Mei Yau and I were recently discussing the unusual relationship that France has with American popular culture. We came to the conclusion that despite (or maybe partly because of) France’s general resistance to the sort of full-scale Americanisation that we have experienced in the UK, for years the French have appeared to be fascinated by a mythical, archetypal vision of America that bears little relation to historical or current reality. That is to say that whilst American culture and ideas have permeated almost every insignificant aspect of British life – due in part, no doubt, to our shared linguistic and cultural heritage – this has perhaps not happened to quite the same extent in France. Therefore, French film-makers, musicians and other artists have been able to explore and cultivate an idea of America that might seem ludicrous and contrived in a country such as the UK, where every other television programme or song on the radio is from the USA.
Examples of this can be seen in many different strands of French culture: the slightly bizarre popularity of Western-themed French language cartoons such as Lucky Luke and Willie Boy; the French film industry’s hero worship of such Hollywood outsider figures as Samuel Fuller and Mickey Rourke; Serge Gainsbourg’s scabrous yet also somewhat enchanted take on American trash culture in many of his most famous songs; the sincere fascination displayed by young French musicians like M83 and the Valerie Collective towards American teen films such as those of John Hughes, along with other more ephemeral aspects of 1980s US youth/pop culture that are often held up for derision and ridicule here in the UK.
This topic could clearly be discussed at much greater length, and maybe I will do so at some point. For now though, I’ll just leave you with a nice homemade video (not by us!) for a classic song that – along with the above links – hopefully illustrates to some extent what I’ve been saying.