Provence Diary: The thigh’s the limit on French TV
My French teacher has advised me to watch as much French television as possible. My favourite shows are the current affairs programmes. They are usually presented by an older man, a wily old fox.
Rather than having one co-presenter, the Fox is usually at the centre of the show, and different presenters sit with him for different segments. There’s a token gay arts editor; other than that, the Fox chats away to a coterie of younger women, dressed not for TV but as if they are going out for lunch with a lover.
Of course, I don’t understand much of the conversation between the Fox and his harem. I watch the pictures and imagine the rest. Most of the programmes have review segments on French films. They tend to be comedies about middle-aged lotharios reliving their teenage impulses.
The Fox sits on his stool and touches the knee of his co-presenter. Her hair shines like she’s in a L’Oreal ad. She shakes her mane and they watch the clip together, and then they start talking; but the real conversation, the subtext, is all in the body movements, the sly winks and raises of the eyebrow, the questing hand that strays too high on the thigh. I am an expert at interpreting and imagining.
The Fox: “You were sooo good last night.”
L’Oreal: “Ssh, we mustn’t let the nation know.”
The Fox: “The nation already knows, you are my favourite, my love, my life, my east, my south, my north, my west.”
L’Oreal: “But your wife?”
The Fox: “What of her? Listen, there’s a break coming up, and then the news, I want you, naked in my dressing room.”
L’Oreal: “Tssh, you steamy saucisson.”
The Fox: “And you will do that thing with the mic and the hair gel?”
The Fox: “And so Will They, Won’t They is in cinemas from Friday. I’ll see you after the commercial break and the news.”
The Fox coughs to clear his throat and walks off set in an aroused state.
And that, of course, is just one genre of show, the entire output of original French language television simmers with suppressed sexual tension. In the cheap soaps and detective series the women wear red bras with the straps always exposed. The lipstick is thick and the skirts short. The men are in suits and shirts with their ties at half-mast, and they perpetually walk around with their hands in their pockets ... It’s like porn without the sex.
I don’t understand a word of the language during discussion shows between politicians but I can catch the “I’m getting more than you sneer” better than anyone. Female presenters, of course, are only ever there to be flirted with, denigrated, and then slept with after the show.
Then late at night, the shagging starts, often in covert form documentaries about the Pigalle red light district of Paris, or the rising number of French employees having sex in their lunch time. There’s always a strategically placed undercover camera to make sure nothing is left to the imagination.
After a week of intensively watching French television, I felt exhausted. I took the subject up with my French teacher. She is, after al,l my instructress in all things French.
“But yes, of course he wants to have sex with them,” said FT about one of my fox anchor men, “it is no secret, the nation knows that he sleeps with them all, and when there’s a new presenter, he turns all his charms on her, you just watch, he is, how do you say, like a dog on heat.”
“It’s the female dog, not the male, that is on heat,” I clarify.
“Anyways, it is like a soap opera,” she continues, “every day the nation watches, she plays hard to get, he touches her knee, she nearly slaps him, and then, bam, one morning all has changed, and she is putty in his hands. No woman in France can resist.”
“But this is okay?” I asked. “Presumably he has a wife.”
My French teacher laughed. “Of course it is okay, you English are so repressed. It’s the wife’s fault if she has not kept him interested.”