“So,” the boyfriend said, when the results were announced last Sunday night, “are you going to write about the first round of the elections on your blog?”
I told him I wouldn’t. For one thing, politics really isn’t a subject that interests me. For another, the results of the premier tour – the first round of the French Presidential elections, which narrows down the number of candidates to two – weren’t particularly exciting. Current president Nicolas Sarkozy will be going against Socialist Party candidate François Hollande.
Sarkozy (l) and Hollande (r) 's campaign posters.
Nothing unexpected, though some did point out that Sarkozy earned the lowest percentage of votes of any French president running for reelection since 1968.
The extreme Right Front National party candidate Marine Le Pen came in third place, with 20% of votes – but sadly, this doesn’t shock me, either. For years now, France has been having a hard time dealing with keeping its identity as the world becomes more global.
Now, if the extreme Left party Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste’s Philippe Poutou had been voted as one of the two candidates, I would have been surprised and delighted enough to have written about that. While the other presidential hopefuls always appeared professional and polished, Poutou dressed and carried himself like a schlub. The boyfriend said this was to cater to voters who would see him as “one of the people” – but that still doesn’t explain his almost bemused attitude at being involved in the elections. And I really feel like, if you’re running for President of the fifth largest economic power in the world, you could at least get that feathery hair under control. But alas, Philippe Poutou was one of the candidates with the lowest number of votes – and in post-election interviews, he didn’t even look like he minded very much.
Philippe Poutou, looking as put-together as I've ever seen him.
So French politics moved along as usual, with Right-leaning Sarkozy and Left-leaning Hollande preparing for the final round of voting, which will take place on May 6. And then, something kind of cool happened.
In recent days, news outlets like The Daily What
have reported that François Hollande has chosen a very unusual song for his campaign: Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “N----- in Paris”.
The choice was a surprise to everyone. Most French people either don’t know what the “’n’ word” means or don’t realize how offensive it can be, so that wasn’t what caused a stir. Rather, it was François Hollande, this dorky-looking middle-aged white guy (not that Sarkozy is any cooler) choosing a contemporary hip-hop song by two rappers respected even in France.
It turns out that the phrase “campaign song” is a little deceptive: While some people – like me – now had this delightful image of Hollande strolling onto stage with a perfectly mastered gangsta swagger, “N----- in Paris” blaring over the loudspeakers, it turns out the song was only used in a single campaign video – and, as this informative article from Le Nouvel Observateur
reveals, the video was put together by an independent organization that only showed it to Hollande’s camp when it had reached 100,000 views on YouTube.
Okay, so Hollande may still be a dorky un-hip politician, but you have to give him some (street) cred(it), because he didn’t disassociate himself from the clip.
The video, which I've included above, or which you can click here
to watch, shows Hollande campaigning in the banlieues
– troubled suburban areas that are the rough equivalent of inner cities in America. One thing French viewers found incredibly clever is that we see and hear several references to the town of Creil, often synchronised with the song's line “That shit cray” – “Cray” being how the town’s name is pronounced. ….Of course, I don’t think those people have noticed yet that the word “shit” is being used in the same sentence….
Like them, though, I really enjoyed the video. I’d seen images of Hollande visiting banlieues on the news, and I didn’t feel any particular kind of rapport or solidarity coming from either side. After all, Hollande’s tour of the banlieues is as much about sucking up to a region as a visit to a small rural town or a factory would be. His tour did have a message, though; as the notoriously power-tripping Minister of the Interior who frequently led raids on project housing before he became President, Nicolas Sarkozy is generally reviled in the banlieue. In addition, by pandering to extreme Right voters, some people might think Sarkozy doesn’t have lower-class and minority populations’ best interests at heart. I do think François Hollande would look out for – or at least basically respect – these people far more than Sarkozy does, but still. We all know that politicians are a world away from the disenfranchised.
But put those images to hip-hop music, throw in some dynamic editing, and suddenly, damn, François Hollande seems hardcore. Voting looks cool and purposeful, the carte électorale (voter registration card) as hip to brandish as the middle finger. Even without the song, the video has its rebellious moments, like when a Muslim woman says “François President, inch’ Allah, inch’ Allah” (“François for President, God willing, God wiling”) – the Muslim population being a huge source of controversy here in France.
The Nouvel Observateur article suggests that the people who seem most enthusiastic about this video, though, are Americans. And it’s easy to understand why, since we’d view the music choice as shocking, cool, or unique.
I think this may be the first time many Americans will see François Hollande. Sarkozy has his ex-supermodel wife to make him stand out; maybe now people will think Hollande is down with the hip-hop world – or maybe that he’s just ridiculous. Who knows? But there’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes.
Still, some French people have pointed out one negative aspect about the video that seems as obvious to them as the shocking mix of the “’n’ word” and political campaigning does to us: By portraying himself – or, rather, allowing himself to be portrayed – as strongly affiliated with these minorities, Hollande risks alienating potential Right-leaning voters, who might have chosen him because they’re disappointed with Sarkozy. In the video, Hollande tells an audience, “And though some are richer than you, you’re more numerous than they are!” But 20% of votes cast for the Front National, as well as other percentages for more moderate candidates, might suggest otherwise.
By endorsing what is quite possibly the coolest campaign video ever, Hollande might have made a serious misstep.
As an immigrant who has seen laws get more and more restrictive and unfair for people like myself, I’m worried; I want Hollande to win, in the hope that, even if he doesn’t change any of these laws and policies, he’ll at least stop them from getting any worse. Whatever happens, though, I respect Hollande for not shying away from the video. I think we can say that in this Presidential race, he’s the hippest candidate by far. For whatever that’s worth.