This is an infuriating article from the New York Times – A pedophile writer is on trial in France — along with French literary and elite culture. The article includes a long interview with French writer Gabriel Matzneff, who for decades was fêted by cultural and political elites in the western world. His books involved very detailed accounts of his sexual relationships with children, sometimes as young as 8 years old. I am not going to provide an excerpt here, because the facts of the case are revolting (as the mother of an 8-year-old). But I still recommend reading it and pondering narratives regarding where we are as a society.
France has now had its own “Me Too” political moment, and Mr. Matzneff finds himself both in extreme legal jeopardy and a pariah among terrified elites who still don’t know what’s wrong with “trussing a domestic” behavior. They’ve tried calling their detractors prudes to no avail. How did a man who boasted about traveling to the Philippines so he could have sex with several 8-year-old boys at a time end up a reliable fixture of a French president’s social life? How did it come to be that such a vile human being was invited to live with fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, business tycoon Pierre Bergé, when the police were pursuing him (at age 50) and his barely-in-her-teens girlfriend? He was given a lifetime stipend in celebration of his work detailing his (very non-fiction) practice of pedophilia. Of course, it’s not like he’s the first famous French writer to think or write this way.
We are (according to the media) living in a period of profound political turmoil, where the masses have (wrongly, according to the media) come to distrust and outright revile cultural and political elites. This is supposed to be some sort of a crisis, a turning away from the “tasteful” behavior of the wealthy and well-educated toward the provincial and barbaric tastes of the middle / working class and adequately / under-educated. Our social and cultural institutions (according to the media), which have served us (them) so well across the centuries, are in a state of collapse. We are situated in the midst of a populist emergency, led by people who have decent lives but (gasp) are inarticulate and impervious to the forces of fashion and ridicule like the professional class and their rentier gods.
This has always struck me as something of a false narrative. In many ways, the elites are tasteless and barbaric. Michael Bloomberg talking about how you just have to throw black boys up against the wall to fix crime is tasteless and barbaric. Many “elite” artists and critics are tasteless and barbaric. To the “art scene,” being deviant is a criterion for producing “good” art. Elites buy fruit duct-taped to a wall and call it art, while the city they live in has a record number of homeless and heroin addicts. They don’t understand why literally no one cares what they have to say about how the government should be run. To not care about these people is rational.