We have 400+ channels at our flat in Paris, most are devoted to imported TV shows and movies, live soccer, and round-table discussions. News, entertainment, sports; it all apparently requires a roundtable discussion consisting of a host, a panel of experts, and a studio audience, the most attractive of whom are positioned directly behind whoever spends the most time on camera.
I don’t understand what is being said – the French is spoken quickly and dives into material deeper than favorite colors and counting to ten – but it appears as if the conversation is very intelligent and insightful. Compare this to studio audiences in the United States where, if participants can’t laugh, see someone famous, or have the chance of winning a new car, seats won’t get filled.
When our friend Mark – a registered Francophile – came to visit us, he introduced us to one of the oddest amendments to the roundtable discussions: Les Guignols de l’Info. The program is a seven-minute interlude of short sketches—kind of like Saturday Night Live if the actors had comically-large heads, stiff joints, and rigid facial expressions. The actors are puppets.
The episode we watched started innocently enough with an interview with Clint Eastwood, followed by two smoking and drinking E.T.’s in a fake promo for the movie “E.T. the prequel.” Next, a jovial and casually dressed Gerard Depardieu made a cameo carrying a bottle of wine. It is refreshing to know that Gerard maintains cultural relevance somewhere in the world.
The final sketch featured Jean Dujardin, the lead actor in The Artist and showed excerpts from his next film: The Infidels.
I was in the other room when the next three clips showed, but based on the audio of woman moaning, I knew that this would never see primetime in the States. I rushed back into the room and sure enough: two clips of Jean Dujardin the puppet having sex with two different female puppets, in different positions. The third and final clip was of puppet felatio, with no puppet elation spared in either video or audio.
It transitioned seamlessly to a straight-faced round table of experts who continued their conversation without missing a beat.
Wait, what? It’s 8:00pm—dinner time in most French households. You must be able to air anything on French television.
As it turns out, no.
I heard of a commercial where a woman, drinking a cup of coffee, walked in to the living room to help her son with his homework on the computer. Sounds benign, no? It was denied by the Autorité de Régulation Professionelle de la Publicité (ARPP) citing Clause 1/4 – “All Consumption situations in front of a screen, in a house, are prohibited.”
This is one of eighteen rules enforced by the ARPP to avoid promotion of “bad eating habits.”
Here are some direct excerpts:
- 1/1 Well-balanced diet: When the meal as a whole, lunch or dinner, is visualized, it must be a well-balanced diet.
- 1/3 Nibbling: Nibbling shouldn’t be presented as substitutable to a meal.
- 1/5 Societal Values: Adverts must avoid any stigmatization of persons because of their size, their stoutness or their thinness.
- 2/1 Association of performance to humor or to an imaginary world: The use, in an advert, of humor, original and unusual situations, or the reference to an imaginary world, is possible if it stays in a fantasy world and doesn’t risk to be understood by children like real achievements which could result from the food consumption.
Similar rules exist for those marketing cars:
- 1 Speed: The advert must not argue about speed, neither exploit the attraction it could represent, in the images, the sound, the overlays or in any other written information in the advert.