We Anglo-Saxons are a race of reckless innovators, especially those of us who risked everything to cross the Atlantic and found the Land of Opportunity. It's our job to create the trends everyone else imitates, and we take it on gladly. Meanwhile, we look at the Continent with bemusement. There, 'stars' that would long have been forced down into the septic tank of obscurity continue to be venerated by millions of people. Hugh Schofield noted the curious French tolerance of Johnny Hallyday:
In fact, when one looks around, one realises that there is an unusual
level of flattery – one might even say obsequiousness – in French
public life, especially when it comes to culture.
If you have ever watched French television, you will get the picture.
typical mid-evening programme is a chat show on which the invitees are
members of the small, unchanging – and therefore ageing – club of
Behind in rows of seats, a youthful
audience hand-picked for telegenic good looks bursts into applause at
every anecdote or hackneyed clip from the archives.
At the more
serious end of the market, the annual literary season is in September,
when there is a rush of new publications and the big book prizes like
the Goncourt are announced.
Here, too, listening to the reviews is like being beaten about the head with a powder puff.
Nothing is ever mediocre, let alone bad.
is uplifting, exquisite, crafted, delicate, challenging, or that most
irritating of French words: "engage", which means "committed", though to
what is never spelled out.
One realises after a while that the French view their stars almost as
members of the family. They enjoy going to see them in the same way
they enjoy catching up with the latest family gossip.
of conservatism is actually quite refreshing after the brutal neophilia
(the constant need for the new and the culling of everything that is
familiar) that one associates with British culture.
The bad reason is that it is all about self-protection.
Succumbing to sycophancy, after all, is a way of reassuring oneself that all is good in the world, when clearly it is not.
Seen like that, the French are merely deluding themselves that their
culture matters the way it once did: sticking their fingers in their
ears, if you like, and whistling to Johnny Hallyday.
Much of this applies equally to Germany. Die Zeit, despite its many virtues, is probably the worst offender here, dutifully reprinting every syllable that drops from the mouth of Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Schmidt. In the culture pages, virtually every writer, no matter how obscure, is dutifully given the epithet groß (great). Pop acts that are long-forgotten (or who have degenerated into jokes) in the Anglo-Saxon world – Metallica, Ozzie Osbourne (g) — fondly embrace Germany as a sort of geriatro-rocker retirement home. Quondam innovators Kraftwerk, who haven't released any genuinely new music in decades, continue to pack them in in Germany (and to be fair, MOMA, where their concerts were billed as a 'curated' retrospective, drenched with nostalgia).
Which brings me to this clip from the 1996 direct-to-video movie 'Vibrations':
Someone in the US unearthed it and it's become a minor Internet sensation under the heading '90s nostalgia. Yet in Germany, 'techno' music is alive and well — in fact, the 2010 version of the Love Parade attracted almost a million people. If it hadn't been for the overcrowding that killed 21 people at that event, it would still be going on.