Apr 3, 2014

Puppet Regime: La Vache Qui Rit


Are Presidents Obama and Hollande puppets? According to this French show they are. For the past 20 years and continuing today, nearly every weekday evening around 8pm, you can tune in on Canal Plus to Les Guignols de l'Info -- the News Puppets, or you can watch highlights online. But this is no kiddie show. It's political humor, news, and puppets. It's like the Jon Stewart show or the Colbert Report, if everybody on the show were a large, muppet-ish caricature. And like those shows, it's a huge source of both news and entertainment to the 20-50 crowd.

The American everyman is represented by Monsieur Sylvestre, Sylvester Stallone that is. Fashions may change, political issues may change, but underneath it all, we will apparently always be Rambo to the French. He always speaks perfect French, just as the real Sylvester Stallone does when the French see him in their dubbed movies. One of the most common manifestations is Commandant Sylvestre, in military garb. He is generally preoccupied with the pursuit of money and status. Monsieur Sylvestre has made appearances as a manager in a Chinese factory, where he doesn't care about the workers' welfare, only his own. Below, he presents the American view of the world: "Nous" ("Us") and then the other continents labeled with horribly derogatory racial epithets.


Of course, Obama has his own guignol -- which is pronounced "ghee-nyole". Unlike Stallone, Obama speaks French with an American accent. He frequently uses the word "mecs", which means "guys". Romney's puppet -- long since retired -- uttered lots of malapropos and misused words. I can only imagine what they did with Bush Jr. and Quayle. Below, Obama lists one of the Top Five reasons for not diffusing the photos of dead Ben Laden: Answer "Because I didn't have time to go by IKEA and buy a frame."

Here's one that Anthony particularly likes, and I even found a version with English subtitles (which are clearly written by a French person, but that's another story). Notice how all of George W. Bush's advisors are Sylvester Stallone.

Not one to mince words, or to take sides, the show refers to French people themselves as "les fromages qui puent" -- "the cheeses that stink". And they absolutely skewer the entire French political spectrum: Hollande, Sarkozy, Le Pen. You may recognize Hollande in the scooter helmet he was wearing when his cheating scandal broke. Any French figure is fair game, though Depardieu already looks so much like a guignol, it's hard to go much further.

Guignols, by the way, refers to any puppets, and several parks in the country still have classic puppet shows for the children, à la Punch and Judy. But for current events, you'll have to tune into these big guys.

THE CHEESE: La Vache Qui Rit

You may have heard of La Vache Qui Rit, "Laughing Cow" cheese that is. We have some friends who regularly serve little cheese cubes aperitifs before dinner. They come in the plain, original flavor, and also flavors like onion, olive, goat, mushroom, blue, ham, tomato, and green peppercorn. All are highly processed cheeses, resembling cream cheese. They are wet, salty, and have what I think of as a highly industrial flavor with a mushy texture. As somebody who really does not like junk food, I can't even eat one to be polite, frankly, though I suspect anybody who could eat American cheese slices could certainly handle it. And of course, there are millions of people who love it. Really, truly love it. I'm just snobby that way.

I take to calling it La Vache Qui Enseigne, the Teaching Cow, because inside each wrapper, instead of a joke, there is a factoid. It is through the cheese that I learn that it was King Francois I who brought Leonardo da Vinci into France and helped usher in the French age of enlightenment.


Not only is the cow all about laughing, which is also the purpose of the Guignols de l'Info, but even the Laughing Cow himself is not safe from the show's teasing. In these fake news reports, they say they have finally discovered the scientific reason the Laughing Cow laughs. In one, the cow admits it's because he sent a horse in his place to the butchers (certainly during the time of the horse meat scandal). The other reason has to do with the naming of a new president of Canal+ (the channel on which les Guignols de l'Info airs).



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