France, Politics, and Jogging

Reply Thu 5 Jul, 2007 02:51 pm
From The Times Onlnie:

More Rimbaud and less Rambo, critics tell sweaty jogger Sarkozy
by Charles Bremner

President Sarkozy has fallen foul of intellectuals and critics who see his passion for jogging as un-French, right-wing and even a ploy to brainwash his citizens.

Attacks on Mr Sarkozy's pastime, which he has made a symbol of his presidency, began on the internet as soon as he bounded up the steps of the Elysée Palace in shorts when he took office in May. That moment has become the icon of his hyperenergetic administration. The grumbling has now moved to television and the press.

"Is jogging right wing?" wondered Libération, the left-wing newspaper. Alain Finkelkraut, a celebrated philosopher, begged Mr Sarkozy on France 2, the main state television channel, to abandon his "undignified" pursuit. He should take up walking, like Socrates, Arthur Rimbaud, the poet, and other great men, said Mr Finkelkraut.

"Western civilisation, in its best sense, was born with the promenade. Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act. Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation."

Mr Sarkozy's habit infuriates his critics - and some supporters - because he flaunts it so hard. Le running du Président, often clad in his favourite NYPD T-shirt, has become a ritual, like King Louis XIV's rides at Versailles. He has practised it at summits in Brussels and Germany and he is looking forward to a bonding jog with José Socrates, the Prime Minister of Portugal, which took over the European Union presidency this week.

Until "Speedy Sarko" won office, French heads of state shunned physical exercise in public. The late François Mitterrand was privately partial to golf, but the reflective stroll was his public trademark. Jacques Chirac, Mr Sarkozy's predecessor, was famous for his energy, but in public he moved at walking pace and in suit and tie.

Le jogging, originally known as le footing and now more fashionably as le running, caught on in France, as elsewhere, in the 1980s and eight million claim to indulge. But Mr Sarkozy has rekindled a French suspicion that the habit is for self-centred individualists such as the Americans who popularised it. "Jogging is of course about performance and individualism, values that are traditionally ascribed to the Right," Odile Baudrier, editor of V02 magazine, a sports publication, told Libération. Patrick Mignon, a sports sociologist, noted that French intellectuals had always held sport in contempt, while totalitarian regimes cultivated physical fitness.

Beyond the self-promotion, some commentators see something sinister in the media fascination with le jogging de Supersarko. The "hypnotic" daily images of presidential running are not innocent, said Daniel Schneidermann, a media critic. Mr Sarkozy uses the video images of his jogging as "a major weapon of media manipulation", said Mr Schneidermann.

Some experts have questioned Mr Sarkozy's running style and say that he is not helped by being overweight.

Renaud Longuèvre, a coach of champion athletes, told L'Equipe magazine that Mr Sarkozy bends too far forward, his stride is off, his arms dangle and his feet hit the ground the wrong way. The coach advised the President to get his feet checked, strengthen his abdominal and posterior muscles and "check your diet because it seems you are carrying a slight excess in weight".
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Reply Thu 5 Jul, 2007 02:57 pm
Summer . . . the slow news season, the silly season . . . this is a wonderful example of pointless partisan stupidity . . .
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 5 Jul, 2007 02:59 pm
.... and it will go on until September.
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Reply Thu 5 Jul, 2007 03:47 pm
You bet, and here's Episode #2 already, courtesy of the U.K. Telegraph:

Bravo, Sarkozy - from one jogger to another
by Boris Johnson

There are some people I know who are not so keen on Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President of France. Some prudes have been dismayed by the way he turned up at a press conference in a state of apparent alcoholic intoxication. Some think it a bit off that he tried to grab the steering wheel at the recent European summit, and change the fundamental principles of the EU Treaty.

Some people find him altogether too Tiggerish and bumptious. I have, I confess, been so far in a state of glorious detachment on the Sarkozy issue - until yesterday morning, when I read that he was once again under attack from the French intellectuals, and I found my sword leaping from its scabbard in his defence.

In the cafés of the Left Bank, they have fastened on what they regard as the single most objectionable and Right-wing aspect of the Sarkozy agenda - and what do you think it is? Do they object to his views on immigration? Are they worried about his plans to make French universities more competitive?

Quite possibly; but their feelings on these questions are anaemic next to their central charge against the new regime. The most appalling thing about the Sarkozy presidency, says Professor Alain Finkelkraut, a leading French philosopher and veteran of the 1968 manifestations, is an event that takes place every morning. The President of France goes jogging! Choc horreur! He exposes the presidential knees to the entire world, says Finkelkraut, and it is extremely undignified.

Worst of all, say these heirs of Sartre and Saussure, the very act of le jogging - or le running as it is now more fashionable to call it - is a cultural humiliation. It is, in the first place, an offence to national honour, they say, that the President of the Republic should totter back into the Elysée Palace looking like a sweat-drenched miniature version of Sylvester Stallone.

But as you would expect of French philosophers, they make a deeper point. Jogging, they say, waving their Gitanes angrily at the camera, is a Right-wing activity. It is all about the management of the body; it is about performance, and individualism, and the triumph of the will.

It is no wonder, they say, that physical jerks have generally been associated with fascist regimes; and above all they believe that by staggering around in his NYPD T-shirt, the French President is making a tragic act of obeisance to America.

François Mitterrand did not jog, they say. Even when he played golf, he never allowed himself to be pictured on the course. Jacques Chirac is a man of hyperkinetic energy, but he would never have taken his trousers off in public, run up and down, and asked the French people to take him seriously.

As for Charles de Gaulle, he moved with the stately undulation of a giraffe, and never broke into so much as a trot.

The Sarkozy jog, say his critics, is a sad imitation of the habits of American presidents, and a capitulation to the défi Américain as bad as the influx of Hollywood movies, and if you doubt the seriousness of their attack, you should have a look at the Left-wing newspaper Libération, and the French political blogs; and that is why it is now time for all jogging politicians to come to Sarkozy's aid.

I speak as one who rises every morning and makes the pavement echo to the slap of my tread, and I have no doubt that, on purely aesthetic grounds, I would face the strictures of Prof Finkelkraut. It was not long ago that one of my friends and colleagues told me that he was quite put off his breakfast by the sight of me going round the local park at the speed, he claimed, of an elderly hippopotamus.

But I am not deterred by such jibes, nor by the accusation that jogging is Right-wing. Of course it is Right-wing, in the sense that the facts of life are generally Right-wing. The very act of forcing yourself to go for a run, every morning, is a highly conservative business.

There is the mental effort needed to overcome your laziness. There is the pain in the calves and the ache in the lungs, and the keen sense that everyone is looking at you and sniggering.

And then slowly the endorphins start to flood into your brain, and the effort gives way to reward, and the deferred pleasure arrives, and you come back home feeling you could bite a tiger - and, above all, that nothing else you do that day can be quite as painful and exhausting.

And plenty of Left-liberals have realised this, and go jogging as well. One thinks of Jimmy Carter, who famously collapsed while out on a run, so eager was he to attain those endorphins; and then there was the late Roy Jenkins, who was once spotted sneaking out of his chauffeured limo in the Brussels twilight, and briefly puffing, in a tracksuit, through the Bois de la Cambre.

And is it not sad, in retrospect, that Roy should have been so furtive in his exercise? The whole point about President Sarkozy's running is that he is actually putting himself publicly through the same hell as the rest of us. Far from being a surrender to American values, the Sarkozy jog is in conformity with the principles of the French Revolution, and the equality and brotherhood of man.

With every weary plod he is parading his mortality, exposing his vulnerability, and sharing with the rest of the human race the via dolorosa of the morning stagger. One day, as we all know, he will be able to run no more; one day he will cark it like Jim Fixx, the jogging pioneer.

But until such time we should salute his willingness to expose those knobbly knees to public derision, and we should challenge our Labour masters to get out of their Zil limousines and do likewise.
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