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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Hollande Affair

Good post up with links on Arun with a View about a tale that has all of France buzzing.  I won't go into the salacious details here - check out Arun's post or simply Google the topic and you'll get plenty of hits.  I will restrict my commentary to two remarks:

The Powers That Be in this country seem to be a bit behind the times.  Sleeping with the mainstream media (and I mean that both figuratively and literally) no longer means that you can keep the lid on your private affairs if you are a public person.

I agree that this stinks. There are surely far more important things to discuss right now and in a perfect world, this affair should be nothing more than a minor blip on all our radars.  But it's not a perfect world.  Those privacy laws make a lot of sense but in a world of decentralized media where people get their news from multiple free on-line sources and can self-publish,  it's become a leaky law.

Let's be realistic, the image of the French president riding his scooter to a rendezvous with his love is so undignified and so silly (a bit like Michael Dukakis in that tank) that it's darn near impossible not to be drawn to it.  If Hollande's complicated love life is all too human, well, so is the curiosity of the French public.

Not being a French citizen (merely a denizen of the Republic) Hollande is not my president (not yet anyway).  However, it behooves us migrants to keep an eye on the host country government and the behaviour of public figures because both send signals -  many most assuredly unintended but powerful nonetheless.

I hear often that polygamy is one of those awful old country habits that migrants must shed in order to integrate into the Republic.  That is a statement that merits a closer look.

Yes, it is forbidden under French law to have more than one wife (or husband) but anyone who pays the slightest attention to what is going on in French society may see an implicit rule which looks a lot like a kind of unofficial polygamy.  If one can afford it (or is in a position to use other people's money to fund one's private proclivities) could we say that the model or aspiration is to have multiple parallel partners? There are certainly many famous examples we could cite:  Mitterand, Chirac, and now Hollande.  Mitterand's case is particularly striking because it was a long-term relationship - they lived together and had a child.  Legally, she was not his wife (another ably held that official position) but, as folks have been saying since the Sixties, does a piece of paper really matter?

Perhaps it is simply and purely a matter of discretion. The official rule says that a man or woman can only make one spouse miserable at a time. The un-official rule may be that a mix of spouses and consorts (permanent or temporary) is a prerogative of the powerful (but in theory is accessible, as Raymonde Carroll argues, to everyone) and will be tolerated as long as the public figure is perceived as doing his job well, and he at least nods in the direction of public monogamy while practicing private polygamy with a certain flair.

I doubt very much that this is about Hollande's complicated love life - on the contrary his ability to attract two very lovely women to his side might actually be viewed by some with a certain wistful admiration  - but more the exposure of it to public scrutiny in a way that was hurtful to his partner and detrimental to the dignity of his office. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, "In a society where everyone is guilty" [or wants to be]  "the only crime is getting caught."

And for a different take on it, here is a French journalist writing in The Guardian:  Francois Hollande, Julie Gayet … and a very British scandal about a very French affair


P. Moore said...

My guess is Hollande is in for a very rough ride for the next while. Things are not going well n any event. Now he has to battle this story. Any way you slice it, he can demand his privacy rights, but since he is the President, there really is no such thing. You don't get to have power and then expect no one to notice you. You never know how it will all play out in the end, however...these days Bill Clinton seems to be much more popular than any other Democrat in the US.

People have short memories in politics, but also Hollande is digging a pretty deep hole.

Marvin said...

Imagine Indeed...

" Imagine the head of state of the world's fifth biggest economy scooting through the streets of Paris at night to a rendezvous, and being delivered breakfast at 8am by his bodyguard. So simple, so organic, so carefree, so natural. And so terribly Parisian. Surely, the highest form of civilisation, and the envy of the world. What other head of state could actually do the same? None. And no other head of state could survive the revelation totally unscathed."

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Patrick, Yeah, I think that this business would be relatively unimportant except for the fact that he is deeply unpopular right now. The blog French Politics (a good one) reported that Hollande was not doing well at his press conference.

There are several posts about it up on the site and they are all worth reading.

TeNgaere, Times have changed. What is a bit sad is that I read reports that said he seemed happy to be with this woman and that they gave indications of being quite fond of each other. Who knows what the truth is but reading it I felt for the guy. I really did.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that these first, second or whatever ladies are supported by our tax system here in France - the same one that has been getting ever more unfair as Hollande and his friends keep taxing the middle class and families to the unbearable. These ladies have a staff, get protection even when shopping anonymously.. and their "humanitarian work" is laughably insignificant.