US culture: the latest bogey for Le Pen's Front

Click to follow
France's National Front, the extreme right-wing party of Jean- Marie Le Pen that went to court recently to shake off the description "extreme", has found a new and highly satisfactory enemy: American "cultural imperialism". Identified by party ideologues, the new bogey provided the guiding theme for the Front's annual "summer university" last week and was attacked with the single-minded gusto that is the Front's hallmark.

Mr Le Pen himself used an editorial in the newly resuscitated National Front magazine, Identite, to lambast "the big brother America" and accused the US of being the "Trojan horse of globalisation". Another of the party's leading lights, Bruno Megret, accused the US of wanting to "impose its globalist and degenerate ideology" on everyone else, while the head of the party's youth wing, Samuel Marechal laid into US "genocide of the American Indians" and "dollar imperialism", and called for sandwich bars selling traditional French snacks like "croque-madame" to replace hamburgers across France.

The Front concentrated its fire, however, on the arts, and in particular on the cinema, to whose cultural failings they devoted the best part of one day of their four-day gathering. The argument ran as follows: the cinema worldwide is unhealthily dominated by Hollywood; much of American cinema is degenerate, depraved and negative. This infection has now spread to the French cinema, which receives government subsidy for films that are either themselves "unhealthy", or "sap the national morale", or both.

In singling out the French cinema for condemnation, the Front also discovered a new star: an attractive young journalist with long hair and a master's degree, clad in blue jeans and T-shirt, who delivered a much-praised paper on "the cinema of hatred". Caroline Parmentier, who took her theme from last year's big French box-office success Hate, was lionised afterwards for her looks and her analysis. She could provide the Front with one of the things it most signally lacks: a new generation of educated, articulate and sophisticated representatives able to hold their own on the national political scene.

Hate, which last year won the main award at Cannes for its director, relates a 24-hour escalation of tension on a depressed housing estate, culminating in an all-out riot between the mainly black and brown young residents and the police.

"These are films that eat at our morale, that are entirely negative, that have no moral values," said Ms Parmentier.

"The French cinema needs new heroes, real heroes, these are only anti- heroes."

Echoing a general criticism of French culture voiced by other speakers, she blamed the French establishment and the Ministry of Culture for subsidising an industry that produced such films. The National Front wants the disbandment of the ministry, which it sees as a hindrance to the "free development" of French culture, and a body that imposes censorship - largely of their right-wing views.

The National Front-controlled city council of the southern city of Orange has been engaged in a running battle over the books in its public library. The council has been accused of censorship for removing books with overtly left-wing leanings.

Another leading National Front figure, Marie-France Stirbois, insisted that "sometimes a degree of censorship is necessary, if only for reasons of quality". The main thrust of her attack was "rap culture".

The National Front had been looking for a new ideological bogey ever since the collapse of the Berlin wall ruined communism as a target. While immigration and the collapse of family values provide it with constant themes, the Front also needs a "big idea".

The preservation of cultural values may be the answer. The need to defend French language and culture against the onslaught of the English-speaking world is a highly popular notion in France, and there is room for the Front to add its own twist by accusing the government of subsidising decline and depravity.

The summer university, relaxed gatherings that combine the atmosphere of a summer school with that of a conflict-free party conference, are held by most of France's main political groupings at this time of year. The National Front's, attended by 500 party members and associates from all over France, was held this year at the futuristic seaside resort of La Grande Motte, south of Montpellier.

This choice, however, had an incongruity of its own. Discussions about the "degeneracy" of abstract art, and "the cult of all things virtual" proceeded in a conference centre that looks like a cross between a submarine and a giant brown egg, sandwiched between futuristic high-rise pyramids grouped around an artificial marina.