By Brinda Gurumoorthy
A January 2014 media revelation disclosed that Socialist French president Francois Hollande has been, well, socializing! Reports about Hollande’s two-year-long affair with actress Julie Gayet created quite a stir in the French political community. The French First Lady, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, hospitalized herself for extreme fatigue after finding out the news. As Hollande’s image was already going south (his approval rating in November 2013 was 15%), any small thing could easily put his international reputation in jeopardy.
The scandal may look embarrassing to other nations, but as far as the French are concerned, it has little impact on people’s opinion of Hollande’s presidency. In past years, French people have tended to look the other way when their presidents pranced around with secret lovers. Still, although it may seem like what a politician does in the conference room has no correlation with what he does in the bedroom, an affair is not something to be overlooked. If someone is representing his or her nation to the world (i.e. Presidents, prime ministers, etc.), he or she should display fundamentally good character. The standards for average people differ greatly from those set for political figures, who must behave 24/7 since their every move is under public scrutiny. When the sordid details of Hollande’s affair made their way to Closer magazine, Hollande responded by saying that the reporter who wrote the article was attacking his right to privacy. He even considered suing the magazine! However, it is quite naïve for him to think he can get away with deflecting the attention to an invasion of privacy issue. To some extent, privacy no longer exists as a concern for people like Hollande who are in the limelight and must respond to any gaffes with tact. Hollande needs a bit of a reality check.
Even more interesting is the media’s interpretation of events. Many critics and analysts have said they simply do not care about Hollande’s infidelity, and in fact they turned to criticize the First Lady for not handling the situation in a classy manner. Fainting and heading to the hospital for a weeklong recovery does seem rather melodramatic, but then again it was an emotionally taxing shock. Perhaps Ms. Trierweiler should have dusted off her skirt, wiped her ever-present scowl off her face, and said something like “Vive la France”? One thing many reporters pointed out was the First Lady’s colossal lack of appeal to the public thanks to her far from amiable demeanor. Consequently, she received next to no sympathy. Some members of the press went so far as to say that Ms. Gayet, Hollande’s extracurricular friend, would look better for the press anyway.
Hollande’s response as a whole, in fact, was rather unremarkable; he simply said that he needed more time to evaluate the state of his relationships with Ms. Trierweiler and Ms. Gayet. Maybe the media has already dismissed Hollande as a person who was not the sharpest of leaders to begin with, and so infidelity is only confirmation of his silliness.
Is this groundbreaking ignominy? No. However, it does illustrate a case in which a political figure does not take responsibility for his wrongdoings. I’m not sure what is more absurd, the fact that Hollande expected people to accept his silence on the matter or the fact that people criticized the victim of the situation more than they did the evil mastermind behind the whole thing. Maybe “evil” is an exaggeration, but here’s proof that politicians do foolish things just as much, if not more, than the rest of us.