Tell It To The Marines

This year’s May Day celebrations in France exhibited a bit more novelty than usual: an inter-generational, cross-gender family feud within the country’s leading neo-fascist clan … and a new graphic style for Femen body art!  All in the same place, at the same time!  Zut!

The far-right Front National’s traditional Paris May Day rally –its annual tribute to Joan of Arc–  was disrupted by women from the Femen activist group, who made mock-Nazi salutes from the balcony of a [four]-star hotel and disrupted a speech by party leader Marine Le Pen.  The topless activists wore blonde wigs and had “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop fascism” [sic] written across their chests, unfurling banners linking the party’s logo with the Nazi party.  For five minutes, they drowned out Le Pen’s speech with a bullhorn, chanting anti-Front National slogans while the crowd booed.  Three men from the party’s security service then forcibly pulled the women inside before one of the men raised his fist to the crowd in an apparent sign of victory.

They will be forced to get dressed,” Le Pen said of the protesters as she resumed her speech.

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Quite a novelty!  It’s customary for French politicians to employ force while undressing women!

One thing that wasn’t novel: the classic Femen sloganeering style of uppercase block lettering in black body paint.   But an earlier diversionary foray at ground level unveiled the spring look from the House of Femen.  Black mixed-case lettering on a rectangular red-bordered white background … with a red accent: “Le Pen top fascist”  Lettering that breaks the boundary of the imaginary protest placard emblazoned on the living-body-as-living-placard.  Good to see a graphic designer’s influence at the heart of the message.

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And note the symbolism at work in the streetscape background — the signboard of the Hotel Regina.  Do you need to know Latin (or be a latent royalist) to understand that Regina = Queen?  Many, many intersecting cultural vectors impinging at Place des Pyramides, not least of which are those radiating from the statue of Jeanne itself, originally commissioned in 1874 by Napoleon III.  Clearly intended to commemorate the obliteration of the 1871 Paris Commune, the statute is the work of sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet.

Born in Paris, he was a nephew and pupil of Sophie Frémiet, and later he became a pupil of her husband François Rude. He chiefly devoted himself to animal sculpture. In times of adversity he served in the gruesome office of painter to the Paris Morgue.  Named an Officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1878, he became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1892.

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If you’re an American not in Paris, replicas of this statue can be found closer to home –in Portland, Oregon and the Big Easy –New Orleans, Louisiana.  Frémiet being who he was, it’s more a statute of Jeanne d’Arc’s horse than of the rider herself, but the notion of a woman borne away by an animal was almost an idée fixe with him:

In 1887 Frémiet had exhibited his “Gorilla Carrying off a Woman” which won him a medal of honor at the Salon.  Although praised in its time, this work now evokes ridicule from some observers for its depiction of a gorilla abducting a nude woman, presumably with the intention of raping her.

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Which brings us back to the racist, xenophobic platform of the Front National.  Beneath all the economic, religious and cultural argumentation advanced by the FN to support its project, the underlying message is profoundly simple: “Those black monkeys want to fuck ‘our’ women.”  By which they actually mean, “these foreigners want to fuck the women I claim to reserve for my own exclusive fucking.”  Control over the means of reproduction is what’s at stake; the battle remains just as ugly as the endless struggle over the means of production itself.

But eventually the aging patriarch no longer has the strength to exercise coercive enforcement of his “right” to dominate:

On Monday eighty-six-year-old National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was summoned to a disciplinary hearing at the headquarters in Nanterre, just west of Paris, but stubbornly refused to attend, calling it “detrimental” to his dignity.  [In his absence] Le Pen was suspended from FN for violating party discipline, by last month repeating his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” in history.  He had also defended the historical legacy of Philippe Pétain – leader of the Vichy war-time government that cooperated with Nazi Germany.

Papa Le Pen’s reaction was predictably vitriolic:

“Let her get married as soon as possible. I do not want her carrying my name anymore,” he told Europe 1 radio.

La fille had her own perspective on the situation:

“I get the feeling that he can’t stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it,” she said.

So is Marine Le Pen actually … a Trojan Horse feminist at the core of France’s neo-fascist patriarchy?  Naaaaaah.  Probably not.  More likely she’s a textbook example of an archetypical Daddy’s Girl … on testosterone.

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May Day in Paris was definitely a bizarre spectacle on so many levels:  21c patriarchal zealots honoring –even revering– a 15c transgender activist.  The sight of foreign legionnaires protecting a xenophobic ideologue.   A father rebelling at his daughter’s usurpation of patriarchal power.  The lingering 19c specter of helpless womanhood subjected to bestial violation.

Only May Day in Moscow could have been more jarring.

 

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