Lest You Think The French Are Only Laughing At You...
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand. - Twain
One of the better definitions of satire is that it’s a sneak attack. It’s something you inevitably stumble over — late at night, at the end of the news program (if they dare), on the last page of a journal. It comes unadvertised, and its victim is typically unsuspecting. While other reporting aims for balance and objectivity, it aims for outrage or at least the carnage of reality.
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The French are known for satire, their vicious send-ups and cut-ups of the Way Things Are. They often snarl and aren’t so amiable in their humors as the Dutch or Germans. Americans tend to feel that an awful lot of French heat is directed at them, or at the English, and they try to pay back as best they can. Who can forget Freedom Fries or the front page of the Post with the New Jersey waiter pouring French wine down the toilet, all because the Gauls wouldn’t go along with America’s destructive adventure in Iraq ? Not funny, though, was that ? Satire is out in America. Someone might be offended. Besides, the battle-weary will tell you, reality is tough enough. Jamais !
What isn’t so well known is that most French humor is directed at themselves, at the absurdities of modern life, yes, and at each other. One could argue that if the French weren’t so busy plucking each other’s eyes out, they might actually shake up the world again.
(‘Fascism gets underway with the crazies, gets into power with the bastards and stays there because of idiots.’ Guy de Montherlant, French writer and dramatist.)
But let’s lighten up, shall we, and look at two maps of France, which if they aren’t precisely satire, are at least funny. I found both when I wasn’t looking for them.
Your dictionary won’t help you so much with this one; better you should find a lonely someone who’s French or speaks it, so they can decode the obscenities. Buy them a meal before you get to the finer points of what it all means.
Whoever made the map missed Plaisance de la Touche on the outskirts of Toulouse — a town full of massage parlours for rundown Airbus workers — but maybe that one was just too damn tame. And Corsica, it has no places with rough and ready names ?
Excuse me if I think I’ve stumbled on an entirely new field of study, a new academic discipline : the intertwined emergence of regional character and humor. Is it only the Bretons who give towns names like The Hard On and Naked Bodies ? And who in the Massif Central thought up The Wank (Branlette) as the name for where they lived ?
Below a second example, this one easier for the English-only.
It’s in English but who’s speaking, who’s making the commentary ? Someone who went to the trouble of translating the page. You can suss their nationality out from some of the translations. Also : where exactly is the center of this map ? Where was the mapmaker working from ? Pretty easy that : Paris, although the mapmaker gives them a rude putdown few Parisians would bother to deny. One exception to the satiric rule here: the Belgians are viewed through a particularly warm and fuzzy lens. Our neighboring cousins in the country with no ambitions to grandeur, an ex-empire and happily so, spared the lordly history of bowing and scraping that seals the doom of la France éternelle. The jokers in the deck — and it’s the humor of the Belges the French most appreciate.
Although this version seems far more accurate :
There must be more, but just try finding them ! Search engines are the product of their makers’ imaginations, and a quick ramble through half a dozen yields interesting results : Europe is a place, indivisible and one; there may be countries there but we’re not sure where exactly they are. Maps specifically of France, once you find them on Google & Sons, aren’t humorous, biting, satiric, mordant or jejune. I tried to find them, in several languages. France is œnological, regional, geological, historical, cheesy, weatheristic and travelistic but it ain’t funny. Which is a damn shame because the place takes the piss out of itself all the time. You can even sometimes make a cop laugh here, if he’s in the right mood. That comes in handy.
We needn’t ask what region or state of mind the ‘Eleven Best Search Engines of 2022’ come from. We all know the happy valleys of Cali by heart by now. The web may be blasting into space at 2 million MHz a minute but it’s like American cheese: it comes in a plastic wrapper.
Searching for other Maps with Attitude was futile. I found everything but, proving yet again that satire is a sneak attack or a private comment not a regularly scheduled program. So I won’t keep you any longer. Here’s a geological beauty from 1905.
Thanks to the Riffs readers who keep this page alive. Supporters really help things along. You’re appreciated. JG
9 November 2022 14:17
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