So, I was originally going to call this post “les publicités”, which means advertisements, but I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences lately that have made me think about culture and politics and the differences between France and the US. It started with advertisements. Most of you know that I like making clothes, so naturally I like to watch Project Runway. I’ve tried to wean myself off of it in the past few years since it’s going downhill and the judging is questionable, but I keep watching despite myself, even though I don’t even have a TV (yay internet!). The season started at the end of July, so after watching it every week for 2 full months I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing who wins. Unfortunately, TV streaming on network sites like Lifetime and CW is limited to US internet connections, so I had to find another way. In my desperation I resorted to good old facebook, where I received many tips on how to find TV online, and also found out that I can actually access BU’s network with the VPN thingy and make the internet think I’m in the US (thank you Victoria and BU!!!) So I can stream my favorite TV shows from the network sites just like I did back home. This also means that I get to see the commercials.
I never in a million years would have thought that I would like watching commercials. It was so strange though, watching the commercials during Project Runway or Gossip Girl or New Girl (awesome new TV show, iTunes’ free downloads of pilots really does get you hooked) was some sort of relief for me. It was like “aaah ok people trying to sell things with top-notch graphic design and catchy songs, I feel better now.” It somehow made me feel still connected to American culture, after I’ve been thrown into this foreign land with cows and markets and no Target (not even Monoprix!). This feeling really took me by surprise, and I’m still trying to figure out what it means. The United States is usually criticized for being such a consumer culture, and we do consume a lot and waste a lot and some people are greedy and some people use people and blah blah everything that goes along with capitalism. But consumer culture is kind of the basis of pop culture, and being someone who likes art and fashion and modern things, I need pop culture. I can’t just look at cows and horses, and even though the landscapes here are beautiful and the food is great and I love so much here, I still feel like I need some sort of connection to the modern world. So I guess being bombarded by advertising makes me feel better? I’m glad that I know that Drew Barrymore is advertising a new fancy CoverGirl line of eyeshadow, and I don’t mind being reminded for the millionth time that Bounty is superior to the other “leading brand.” These things are so American, and they’re familiar, and I guess that is comforting. Also, from what I’ve seen, the US is just better than France in advertising (at least on TV) and web design. Sorry, France, but most of the commercials are really cheesy. Maybe they just don’t have as many advertising and graphic design majors. Either way, my new appreciation of marketing as a major part of American culture has also made me appreciate the song “Material Girl,” and I don’t even like Madonna. But maybe I should just stop lying to myself and just admit that maybe I, too, am a little bit of a Material Girl. But I won’t admit it to a French person.
I guess it’s not so surprising that I have been more aware of US politics and capitalism than ever before since arriving in France. What is surprising is that the French aren’t the ones bringing it up. First, there is all this news about Occupy Wall Street. I’m sad that I can’t be there for it, I find it refreshing that people are actually protesting something and trying to draw attention to a cause, even if they don’t know what it is (it’s so French!). I’m also relieved that my confusion about the whole thing isn’t due to the fact that I’m abroad, and my friends back home are equally confused about it. So when French people ask about it, I can just give them a vague answer and be satisfied that I’m doing my part by staying informed about our current events. Then there was the Bill Clinton concert thingy, which I watched parts of online (I’ll admit, mostly for Lady Gaga), that didn’t really having anything to do with politics I guess except that it involved Bill Clinton. And finally today I “taught” a History class that was learning about the Cold War, and we basically just ended up talking about the differences between different governments, specifically the US and France since that’s all I know about. They thought it was funny that some Americans think that Obama is socialist. As if America even knows what socialism is. I’ll skip the details of our discussion, but basically what I have realized is that if countries have different governments, the people also have different outlooks on life. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma, since it would be false to say that the mentality of the people really decides the government, or vice versa, but I think people don’t realize how much difference there is on a small scale, at the individual person’s level. I grew up in a capitalist country, so my mentality is quite capitalist without me realizing it. I want to work hard and earn what I deserve. I appreciate advertising and the fact that we have 24-hour stores and cheap prices and so many things are available for us to buy (like sewing supplies, which I’m having horrible luck finding here, and everything costs twice as much). The French can’t even imagine a world where everything is open on Sunday and between 12 and 2 during lunch and check-out people have to stand instead of sitting on comfy swivel chairs. I could say a lot more about attitudes towards working and education, but I’ll leave that for another time. Let’s just say that I’m learning all the ways that I am really truly a product of America.