“Just write that Austria lost”

Long-time singer/ performer Madonna has readily admitted she’s interested in “being provocative and pushing people’s buttons.” Presumably this rates as another effort at being so. The Guardian:

….Speaking to French radio station Europe 1 in an interview … Madonna said “antisemitism is at an all-time high” in France and elsewhere in Europe, and likened the atmosphere to the period when German fascism was on the ascent.

“We’re living in crazy times,” the 56-year-old singer said, calling the situation “scary,”….

….“It was a country that embraced everyone and encouraged freedom in every way, shape or form – artistic expression of freedom,” Madonna said. “Now that’s completely gone.

“France was once a country that accepted people of colour, and was a place artists escaped to, whether it was Josephine Baker or Charlie Parker.”….

That commentary has unsurprisingly attracted attention in France. If you click on the picture below, or here, it will take you to the interview. Her words are translated into French, but one can hear her speaking English:

Europe 1 screen grab.
Europe 1 screen grab.

Obviously she has read and heard various things over the years, and knows just enoughdinner party” banter to sound informed. Listening to her throughout her career one has never been able to suppress a feeling that she is the proverbial “mile wide and an inch deep.” You never quite believe she knows nearly as much as she appears to position herself as knowing.

A case in point is tossing out the name of African-American jazz musician Charlie Parker as having “escaped” to France. She mentions him offhandedly in the manner of one who knows. He is greatly esteemed in musical circles, and the likely reaction on the part of many a French listener (who might never have heard of Parker) is, gosh, she must know what she’s talking about.

But she doesn’t. He performed in France in 1949, yes. However, he never lived there as Josephine Baker did. And if she doesn’t know a fact as rudimentary as that (and she brought him up; she wasn’t asked about him), what else doesn’t she know that we perhaps assume she does?

Doubtless also “being provocative,” in 2012 she ended up “provoking” France’s far right National Front party, which is led by Marine Le Pen. (Madonna calls her “Marie” in that Europe 1 interview; and whether she does that out of further ignorance or an attempt at an “I can’t be bothered to recall the awful woman’s name” is anyone’s guess.) But there Madonna ran into a legal buzz saw. France is not the United States; it has no 1st Amendment:

….The singer’s spat with Le Pen began after the far-right leader threatened to sue Madonna over a video featuring an image of Le Pen with a swastika on her forehead.

In the recent Europe 1 interview, Madonna also describes the party as “fascist.” One would suppose that Madonna has deep enough legal pockets to fight to defend a core belief she asserts as true? Yet she dropped the swastika. One might well be left wondering, what happened to confronting “fascism?”

A familiar Paris landmark. [Photo by me, 1994.]
A familiar Paris landmark. [Photo by me, 1994.]
Above all, what Madonna highlights in those observations is less telling than what goes unsaid. While the increasing electoral popularity of the far right is unsettling, the most virulent (and violent) anti-Semitism in France currently doesn’t really emanate from there. It seems most egregiously found among some of France’s 2-6 million Muslims.

No doubt she has heard about the January Paris kosher supermarket murders that followed the Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre. The supermarket gunman was targeting Jews and definitely wasn’t a National Front supporter. Yet in having pointed to – only slightly more than one month after it – what she claims is “France’s” growing intolerance, anti-Semitism, and Nazi Germany-like environment, curiously she has nothing to say about that.

The world has also just recently witnessed roughly 4 million of all races, religions and politics, take to the streets throughout France, defending liberty and the secular Republic. Nazi Germany? Madonna’s Europe 1 efforts at “public intellectual” reflections caused me to recall this short exchange I wrote in Passports:

Maki noticed Isabelle’s history book. “Western Civilization was not my best class,” the Japanese pronounced. “Just before the final, Peter told me, if I’m not sure, just write that Austria lost.”

Isabelle laughed. “No, this is 101. It’s to 1500.”

Maki smiled. “That makes it even easier. No Austria to remember at all then!”

For when delving into non-personal, non-professional ambition issues, Madge often reminds one of an underprepared undergrad student who rote memorized her oral presentation. She tries to bluff her way through it because underneath it all she doesn’t really know much more than what she is mechanically sharing. Indeed you worry she may know even less than that.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂