The French have a lot of trouble with change. Let me rephrase that: the French are brilliant at turning change into material for stand-up comedy, if not – alas – farce. Clay Shirky tells the story of a group of cleaning women who decided to carpool to their work instead of taking the bus. The French bus company, with the sonorous name of Transports Schiocchet Excursions, sued them.
The company lost, but not before inspiring Rabelaisian laughter among businessmen pretty much everywhere that isn’t France. What’s your strategy for retaining customers? Zut! We chain them to the company crypt until they understand how much they love us. . .
The French elites hate the internet. What good is it? They hate Google. What good is that, and anyway why is it American? How can people think right, if they keep googling around the web while we talk to them?
And now this. A 50-year-old homemaker and mother of three in St-Paul-les-Dax, near Bordeaux, found herself the object of a police investigation because she posted an online comment critical of a French dignitary. No doubt troubling for her – but hilarious for the rest of us at so many levels.
The dignitary’s title is “secretary of state for the family.” Given French reproductory habits, the secretary had some grounds to question the patriotism of a mother of three. Here was a subversive person. Housewives on the web – every Frenchman knows – threaten the very foundations of democracy.
“The Internet is a danger for democracy,” said Jean-François Copé, parliamentary chief for the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, in a recent radio interview.
And by “democracy,” of course, we mean something rare and precious, but also delicate and fragile, like a good meringue glace: French politicians.
Accustomed to a certain deference from citizens and the news media, members of France’s political elite have been caught off guard by the cruder sensibilities and tabloid flavor of the online world. They have mounted a broad counteroffensive.
So there you have it. Change is everywhere, except in France – where they will call out the gendarmerie to stomp on change, on the internet, on 50-year-old mothers, to keep the glory of the nation, and the privilege of its politicians, undiminished.