The US predilection for bashing the French, last evident when France opposed the US invasion of Iraq and the congressional dining room responded by renaming French fries “freedom fries,” is back, fueled by the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault.
Ingredients of the Strauss-Kahn saga — sex, power, international finance and Franco-US relations — have produced an explosive cocktail of jokes, prejudices, and stereotypes.
On Friday, the tabloid New York Post published a front-page photo of Strauss-Kahn in a Manhattan courtroom rubbing his hands -together after learning that he’d won his bail appeal. The headline: “Frog Legs It.”
The accompanying article begins “Au revoir Rikers,” the name of the New York jail in which Strauss-Kahn had been held since Monday.
The Post’s rival tabloid, the Daily News, sarcastically reported that at Rikers, Strauss-Kahn had neither “hors-d’oeuvre” nor “fois gras.”
On television, certain talk show hosts are likewise delighting in the scandal. Top television comedian Jay Leno had this to say: “The French head of the IMF was arrested in New York for sexually assaulting a hotel maid, or as the French call it, ‘room service.’”
Television humorist Jon Stewart mocked French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy, who earlier this week came to Strauss-Kahn’s defense.
Levy wondered why Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim was alone, “contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.”
“Only the French refer to two maids as a brigade,” Stewart said.
On Twitter, Americans are having a field day.
“Nothing brings together Americans more than French-bashing. USA, USA, USA,” Andrea Chapman of Missouri wrote.
Even if the most potent mockeries remain the province of the tabloids, more serious newspapers can’t resist the urge either. On Thursday, the New York Times published a piece by British writer Stephen Clarke, the author of A Year in the Merde.
Noting the return to the French cultural fold of Roman Polanski, who fled the US in 1978 to avoid serving a prison sentence for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old, Clarke speculated that even Strauss-Kahn will bounce back and “eventually be made a government minister.”
“Minister of gender equality, perhaps?” he wrote.