APRIL IN PARIS
Spring is in the air and oh what a beautiful time to be in Paris! But this season, to be truly de rigueur, one might want to pack a yellow vest. Ah yes, beyond climbing Le Tour Eiffel and taking romantic strolls along the Seine, you might run into a revolutionary or two, and a bit of a military police response to boot. In other words, we Americans aren't the only ones in the midst of political chaos, frustration with tired elitist policies, and a population so crushed by the status quo it sometimes feels like revolution might be just around the corner.
In his new piece, Prosper Keating reports from the continent explaining the ins and outs of the Gilets Jaunes, the now infamous Yellow Vests, and draws the parallels between this curious and colorful uprising in France and our own endless winter of never-ending discontent. So who are they? What do they want? And why do they have President Macron and his military police so spooked? “If you asked ten Gilets Jaunes activists, you’d get more than ten answers, as some of them changed tack halfway through. One of their more coherent demands is “less money for the politicians and more money for the people!” a rallying call that strikes chords across the social spectrum. Many Gilets Jaunes claim to be workers and peasants but are for the most part the people advertising and marketing executives used to describe as the C2 and D consumers. They are the people who believed the capitalist sermons about self-improvement through acquisition. They are the people who want more, like many Trump voters in the United States.” Read Paris Is Burning here.
And though our relationship to our own government is also fraught with complicated hypocrisies, the French do have particularly Socialist grievances that are harder for us to imagine. “France and Usonia, to borrow Frank Lloyd Wright’s term [for America], have more in common than some French and American people like to admit. The romantic mutual appreciation of each other’s culture and sub-culture aside, both nations consist of a sprinkling of sophisticated conurbations surrounded by rustbelts and farmland. These hinterlands are inhabited by a self-professed underclass who like to tell anyone standing still long enough that they are invisible to the parasitical urban elites running things and living the high life on the backs of honest workers or, more precisely, what is left of the working classes after decades of capitalist expatriation of industry and jobs. The difference is that while many rural blue-collar Usonians live in real poverty, their French counterparts belong to one of the most state-subsidised societies on the planet outside Norway and a few Arab monarchies and dictatorships. From cradle to grave, the French benefit from low-cost or free housing, free health care and free education.”
So while our American rose flaunting Democratic Socialists keep claiming that the European Post War institutional grass is so much greener, they might take a moment to notice that French lawns might actually be a bit overgrown by now. As Keating goes on to describe, “However heavily subsidized they are, the French lower classes are increasingly cash-poor. It is sometimes said that the difference between democracy and dictatorship depends on how much lube government uses when shafting the populace. A cornerstone of the social contract guaranteeing civil order is the onus on the ruling elites to ensure that the proletariat has enough cash each month for a few treats like booze, cigarettes and McMeals for the kids. Making sure the proles can afford the gasoline or diesel for the cars and trucks they were encouraged to buy when government slashed spending on national rail and bus networks as a prelude to privatization is another important element in this social contract, which, once broken, opens the door to discontent, disorder and political extremism.”
But the Gilets Jaunes suffer from a lack of real leadership and clear objectives, much like the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements here in the U.S. Awareness is one thing, but a detailed agenda with objectives and charismatic leadership also goes a long way. But in the end, as French political leadership refuses to look at themselves in the mirror, the citizens will continue to make their stand. And hopefully, what has so far been relatively calm civil disobedience won't advance to the levels of the student uprisings of ’68, and of course that well known guillotine fraught pesky revolution of 1789. Because as Keating points out, “The forces of law and order haven’t killed any Gilets Jaunes activists yet, but they have blown a few hands off and put a few eyes out through improper use of non-lethal weaponry like stun grenades and plastic bullets. Asked about the excessive police violence, the Interior Minister initially fell back on a Lenny Bruce-style defense: what violence?"
Illustrations by Joseph Delhomme for the Culture Crush
When you think of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright you might think of Prairie houses, Taliesin, and Falling Water; elegant conceptual structures designed for those who had a little bit of taste and way too much cash in their pockets in the early 20th century. But what you might not know was his extremely democratic obsession with improving the pre-furbished homes that, at the time, were bought straight out of the Sears Catalogue along with tool kits and dungarees.
During the Great Depression even Wright looked down form his lofty perch and noticed that America was on the cusp of change, specifically middle-class America. But it was more than just an idea for a style of house, it was an entire community concept to be assembled in his utilitarian and deceivingly simple spatial image. He wanted to create neighborhoods that reflected America’s supposedly egalitarian national society. An America for the common people.
It was out with the maids and butlers and in with the self-run home. Wright named his uniquely American concept “Usonia”, a play on United States of North America and the word nation. Although the pre-fab homes were affordable, Wright still made sure they had a good design, lighting, heating, sanitation, and everything a home would need. Usonian homes were built with things that Wright perceived as essentials, which meant getting rid of attics and basements.
The roofs were simple in order for them to be easily constructed. To build the homes, he also kept it simple: brick and wood. The houses usually weren’t painted. Wright even got rid of formal living rooms, noting that middle class Americans were en route to a more informal lifestyle. Finally, in 1947 a small community in Pleasantville, N.Y. got together to enlist Wright to design 50 homes which mostly still exist today. However, ironically enough, whenever one of these homes happens to hit the real estate market, they sell for at least a cool couple million. It seems today people will part with a pretty penny to have their own private Usonia.