⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

May 19, 2011

DSK.

"DSK": a household reference for the man in la belle France.

Three rather surprising and general reactions from the French in Paris since I am on the ground and working here right at the moment of this scandal (reactions of co-workers & friends, taxi drivers, the French papers, tabloids, etc - all sorts of discourse about the subject):

1. The obvious one: what happened was some sort of organized effort to frame DSK and to bring him down just before his moment of glory in politics. This is everywhere. This reaction is understandable, if you take into account timing and if we were talking about another man. Unfortunately, that DSK is in a position to be defending his behavior in this circumstance is not even slightly surprising given his history with women and sexual aggression. When DSK became the head of the IMF, what was written in French papers? A cautionary tract, insisting that DSK's approach with women would not be tolerated in an Anglo-American setting. He was literally called on this before it happened. This says nothing of the incident in 2002 with the French journalist (and his wife's goddaughter, no less), Tristane Banon, who claims to have been sexually assaulted by DSK and then subsequently told by her own mother to hold her tongue and not publicly speak out. The man has a history of a perverse way of thinking about women, which in no world means that he is guilty, but rather, that the immediate French assumption that he must not be is odd. Tristane Banon's mother's reaction also symbolizes something perverse in French culture. Perhaps DSK found himself in a context where his behavior would not be tolerated and that is the difference between his ability to act with impunity in the past and the position in which he finds himself today.

2. The second reaction (almost everyone mentioned this): American puritanism will taint the judicial process (so even if he is found guilty, he won't be - the verdict will merely be evidence of the American obsession with puritanism in public sexual affairs). The fact that the French choose to turn a blind eye to consensual sexual behavior by their politicians really has nothing to do with whether this person committed a crime or not. Analogously, the fact that Americans care whether or not their elected leaders engage in sexual trysts on the side is totally irrelevant as to whether DSK will be found guilty of a crime in this country. That the conversation turns to American puritanism when discussing a crime is a strange reflection on the way sexual harassment is viewed in France. In fact, I was baffled when a colleague chimed in on the DSK discussion with, "And they haven't even shown us a picture of the woman yet!" As if by viewing a photograph it could be determined whether or not she would be a worthy target for such a man as DSK.

3. The most absurd: that DSK devised this plan himself and acted as a means of wriggling out of his current political track. Tactical genius. The poor man - driven to such behavior.

The theme of all three of these reactions? DSK is not to blame. Whether this is true or not, it is fascinating that the French could be so unequivocal in their response and their defense of such a reputable figure.

15 comments:

Jill said...

This is very interesting Em. Made even more so as Arnold Schwarzenegger is currently in the news these days. He's not being accused of a crime, but discussions about his sexual behavior abound.

It will be interesting to follow this case and the reaction the French have to the outcome.

Diogenes said...

Problems with boundaries are a trait of narcissism, aren't they?

I have to say that at the age of 54, I believe that many things are possible in this scenario. I will have to wait and see what happens, if and when the truth comes out.

Remember how the US removed the democratically elected government in Iran, in 1953, to reinstall the Shah? They denied doing so, but we later found out the truth when CIA documents were released. (I mention this as an example only becuase I am American and lived in Iran). And remember the costly Clinton/Lewinski hearings?

No doubt the French and the rest of the world look at events in America through the lens of such history. And haven't we given them reason to do so?

But note that DSK has not denied having sex. His defense is that it was consensual.

Please don't take my comments the wrong way. I enjoy your blog and like hearing your point of view. And I love the beautiful pictures you post.

Maria Petrova said...

AMAZING. Amazing.

Xavier Joly said...

In response to your points:

1. Such unbelievable behavior/situation (because it is still not proven to be true) makes people think that it has to be a whole set up.

2. American justice system (as any other legal ssytem anywhere by the way) has its flaws and has proven to be at least questionable in similar circumstances (Kobe Bryan and Jay-Z cases...); it is also fair to say that puritanism may interfere in jury's objectivity if facts are not obvious...

3. Additionally, self-destruction mecanisms have also been discussed and is a very interesting human and psychological behavior.

Corry Cropper said...

The other theory I've heard is that Sarkozy appointed DSK to the IMF knowing that he would do something stupid like this (because of his track record) and do it in America and thereby be eliminated as a presidential rival.

Emilie said...

I like that one too, Corry Cropper.

Julie said...

Such a fascinating look at cultural perspectives.

Brad said...

Excellent post on this timely subject. I have spent a lot of time in France and love the culture as a whole, this incident spotlights the very disturbing "droight de signeur" mentality that is so prevalent in France.

Sexual harassment is reprehensible in any situation and any culture and should never be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

I love France, and as a US citizen I'm very critical of my own country (haven't even lived in it for a decade), but I will say this:

There's a LOT of things wrong with the USA. The fact that a super-powerful, super-rich, super-connected, super-influential, super-entitled world leader can get busted for allegedly doing violence to a dirt-poor black African immigrant who scrubs toilets for a living is NOT one of them.

The funniest expression of the pro-DSK position was BHL's stupid piece article last week arguing that DSK should not be treated as an ordinary alleged criminal, because he's so rich and cool or whatever. It's like BHL said to himself, "Let me do everything possible to act like a stereotypical supercilious Frenchmen, taint the jury pool and make Americans hate DSK, France, and me, so that DSK goes to jail for life."

Elizabeth said...

Anon:hear hear.

Emilie, thought provoking post, thank you

Maria Petrova said...

I think besides the obvious sexual politics, another thing is happening here, perhaps more basic and pervasive. A month ago or so I heard a program on this on NPR with examples of several politicians whom the public refused to see as disgraced. Once Rudy Guliani united New York and America after 9/11, he didn't get half the crap he could have after some of his later shinanigans. Once a politician establishes themselves as reliable and trustworthy, people's brains refuse to register that a perchance event could deprive them of their hero. Our limbic brain is wired to look up to our leaders, for the survival of the tribe, and so there is that instinctive reaction of "he couldn't have." Obviously, the more sophisticated parts of the brain (the cortices) are meant to override this initial reaction of disbelief ... :)

Gina said...

Loved reading this Emilie. My experiences have been similar to yours. I have had more than one French friend say to me, "Well, in France we have the presumption of innocence..." to which I have replied, "Um, yeah, same in the US," which received the response of, "But he has already been convicted," leading to my response of "Wha...?" They mean by having his pictures taken in handcuffs (oh the horror) he looks guilty. Then there was the French friend who said, with sadness in her voice, "If it had happened in Europe, the maid would have just been told 'that's DSK, just be quiet,' to which I responded, "Do you think that's better?" She said no, but I got the idea she was only saying no because she was speaking to me, an American. Finally, I've had many French friends talk about the fact that Americans have such hang-ups about sex and infidelity, while the French have a much more realistic view of it. My response continues to be the same: not talking about sex here; talking about rape...completely different. To me the BHL thing speaks volumes.

Maria Petrova said...

Gina, thanks for that.... AMAZING...

yellsoftly.com said...

Really good post, Emilie. And I've enjoyed the perspectives shared in the comments. I think one thing that we should keep in mind, though, is that this is very embarassing for the French. I am not excusing the sexist comments, at all, but I think that when people are embarassed they make inane excuses. Imagine if the roles were reversed and the French had arrested and paraded around a high-profile American. People would be appalled, and I am not so sure that the quality of their excuses would be much better. (and also, I don't doubt for a minute that if it was an American in France s/he would be treated similarly as DSK has been treated here.)

Again, in no way do I excuse the sexism. But I also don't think that this is as much a French problem as a human problem. Similar sexist comments have been made by Americans about similar cases involving high-profile Americans.

Finally, Anonymous, I love your characterization of BHL. Just love it, bravo.
-snc

Emilie said...

if only the French were embarassed...

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