In the past fortnight, there has been a concerted effort to defend the image of Paris in the face of Fox News’s assertions that Paris is a dangerous city with ‘no-go zones’ were Sharia Law (read: lawlessness) reigns. Evidently, this is quite an exxageration.
Representation and Urban Poetics
The importance of language in representing Paris has been long appreciated. And, reactions to Fox News’s choice of words show that Parisians in the 21st Century still appreciate the need to control the words used to frame the city.
During the Renaissance, as the printing press fueled the spread of information, French authors quickly realized the importance of controlling the narrative on the city. Language was seen, as Elisabeth Hodge and other scholars of the period have noted, as a tool to re-present the city and shape the self-understanding of its inhabitants. This intersection between language, the city, and self understanding is referred to as ‘Urban Poetics’. That is to say, while the city is a built environment sustained by particular patterns of social life, and political organisation – language is also very important to the construction of meaning and selfhood.
As such, Renaissance writers (cases in point: Montaigne, Pascal) deployed language to define Paris and the Selfhood of people living in the city. In short, it has long been clear that language is as important as the actual space in crafting self-understanding and the life of the city.
Enter: Fox News
Fox News tried to re-present of Paris as dangerous (the video below being one instance of many):
This inspired floods of emails demanding an apology from Parisians and other French people. The channel was compelled to oblige. Forcing Fox News to apologize for a poorly representing this city was not only a testament to people power. It also re-iterated that which Pascal, Montaigne and other literary figures of the Renaissance in Paris understood: Language and urban poetics are powerful tools in the representation of the city and in self understanding.
Laughing all the way to the Court
Part of the struggle over language was fought through humour, and particularly through the satirical television show Le Petit Journal. Below is a subtitled video produced by liveleak.com . This made for entertaining television last week.
Jokes Aside, See you in court?
Apparently, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is taking it up a notch and suing Fox News over the misrepresentation of Paris. (See this article from The Guardian and the mayor speaking with CNN, below). Now, whether the case has merit in the United States remains to be seen. However, what is clear is something that has long been asserted here: the battle over language and the framing of this city must be valiantly fought.