France frets about the right to rap
Should rappers be able to sing whatever they like in the name of art and should politicians be able to stop them taking to the stage? The question of censorship has jumped back to the fore in France with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, in a rather unlikely about-turn, jumping to the defence of a foul-mouthed rapper, while a leading Socialist has tried to muzzle him.
The rapper — pictured in the video above — is called Orelsan, a white, middle-class singer sometimes referred to as “France’s Eminem”, who shot to prominence earlier this year when a video of one of his songs became an Internet hit. Here is a taste of the lyrics (with the worst of the sexual imagery omitted!)
“I hate you, I want you to die slowly, I want you to get pregnant and lose your child … you are just a pig who should go straight to the slaughter house … I am going to get you pregnant and then abort you with a shepherd’s knife.”
Organisers of a music festival in La Rochelle in Western France said this week they were forced to drop him from their line up after a local Socialist bigwig, Segolene Royal, threatened to cut their public subsidy if he appeared.
Royal was the Socialist party candidate in the 2007 presidential election, and news that she might have pulled the plug on Orelsan fuelled immediate outrage in the centre-right government, which accused her of “intolerable” interference.
(Photo: Segolene Royal, 1 May 2009/Regis Duvignau)
“Orelsan talks about unrequited love in terms that I wouldn’t use … but he has the total right to do so,” said Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, the nephew of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.
He went on to compare Orelsan to Rimbaud, the bad boy of French 19th century poetry. “Rimbaud wrote much more violent things that went on to become classics.”
Mitterrand only took over as culture minister in a cabinet reshuffle last month. His predecessor, Christine Albanel, took a very different line back in March when she asked Internet sites to block the offending song. “Freedom of expression stops when incitement to violence and sickening hatred begins,” she said at the time.
(Photo Frederic Mitterrand, 24 June 2009/Benoit Tessier)
So what has changed? Is it that a man is now in charge of Culture in France, is it that a prominent Socialist tried to intervene or is it that France has suddenly become much less tolerant of any whiff of censorship?