Monday, November 22, 2010

French Music & Fashion Media

“The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg” by Lisa Robinson

Serge Gainsbourg was a “singer, songwriter, musician, painter,actor, director, smoker, alcoholic, romantic, ladies man, and a revered national figure.” His home on Rue de Verneuil has been left exactly as it was the day he died of a heart attack 16 years ago.This Vanity Fair article filled with a collection of fond memories belonging to those closest to him, his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg and his lover of 13 years, Jane Birkin, as well as other’s whose lives Gainsbourg impacted.

Serge Gainsbourg

Charlotte gives a tour of the untouched house and explains how the items within its walls are symbols of her father’s fruitful life. The Gainsbourg house is “cluttered” with photographs of women who sang his songs, framed gold records, collections of everything from Cartier boxes to police badges, and two statues, one modeled after Jane Birkin and another, called Man with a Cabbage Head, which is the title of one of Gainsbourg’s most famous albums.

Gainsbourg & his famous Repettos Paris 1979

The house, which was originally modeled after Salvador Dali’s home, now serves as a shine to the wonderful and decadent life Gainsbourg lead. A classically trained musician, Gainsbourg produced more that 550 songs, 30 albums, as well as numerous movie scores, TV commercials and short music films in his lifetime.

An Album Cover

According to his sister, Jacqueline Ginsburg, Serge Gainsbourg (birth name: Lucien Ginsburg) grew up in a family of modest means, but was “raised in a culture of beauty… Painting, music, [and] literature.” He survived Nazi-occupied Paris and at the age of 20 joined the army. He then went to art school for painting before deciding that he was not interested in living the “painters bohemian life.” After this declaration earned a living by playing piano in clubs and casinos, as his father had once done, before writing the song that won the 1965 Eurovision contest. At 40 his rise to fame was complete, with the release of “Je T’Aime.. Moi Non Plus.” The song, which he originally recorded with Bridgett Bardot (with whom he had a love affair), was later re-recorded 1969 with voice accompaniment of Jane Birkin. The song was so sexual that both the Vatican and the BBC banned it. The bans only created more publicity for the song and it soon became a worldwide sensation.

Jane Birkin describes her 13-year relationship with Serge Gainsbourg as “a grand, passionate amour.” According to her, he was a shy and discreet man with very keen tastes who enjoyed luxury. The couple lived on Rue de Verneuil (the house where Gainsbourg died) and had their daughter Charlotte together but never did marry.

Gainsbourg & Birkin

Gainsbourg’s daughter describes him as an un-pretentious and generous man who showed genuine interest in getting to know everyone who surrounded him, be it taxi drivers or police men. Charlotte admits that her father suffered from alcoholism and smoked a great amount, but adamantly states that that he was not a drug addict. Famous French singer and songwriter, Francoise Hardy recalls that Gainsbourg was childlike and kind when sober, but when drunk, he could be disagreeable and inconsiderate. Still, she concedes, “He was the very best writer we had in France.” Actress Jeanne Moreau remembers that Gainsbourg was sophisticated, charming, loved by many and that created songs that “spoke to everybody... even if nobody understands the words."

Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunkle, current popular songwriters, state that just as the deaths of President Kennedy and John Lennon will always been remembered by the American collective, the French will always remember where they were when they found out that Serge Gainsbourg had died.

Today, the gates of Gainsbourg’s former home have been adorned with graffiti created by fans. Charlotte, who is now the owner of the home, hopes to turn the house into a museum, but is currently struggling to get past “bureaucratic red tape.”

5 Rue de Verneuil

François Ravard, the producer of Gainsbourg’s last film, Stan the Flasher says, “Serge enjoyed every single second of stardom.” Following Gainsbourg’s death, Rue de Verneuil had to be closed down because massive amounts of people were in the streets, singing his songs. After Charlotte, Jane, and Bambou (his most recent girlfriend before his death) mourned beside Gainsbourg’s body for four days; it was finally decided to bury him in the cemetery Montparnasse. According to Ravard, his funeral was “sold out” and “he would have loved that.” In his eulogy, President Mitterand referred to Gainsbourg as “our Baudelaire.”

“Over to You”: Writing Readers in French Vogue by Agnès Rocamora

In this article, Agnès Rocamora analyzes the words contained in a popular fashion media, French Vogue. In Rocamora’s study, she focuses specifically on reader’s letters that were published in the magazine between March 1996 and December 2001. She chose to analyze previously published readers’ letters, not because she thought that they most accurately depict the magazines demographic, but because she desired to gain insight “into the way in which the readers voice is melded into that of the magazine and appropriated by the French title [French Vogue] to represent itself”.

Because letters are placed at the beginning of the magazine and are chosen by the publication to represent a certain reader, they are often indicative of the tone and voice of the magazine. Through letter selection, Vogue produces a “textualized” readership, or a following of readers who are “constructed” and “mediated” in the letter’s text and then brought to reality when the magazine is published. The readers’ letters page is overall used as a platform for Vogue to express both how it defines itself and how it would like to be perceived by the public.

A readers’ page performs many function in a consumer magazine:

Within French Vogue, the readers’ letters section is a sphere where the opinions of private people become public. Ideally, the voices in the readers letters, which are editorially chosen, would be an expression true of public opinion. Readers’ pages are supposed to play the role of a “democratic platform,” acting as a place where critical discussion and debate occurs. This intention is evident in the title French Vogue’s readers’ letter section, “La Parole est a Vous” (Over to You). However, in the magazine business it is not publicized that throughout the process of selecting and editing the readers’ letters, the fabrication of letters allegedly occurs. Today, the press is viewed no longer as “a mediator and intensifier of public discussion” but “the medium of a consumer culture.”

Rocamora acknowledges that problems can arise when making division between critical debate, public opinion, and consumption. She argues that these forms of communication are related to the distinction made between magazines and dailies, or between soft news and hard news. Women’s fashion magazines are generally considered low status, as are associated with frivolous entertainment, in contrast to the ‘serious’ hard news depicted in newspapers.

A letters page encourages readership reaction and participation with the magazine, while also asserting the magazine as place where not only discourse about material objects and appearances occur, but as a space where the public expresses opinion and critical debate take place. Vogue France expresses interest in readers’ opinions by not just publishing positive reader responses. The magazine also publishes criticisms in order to demonstrate a willingness and acceptance for free expression and critical debate.

The readers’ letters section does more good for the magazine’s image than harm, as mass amounts of non-condemning letters are published each month where readers express a loyal and intimate relationship with the magazine.

High fashion v.s. high art:

Traditionally, high cultural products are seen as theatre, painting and the opera while popular cultural forms of music and movies are considered low culture and are denied the status of art. Fashion, is claimed to be a “minor art” that occupies “an inferior rank in the hierarchy of artistic legitimacy”. Fashion magazines, are therefore, associated with low media status.

French Vogue endorses and aims to project fashion as high art. Through the inclusion of articles about high cultural topics such as the sciences, literature, or opera amidst aesthetically appealing editorial images and intriguing fashion writing, Vogue brings together the realms of high fashion and high culture. The blending of these realms is evident on the reader’s page, where letters on fashion are often placed adjacent to letters on high culture topics such as the ballet. This allows Vogue to position itself as a “serious” piece of media “devoted to high culture and the high art of fashion.”

"High Art" Editorial

In readers’ letters it is evident that the magazine has raised fashion to the status of art. Readers’ letters also often reflect a male readership, which is present due to the magazine’s emphasis on high culture. The readers’ letters page also shows a correspondence of fashion, culture, and social class. It is evident, through the critical engagement with the material in the magazine, that Vogue readers are not only knowledgeable of high culture, but also have the monetary means to possess and experience it.

In France, the concept of high culture is greatly esteemed and is viewed as a source of prestige and as a symbol of wealth. This societal importance is reflected in the meaning of the word “culture” itself, a meaning that does not transcend translational boundaries into the English language. For the French, the word ‘culture’ embodies all Anglo-Saxton meanings while also referencing “the mind, wit, intelligence and the spirit.” Vogue often portrays this concept of culture.

A form of high culture that is especially valuable to the French is literature. Because of this, French Vogue highly values itself on being a magazine that is “well written” and has contributing, “reputed writers.” Rocamora compares the modern French magazine to the eighteenth century salons of the literary public sphere. Through this comparison, she historically connects the Parisian world of fashion to that of intellectuality. The intermingling of fashion and intellect can be summed up as “Frenchness,” a reoccurring theme in French Vogue.

Vogue's "Parisianism":

Of geographical regions in France, Paris is the most coveted. Vogue means fashion, and fashion means Paris. Paris is the space in France where “high culture, high class, and the high social classes meet.” In readers’ letters, Paris is the most represented city of geographical location. “Vogue is not so much addressed to la francaise as it to the la parisienne.

French Vogue is a serious and prestigious magazine that successfully makes efforts to associate high fashion with high culture. Overall, Rocamora attempts to show, through discussion of the readers’ page in French Vogue, how a countries fashion culture is reliant on its cultural values and norms.

Post by Brittan Badenhop

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