Monday, April 4, 2011


by Jolie Spellacy

"The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg" by Lisa Robinson

The overused cliché “you either hate it or you love it” does not apply to the late Serge Gainsbourg. Not because people were impartial about the man, but rather he was just of those guys that everyone loved. Whether it was the local police, taxi-drivers, music-lovers, or his own family, everyone loved Gainsbourg. As a musician, he was a genius. His arresting lyrics and voice quickly made him an icon in the music world, but it was his do-good personality that made him an icon of French culture.

Graffiti scrawled on Gainsbourg's home

The Vanity Fair article “The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg” summarizes the iconic Gainsbourg’s personal life. Gainsbourg was a known womanizer and went through many relationships, the longest lasting 13 years with Jane Birkin. He was not particularly good looking, but made up for it in intelligence, sophistication, and wit. The man was one full of contradictions. He was shy, but very open, especially when he told Whitney Houston that he wanted to “f*ck” her on national French television, (for the Youtube clip click here). He was a sex god of sorts, but many of his lovers never saw him fully nude. He was “selfish in ways an artist can be, but there was no snobisme.” And unlike most other rich Parisian socialites, he did not evade taxes. The article depicts Serge Gainsbourg as truly strange, interesting, and exceptional man.

Gainsbourg and Birkin

Serge’s closest friends, who are, more or less, interviewed throughout the report, all told insightful stories of their lost friend. His daughter, Charlotte, hopes to turn his old apartment into a museum for people to roam around freely in and learn who her father really was. Charlotte’s mother, and Serge’s ex-lover, Jane Birkin, told a story of grandiose love and a truly stereotypically chic, Parisian lifestyle.

The article quotes Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunkle, two popular songwriters, as comparing the day Gainsbourg died to the deaths of President Kennedy and John Lennon for Americans, stating that the French will always remember where they were when they found out he had died. Gainsbourg reached his iconic status to the French collective through his portrayal in the media. As the article states, Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most loved people in France.

Click here to listen to his infamous song with Jane Birkin "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus" which was banned by both the BBC and the Vatican for explicit sexual content. This also is the song used in the most recent commercial for Miss Dior Cherie staring Natalie Portman.

"Over to You: Writing Readers in French Vogue" by Agnes Rocamora

The April 2011 issue of French Vogue

In this article Agnes Rocamora analyzes the readers’ letters published in French Vogue between March 1996 and December 2001. Rocamora’s argues that through studying the readers’ writings she gains insight into the way Vogue defines itself. According to Rocamora, the letters page is a platform for Vogue to represent itself and convey its ideals as well as demonstrate how it would like to be perceived by its readership.

The letters section as a democratic platform for the public sphere:

Rocamora establishes the magazine as one of the mediums of the Public Sphere, arguing that the readers’ letters page encompasses the notions of the Public Sphere more so than any other section. Ideally, “La Parole est a Vous” (Over to You) segment would serve as a democratic platform for the readers to express genuine public opinion. However, the editorial process of choosing, editing, and allegedly fabricating letters challenges the validity of the magazine as a function of public opinion. Today, the press is no longer viewed as a “mediator and intensifier of public discussion” but rather “the medium of a consumer culture”.

Jurgan Habermas - the theorist behind the public sphere

Rocamora explains that women’s fashion magazines are considered low status because of the depiction of frivolous entertainment rather than serious, hard news. The letters page asserts the magazine as a platform for not only the discussion of material objects and appearances, but also as a stage for critical debate and public opinion. Through the letters’ page Vogue constructs its readership as active thinkers, masking its low status through encouraging “democratic energies” of expression. In addition, by publishing readers’ criticism Vogue shows that it is open to all debate, further emphasizing its democratic qualities.

While Vogue prints critical letters, it weakens their validity by juxtaposing them with letters of contradictory content. In other words, if a reader objects to the promotion of fur, another letter laments the absence of fur in Vogue. The magazine also defends itself against such objections by emphasizing its capacity to promote dreams among its readers. Vogue wrote in March 1997 that its vocation “is to show dream clothes on sublime women”. Rocamora argues that the readers’ letter section also establishes loyalty and intimacy between the readers and the magazine as well as continuity. In each issue “the past of Vogue is always present, carried from one issue to the other through the readers’ page”.

French Vogue promoting fashion as high art:

Rocamora explains that because fashion is generally considered to be a “minor art” rather than a high art, fashion magazines are deemed to be of low status. French Vogue combats this status through its endorsement of fashion as a high art. Vogue positions fashion as a high art through juxtaposing fashion images and writings with articles about high culture and “noble” subjects like the sciences or philosophy. In the letters section, this “melding of realms” is reproduced through the inclusion of letters on high culture topics like ballet. Through the insertion of high culture Vogue asserts itself as a serious medium. The readers’ letter page also demonstrates the readerships’ knowledge of high culture and its economic capacity to experience it. Through the inclusion of the “La Parole est a Vous” section Vogue bridges the distance between the text and its audience “through the enlightened discussion that takes place between the two”.

Sylvie Guillem, a world famous ballerina, poses for French Vogue

In French ideology high culture is deemed prestigious as well an indication of wealth. Vogue’s celebration of this concept of culture can be seen through the numerous readers who praise Vogue for its intelligence, further legitimizing Vogue as a serious magazine. Vogue also recognizes the importance of literature in French culture. The publication thus pays particular attention to the written text and promotes its reputation through its respected writers.

Vogue’s Parisian identity:

Paris is the location where “high culture, high class, and the high social classes meet”. Thus Vogue expresses its allegiance to Paris through addressing its reader as “la parisienne” rather than “la francaise”. Vogue strives to equate itself with Paris as a way to further establish itself as a serious publication focused on the high art of fashion. As Rocamora explains, “in Vogue ‘here’ means Paris”. Of the readers’ letters, the most represented city is Paris, further stressing the connection between French Vogue and Paris.

Carine Roitfeld, former editor of French Vogue and icon of "la parisienne"

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