Say this for the French: Passionate about American popular culture

John J. Metzler

PARIS — One of the more common misperceptions in transatlantic relations is the near instinctive knee-jerk comment that “the French don’t like Americans.” That is unless you overlook much of the music on French radio which is American, a considerable segment of prime time TV are American programs, and a majority of the box office movie hits are produced in Hollywood ranging from Batman to Lorax.

Many French have long decried the Americanization of France and ever potent challenge the English language poses to the language of Moliere. Franglais, the mix of English words with French, has been a bane of the self-appointed literary guardians for generations, but when it comes to pure entertainment, Hollywood holds its ground.

Christian Bale as Batman in 'The Dark Knight Rises'. / AP

Stroll past any of the cinemas on the Champs-Elysses, Montparnase, or any of the grand boulevards and it becomes stunningly obvious that “The Dark Knight Rises,” over the City of Light. Take a look at the train station platforms and see advertisements for the new Schwarzenegger/Stallone thriller The Expendables.

For example, during the last week of July, of the top ten box office hits across France, fully six of them were American movies. “The Dark Knight Rises” surged ahead of the list followed by Ice Age 4, The Amazing Spider Man, and Lorax. A few French-produced comedies followed, and then there’s Madagascar 3 and Trespass.

Opening this week are Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter, Lady Vegas (Lay the Favorite), and Step Up 4 (Sexy Dance: Miami Heat).

Taking a wider view of box office hits over the past year, we find a strong Hollywood presence too although some top attractions such as the French made comedy the Intouchables leads the list.

The still heavily state subsided French film industry without question turns out some impressive films. The Artist, the nostalgic silent black and white film after all won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Director.

Indeed the French are a cinema oriented people with high rates of movie attendance.

According to France’s National Cinema Centre, 2011 was “the best performance for local pictures since 1984 … The market share for French films increased to 41.6% in 2011, against 35.7% in 2010.” Interestingly “The market share for American pictures fell, to 46%, against 47.6% in 2010.”

TV stations too reflect the very strong appeal of American dubbed programming from reruns of House and the newly popular Bones and Body of Proof.Just about every police and NCIS type show so familiar to American audiences are popular too. Though the French traditionally loved the Policier (detective) stories, now everything seems to be set in Miami, Malibu or Manhattan. Come to think of it, that’s where large numbers of French tourists go too.

And across the wide spectrum of French radio stations there’s a constant beat of American music from nostalgia to jazz to hip hip. Add French Rap and you see there’s also a strong copycat effect.

The philosophers and the political doyens of the Rive Gauche will drone on about the French language and culture being under assault by the Americans: in one way it certainly is.

Nonetheless let’s not forget that in a free society, selections be they at the box office or the channel changer cannot be pre-programmed but are reflected by personal choice.

In the midst of a melancholy summer buffeted by both a stagnant economy and the uncertainty of the new Socialist administration’s direction, there’s always the escapist element offered by the cinema. It’s not the first time that Hollywood offers such a choice.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.

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