Monday, November 18, 2002

In the financial section of yesterday's Vanguardia, there was an interview with unpleasant arrogant French marketer and psychologist Clotaire Rapaille. M. Rapaille "lives in a mansion in Tuxedo, New York. His consulting firm has branches in Europe and the United States and advises 50 corporations out of the Fortune 100. He bases his theories of psychoanalysis and archetypes on the work of Freud, Jung, and Levi-Strauss," so you can see just how up-to-date and visionary M. Rapaille's ideas are. M. Rapaille brags about his use of focus groups to determine that Nestlé should emphasize how good its coffee smells in its advertising and that General Motors should give its cars an aggressive image. M. Rapaille is definitely pushing the creative envelope and showing his general state-of-the-artness here. The questions, of course, are Q., and M. Rapaille's answers are A.

Q. What is American culture like?
A. You can sum it up in one word: adolescent. Obsessed by violence, sex, and food. In reality, since it's adolescent, there's not much sex and a lot of violence.

Q. Why adolescent?
A. Because the US has never had a father. It has an enormous Oedipus complex. They never had to kill the king or the aristocrats, which are paternal figures in Europe. That's why there's so much obsession with age in the US. They think they can be "forever young", like the song.

Q. And since 9-11?
A. 9-11 has had a profound impact on the American mentality. They've never been invaded. The only wars were the ones in Hollywood. The answer is fear and the desire to fight. People want to say, don't mess with me! We've seen an incredible increase in the security budget. The US is becoming a militarized country.

Q. How does this influence consumption?
A. Things like the adaptation of a military vehicle, the Hummer, or bullet-proof vests have become fashionable. Executives from one of my clients, DuPont, have remarked to me that they are selling huge quantities of Kevlon, a material five times stronger than steel. I think we're going to see a comeback of bomber jackets. And military boots.

Q. But "military chic" already existed.
A. This is no longer military chic. This is real, much more visceral.

Q. In what sense?
A. I divide the motivation of the consumer in three categories. The cortex, which is intellectual. The limbic, which is realted to emotion. And third, the reptilian: an instinct for survival and reproduction. The reptilian is winning out. Although it may look for an intellectual alibi, power is reptilian and in the US, now more than ever, it is what's in charge since the events of 9-11.

Q. Like the Hummer, for example.
A. A car is much more than a vehicle to get from point A to point B. A car is a message. There's no need to have a Hummer to go shopping at the mall. But I think there's a reptilian instinct under the surface, in the depths of the mind, the message they want to emit is something like "Don't mess with me. If there's a collision, you're going to die and I won't." In Europe this would be perceived as too simplistic. But the United States is simplistic.

Q. Will it stay like that?
A. In reality, I think that 9-11 should mean the coming of age for the Americans. And this should express itself in respect for other cultures. Until now, the United States has had no foreign policy becuase they thought that the rest of the world was nothing more than a bunch of small countries that would wind up becoming little Americas.

Q. How will this affect the strategies of the big corporations?
A. Look at McDonald's. It's a symbol of old-time globalization. One product for the whole world. But this model was already being questioned and it died definitively on 9-11. Now they have to diversify, recognize that in France we like cheese as something alive with a smell, that's not dead like pasteurized American cheese.

Q. Give some examples.
A. A good one is L'Oreal in Japan. They've been very successful because of their respect for Japanese aesthetics, so different from the French. To do this you have to be sure of yourself. And L'Oreal has this because it's French. American companies can't rely on their culture because it's so poor. That's their problem.

We won't comment too much here, except to say that we're shocked that DuPont, General Motors, and forty-eight of the other top Fortune 100 companies are actually paying this guy enough money to live in a mansion for spouting this drivel. We are also shocked that these companies are paying this guy to talk shit about their own country. We don't need to hire any Frenchmen to do that. We already have Chomsky, Vidal, Sontag, Lewis Lapham, Bill Moyers, Ramsey Clark, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Alec Baldwin, and Woody Harrelson. We suggest that if you, the reader, work for a company that hires Monsieur Clotaire Rapaille, or if you own stock in such a company, you might gently propose to someone on the board of directors that the company save some money by no longer hiring said unpleasant arrogant anti-American French psychologist to tell them crap they could have picked up from an intro marketing book, a bad Psych 101 textbook, and a couple of Naomi Klein manifestoes.

We'd also like to point to good old nationalism as a reason for M. Rapaille's anti-Americanism. This is clearly visible in his last three answers. He thinks America doesn't respect other countries, like France, where we mistakenly tried to sell them non-stinky cheese. Such an affront to la belle France! Meanwhile France, so superior, is "successful in its exportations" because it respects other countries' cultures; it can do this because it has a rich culture, not a poor one like the American. M. Rapaille would not fall into such obvious chauvinism were he not a nationalist, blinded into thinking that his culture is superior to the adolescent American. He just can't understand why America is richer, more powerful, and more successful than his own beloved France, and he refuses to admit it just may be because American culture is superior to French in several important fields. Now, we'd prefer to say that America, as a culture, excels at some things, and France, as a culture, excels at others. Two of the things that America excels at are marketing in particular and business in general, and these are two things in which the French have always been weak. They have even historically turned up their Gallic noses at such matters; remember Napoleon's jibe that the British were "a nation of shopkeepers"? Well, the shopkeepers kicked Napoleon's superior French ass when it came down to the real fighting. British culture won out over French, and don't think the French don't know that and don't resent it (which is why they can be so snotty about French--they can't stand it that English is the world's first language rather than French), especially since France was, until the mid-1800s, the most populous country in Europe except Russia and should have been able to beat the English militarily, as with more inhabitants they should have had both more men and more money than the British. Yet since the War of the Spanish Succession, which ended in 1713 and in which France took a serious loss, France has been on the winning side in only one important war: the War of the American Revolution. Since then, they've lost all the big ones; I would hand them a loss in World War One since they'd have been conquered again if it hadn't been for first the British, for four long years of trench warfare, and then the Americans, with their 1918 contingent of fresh fighting men. They're clear losers in World War Two, no matter how much the postwar settlement tried to disguise that fact. Face it, Frenchmen: you're lousy at business and war. Be proud of the good things about your culture instead of bashing the British and Americans for being better at some things than you are.

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