Sarkozy and Le Jogging: What Would Barthes Do?
Posted by gninja on July 6, 2007
I love, love, love this story. It’s been around in the French media for a while now, but the IHT brought it to my attention. Apparently, in France, “le jogging” is associated with right wing politics, a sense of egomaniacal self-interest and individualism, characteristics associated with Americanism. (Hey, don’t blame the French– just ask Adam Smith.) Sarkozy has made a show of his ritual jogs, inviting the media to analogize his exercise regimen with his prescription for French reform.
What I love, love, love about the treatment of le jogging du Sarkozy is that it throws into high relief the very French treatment of images. France is, after all, the country of Roland Barthes. Barthes is among my favorite semioticians because he — in an extraordinarily (and I do mean that) accessible way– took the quotidian, things we take for granted, and attempted to explain the messages they plugged into our heads. The images we see, for example, in ads are not hidden symbols that are difficult to decipher, but rather components of our culturally informed experience that retain numerous associations we’d have a hard time ignoring. One of Barthes’ most famous essays, “Wine and Milk” gets at that. Cultural semiotics is different from standard visual analysis with with a socio-cultural bent because it understands that certain things (e.g. milk) have associations that, while certainly not a priori, get carried along with it into no-matter-which context.
The image of the jogging politician has received much comment among French journalists and cultural commentators. Pretty incisive comment getting at all the messages this one, seemingly (at least to an American audience) innocuous and unremarkable act conveys. It’s not just a president running for his health, or even to promote good health– it has a host of associations.
Which, of course, can be weighted one way or another, depending upon which image gets used.
It’s not too far off from what our own president does, no? There’s been no shortage of news items on our ersatz cowboy at work. I’m not so sure the commentary on this side’s been all that insightful, though. Mostly just mentioning it as something he does while on his record long vacations.