Wednesday, Oct. 16, 1996
This morning I was going through a stack of magazines when I came upon two issues of Spy that its not-untalented new editor had sent me. Spy is a magazine that died and was then brought back from the grave by a new owner, and like most things brought back from the grave, it looks almost preternaturally wan. The faux magazine, pallid but by no means appalling, has approached me about writing for it, but I have ignored these entreaties for three reasons:
1) I have an almost pathological aversion to being paid the kind of money Faux-Spy pays.
2) I am still owed money by the last owner of the magazine, and have a psychological tic that prompts me to automatically transfer my hatred toward the new owner. I feel the same way about anyone whose last name is Buckley.
3) I have an almost pathological aversion to being paid the kind of money Faux-Spy pays.
There’s one other reason I won’t be writing for Spy in the near future: The magazine recently published an article that makes fun of France. Although the article was written by a friend and colleague (Jamie Malinowski), and although it made a number of relevant points (France has become irrelevant), I am tired of hearing Americans attack the French. I love the French, with all their foibles. They are fine bakers. They respect tradition. They are interested in women in a way that people named Duane and Kirby are not. They never, ever name their children Courtney. I love them so much that I’m going to France for Christmas just to be with them. Thus, I will have no truck with a magazine that attacks them with almost preternatural flippancy.
For the record, I am not sure what “having truck with” means; perhaps this is because it is a turn of phrase that only appears in the negative. You never hear anyone saying, “I can’t go to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream acted in Danish and directed by Ingmar Bergman tonight, because I’m having truck with my girlfriend Courtney.” It is a cumbersome phrase of enigmatic, pre-Cambrian origins, and has no real relevance to anything. Thus, it’s almost certain that Bob Dole will use it in the debate tonight.
Anyway, France. Talk to the average American, and he couldn’t find France on a map. But talk to the kind of person who reads SLATE or LinguaFranca or Faux-Spy, and he’s probably going to respond, “How can you respect a country that thinks Jerry Lewis is a genius?” I know this because every time I tell a fellow American how much I like the French, he throws that Jerry Lewis thing back in my face. So let’s get this Jerry Lewis business sorted out right away.
It’s true that an alarmingly large number of French people think that Jerry Lewis is a genius. But an even more alarmingly large number of Americans think that Barbra Streisand is a genius. And a comparable number think that John Belushi was a genius. Plus, somebody in this country has to ‘fess up about buying all those Michael Bolton CDs. So, on balance, I think the French come out ahead on this one.
Moreover, all nations have their blind spots–inexplicable ethnic or national quirks that make everyone else in the world hate them. With Latin Americans, it’s that whole death-squad thing. With the Japanese, it’s karaoke. With the Serbs, it’s a certain pushy quality. The Germans, let’s face it, got snookered by national socialism; the English wear brown checked herringbone jackets with blue striped corduroy trousers; and Canadians get testy whenever anyone says Gretzky is over the hill. We all have our little flaws.
But the French have many other things going for them. They have Monet; we have Winslow Homer. Edge: Frogs. They have Joan of Arc; we have Joan Rivers. Edge: Frogs. They have Jean-Paul Sartre, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal; we have Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bill Moyers. Edge: Frogs. Frankly, if we try going toe to toe with the French on the cultural front, we’re going to come out big-time losers. When they import top talent, they get Samuel Beckett and Pablo Picasso. When we import top talent, we get Martina Navratilova and Yakov Smirnoff. The French win on points.
So my advice is: Leave the French alone. Not only do they have a starting lineup that includes Charlemagne, Henri Matisse, and Honore de Balzac, but when they go to their bench, they can bring out both Madame Curie and Marie Antoinette. Anyway you cut it, that is big lumber. And one other thing: The French defeated the Huns at Châlons-sur-Marne in the year 451. Hey, anyone who defeats the Huns is all right in my book.
Even if they do like Mickey Rourke.