
  • 12 Copley News Service, March 5, 2003, « Transcript of Bush remarks on Mexico ».
  • 13 Press Briefing by A. Fleischer, March 13, 2003.

14Armey’s tongue-in-cheek comment reveals another important dimension of Francophobia: its rhetorical and ideological utility in the public debate over foreign policy. While it is necessary to consider the deeper historical structures and grassroots dynamics behind negative French stereotypes operating in American political culture today, the catalyst for the dramatic sea change in public opinion toward France in 2003 was ultimately a concerted campaign of misinformation and demonization waged by the Bush Administration and its supporters in the mass media. These efforts began, of course in February of 2003, when the Administration attempted to paint France as the principle antagonist to its efforts to consolidate its « coalition of the willing » to invade Iraq. In that single month, the FOX News Network’s Bill O’Reilly called for a boycott of French products, members of the House of Representatives demanded that restaurants on Capitol Hill replace the term « French fries » with « freedom fries » and scurried to introduce legislation imposing various regulations on a range of French imports, the New York Post ran a series of venomous front-page attacks against the French leadership, all of which referred to France and Germany as the « Axis of Weasels », and one of which superimposed weasel faces on to the heads of the French and German representatives to the UN, and Thomas Friedman, arguably the most prominent op-ed writer in the country and an alleged liberal, published pieces in the New York Times calling French and German resistance to the war « Euro-whining », referring to France as « silly », and advocating that it be summarily removed from the United Nations Security Council11. The list goes on and on and on. In the first few weeks of March, the Bush Administration offered its own version of what all this uproar was about. « ... [T] here is an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French », President Bush told reporters, « and there is a backlash against the French – not stirred up by anybody except by the people »12. In a press conference a week later, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated this view, claiming, « What you have to do is watch your television and see the natural reaction of the American people. They’re reacting... And that is their right... I think you are seeing the American people speak spontaneously »13

  • 14 That a google search using the terms « NewsMax », « France », and « boycott » yields over 14,000 hi (...)

15While Fleischer had apparently fallen behind in his readings of media analysis and social movement theory, his notion that one could simply look to the mass media to view the « natural reaction of the American people » was strangely prescient. Beginning just one week after this declaration, Clear Channel Communications, by far the nation’s largest owner of radio stations with more than 1,200, used its immense presence on the airwaves to mobilize over one hundred rallies in support of the war in Iraq. Since many of these so-called « Rallies for America » were energized by French-bashing, the sentiments of which were prominently displayed on the signs and t-shirts of many participants, one might argue that the vox populi was finally starting to roar. Yet, that such a reaction would never have been possible were it nor for publicly regulated but privately owned Clear Channel should give us considerable pause. While the media is by definition implicated in the production of news, this kind of systematic manufacturing of events – and especially of social action – is, with some notable exceptions, somewhat new. Or, perhaps what is really pathbreaking is merely the normalization of such techniques – a trend that is partly attributable to the FOX News phenomenon. Shortly after the start of Clear Channel’s « Rally for America » campaign, NewsMax. Com, a popular internet site modeled on FOX News took out ads in the New York Times and Washington Post calling for a boycott of French goods and services. As the editors of NewsMax put it: « France Hates America and Is in Bed with Saddam – Boycott Cowardly France! ». There is little evidence that either this or the earlier boycott called by FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, who also happens to write for NewsMax magazine, ever elicited much of a response, but the fact that such pseudo-events became events as they circulated through the media made such considerations largely irrelevant. With this system in place, members of the Bush Administration found it all too easy to plant false accusations about France’s corrupt relationship with Iraq, which, as news begat more news, became irrefutable and thus true14.

  • 15 S. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, London: Verso, 1988, p. 170.

16Why were powerful forces within the mass media industry so ready and willing to oblige the Administration with this game of French-bashing? A possible answer to this question may lie in Antonio Gramsci’s idea of historical blocs. Commenting on the challenges to the left posed by Thatcherite England some seventeen years ago, Stuart Hall described the notion of an « historical bloc » as « a quite different conception of how social forces and movements, in their diversity, can be articulated into strategic alliances ». « To construct a new cultural order », Hall argued, « you need not to reflect an already-formed collective will, but to fashion a new one, to inaugurate a new historical project »15. In the years following 9/11, the Republican Party and the Bush Administration have managed to do precisely this – they have managed to consolidate the cultural underpinnings of the current « historical bloc » with a swiftness that defies description. When France took its stand against the war, it found itself in the middle of this process. The demonization of France has thus provided a language, perhaps even a structure of feeling, through which the Administration and its powerful allies have negotiated the place of different movements and forces within a common historical project. One should not well on such minor details as, for example, the fact that only about a quarter of Jewish voters cast their lot with the Republican Party – a figure that nonetheless appears to be on the rise. The pro-Israel lobby is one of the linchpins of this historical bloc, and its most powerful leaders – people like JTA’s Howard Friedman, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson, Mortimer Zuckerman, who controls both Newsday and US News and World Report, and Rupert Murdoch, who owns FOX News and the New York Post – are demonstratively anti-French, and well aware of what they are doing.

  • 16 For an analysis of this ideological formation and its historical roots, see A. Lieven, America Righ (...)

17Aside from the concentration of so much media power in so few hands, what made the formation of this new cultural order discursively possible are the circumstances that have just been described in the case of the demonization of France: among other things, the blurring of the boundary between news and entertainment, the inability to distinguish rumor and spin from reliable information, the infiltration of the news media by public relations, and, most importantly, the rise of an unabashedly pro-Administration consensus in the more populist and popular segment of the mass media. All these trends were well underway when the Twin Towers fell to the ground, but their pace has quickened in post-9/11 America. The Christian Broadcasting Network, FOX News, NewsMax. Com – these are all outgrowths of the new messianic spirit and the powerful fusion of God and nation that evangelicalism, American Zionism, neoconservatism, and the War on Terror have brought to the American political landscape16.

  • 17 J. Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism, New York: Verso, 2002, p. 62.
  • 18 S. Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, New York: Verso, 2002, p. 146.

18This most recent variant of American nationalism constitutes the glue that keeps the current historical bloc together, but its unifying power depends upon a number of elements: the ideological constructs of Iraq, Israel, and France, which, we should remember, often stands in for the European Union. Many observers of American politics would relegate France and Europe to a subordinate position in this triumvirate. Yet, in addition to the special and rather durable part negative stereotypes of France play in mediating the American missions in Iraq and Israel, France and Europe in general have come to occupy a much larger role than this in American political culture. Witness, for example, in the past presidential election, the continuous attempts of the Republican Party and its conservative media bedfellows to portray the Democratic candidate John Kerry as somehow French – not only sympathetic with a French point of view, but even racially French. This is not something to be dismissed as simply a symptom of liberal-democratic consensus. Rather, this obvious fascination with the bad French Other arises from the difficulty Americans encounter in trying to imagine its very existence. Such a condition represents, as Jean Baudrillard has written: « A refusal rooted in the total identification with oneself around moral values and technical power. That is the America that takes itself for America and which, bereft of otherness, eyes itself with the wildest compassion »17. Indeed, what is most galling about France to most Americans, what keeps its system of negative representation alive, is not its difference from the United States, but its painful likeness. France and Europe appear to have, on some level, everything Americans have, and yet they resist jumping on the train toward universalism. This is otherness of the very worst order, which explains the kind of annoyance that greets the mention of France in the United States today. As Slavoj Zizek argues, « It is easy for the American multiculturalist global Empire to integrate premodem local traditions – the foreign body which it cannot effectively assimilate is the European modernity »18. What all this implies is that the ideological uses of French-bashing in the United States are by no means coterminous with either the conflicts in Iraq or Israel. The larger issue still remains mostly below the surface, coming up for air from time to time, like when we see that labor efficiency numbers in France top those of the United States despite the fact that French workers have much more vacation time, or when we start talking about things like welfare and social security.

Notes

1 S. L. Gilman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

2 Neoconservative pundit R. Kagan expertly exploited the idea of a feminized Europe when he claimed, « Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus », a statement that has been used aggressively to market his recent book Of Paradises and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. In the context of France’s unwillingness to join the war effort in Iraq, Europe became something of a euphemism for France. England of course has little to do with this formulation, and Americans still have great difficulty imagining Germany, with its former claim to military greatness and its continuing link to martial iconography, as a country afraid of a fight.

3 This and all other Gallup polls mentioned below are archived at: http://poll.gallup.com.

4 T. G. Ash, « Anti-Europeanism in America », New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, No. 2, 13 February 2003; J. Vaisse, « American Francophobia Takes a New Turn », French Politics, Culture and Society (Summer 2003), p. 33-50.

5 This poll can be found at TNS-Sofres.com.

6 For an incisive and witty account of the cultural politics of this « red-state/blue-state divide », see T. Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.

7 M. E. Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land:  500 Years of Religion in America, Boston: Little Brown, 1984.

8 See J. Lobe, « Conservative Christians in the U. S. Biggest Backers of War in Iraq », Third World Network Features, October 2002.

9 Transcript, « Friend or Foe: France’s Relationship with America », November 22, 2004, CBN.com.

10 These quotes and their sources can be found on the French-bashing watchdog website Miquelon.org.

11 B. O’Reilly, « Renewed Call to Boycott France », February 18, 2003, FOXNEWS.com; for the front-page « Axis of Weasel » story that began a series of similar articles too numerous to cite here, see « Axis of Weasel: Germany and France Wimp Out on Iraq », New York Post, January 24, 2003; for T. Friedman’s anti-French diatribes, see « Ah, Those Principled Europeans », New York Times, February 2, 2003 and « Vote France Off the Island », New York Times, February 9, 2003.

12 Copley News Service, March 5, 2003, « Transcript of Bush remarks on Mexico ».

13 Press Briefing by A. Fleischer, March 13, 2003.

14 That a google search using the terms « NewsMax », « France », and « boycott » yields over 14,000 hits provides a rough indication of the relatively broad web presence of NewsMax.com’s sham boycott call.

15 S. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, London: Verso, 1988, p. 170.

16 For an analysis of this ideological formation and its historical roots, see A. Lieven, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

17 J. Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism, New York: Verso, 2002, p. 62.

18 S. Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, New York: Verso, 2002, p. 146.

Auteur

Est maître de conférences en histoire et civilisation américaines, UFR Angellier, Université de Lille 3 Charles de Gaulle. Il est l’auteur de The Mean Streets of Chicago Youths : Race, Fear, and the Everyday Struggle for Empowerment, 1919-1969 (University of California Press, à paraître en 2007), qui étudie les processus de formation ethno-raciale et leurs relations avec les dynamiques de mobilisation politique et de conflits intergroupes sur le terrain des sous-cultures juvéniles. Ses recherches portent sur le rôle des questions raciales dans la culture politique américaine – dans les mouvements des minorités ethno-raciales pour les droits civiques et la politique du conservatisme blanc en opposition à ces mouvements.

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