Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gesture of the Day: “la quenelle”

[Einführung in die politische Semiotik]

It is not only words that may be coined:  less often, it is also gestures.   A new one is causing much blood to boil, and ink to spill, in France.

Outsiders are unlikely to get it.  Thus, consider this:

Looks like a referee calling an off-sides or something. You wouldn’t give it a second thought.

[Footnote:  Well, okay, you might, if you are familiar with the semiotics of European kinesiology, and figured that that still-shot was the initialization of a gesture whereby the forearm rises… Which, if directed against the umpire, would call for a red card.  But the gesture is static;  and that is not at all what is going on.]

But now this:


And finally, this -- pages blanked out by the media, as the photo is too shocking:

In line with our recent Trappist vow of silence regarding any and all commentary upon sensitive social issues, we shall have nothing to say about this;  you can read all about it in Wikipedia, or more recently here:

Amusez-vous bien.

Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :


[Footnote, 14 June 2014]  An explanation for the young folks, who probably have no idea what is going on.
The reason the “quenelle” has stirred up so much commotion, is that it reminds some people of the old Nazi “Heil Hitler” gesture.  But that has been taboo for so long, that unless you watch old movies, you millennials have probably never even seen what it looks like.   Here, to refresh your memories, is an apparent example, of more recent vintage:

Greetings, my faithful minions !

Semiotic footnote:  The above version is not quite the one you'll see in old photographs of underlings -- rigid, Roman -- but more like that of the Fuehrer himself, who used a floppier version, lest he get "dictator's elbow" from all the saluting.

[Update, 1845Z]  This just in!
The comedian who invented the gesture is now to be pursued by the full might of the French legal system.

François Hollande soutient la démarche du ministre de l'Intérieur Manuel Valls, qui étudie les moyens d'interdire les spectacles de l'humoriste Dieudonné, plusieurs fois condamné pour antisémitisme.

Presumably our own blogsite will now be banned in France (if it isn’t already), for displaying the images.

In the meantime, before we are obliged to go dark, savor these other reports of French political-correctness:

Gratuit !
Lisez le conte entier

[Mise à jour, 30 December 2013]   This story is not dying down:

Ce n'est plus du fait divers ou de l'anecdote, mais presque une affaire d'État. Manuel Valls, le ministre de l'Intérieur, est sorti de la prudente réserve à laquelle s'astreint depuis toujours la Place Beauvau en matière de censure. Dans une interview au Parisien doublée d'un communiqué vendredi dernier, Manuel Valls a annoncé vouloir étudier «toutes les voies juridiques» pour interdire les «réunions publiques» de l'humoriste Dieudonné, qui «n'appartiennent plus à la dimension créative mais contribuent (…) à accroître les risques de troubles à l'ordre public». «De déclaration en déclaration, il s'at­taque de façon évidente et insupportable à la mémoire des victimes de la Shoah.»

[Update 31 December 2013]  Ha!  Too funny. 

Here is the French Interior Minister (a.k.a. “le premier flic de France”), jauntily posing with some young people making the forbidden gesture, despite the hideously obvious judenfeindlich-Sturmabteilung tenor of their sinister grins.

Do as I say, not as I do

Political-correctness appendix:  For some reason, the identity of the young woman is masked in this news photo, but not that of the young men.


The gesture has been described, in terms as contorted as the physical gesture itself, as a “reverse Nazi salute”.  Meaning what -- anti-Nazi?   Is it like the swastika which (so we once read -- no doubt bogus) means ‘war’ when clockwise, but ‘peace’ when counterclockwise?

M. Valls no doubt worries about looking foolish, in attempting to suppress or prosecute a gesture which, as it spreads through the population, is coming to mean no more than an objection to the heavy-handedness of the state:  of which suppression of the gesture will be a perfect illustration.

Be that as it may, his campaign is doomed in advance:  for any gesture whatever, if performed in unison, acquires semiotic moment.   Indeed, so simple a posture as that of holding an umbrella -- and this, not in unison, but precisely as being in unison with no-one -- can take on a dark significance, and cause the world to quake;  we remember such an incident here:

The Umbrella Man


Everybody’s doin’ it !  U can 2 !!

[Update 1 January 2014]  A thoughtful and well-informed article here:

[Update 5 January 2014]
Calls for suppressing the comedian who invented the unspeakable gesture, are spreading on the French left:

Candidate socialiste à la mairie de Paris, Anne Hidalgo est favorable à l'interdiction du spectacle de Dieudonné et la fermeture de la Main d'Or.

A reader replies, nicely in rhyme:

Le démocratie c'est cause toujours, le totalitarisme c'est ferme ta gueule, nous sommes bien parti pour, les staliniens sont de retour....

To which Pierre Pingouin replies:

C’est chouette!  Vous êtes poète.

[7 January 2014]   This thing is starting to look like a Peter Sellers film ...

La tournée de Dieudonné menacée d'interdiction
Le gouvernement et certains maires veulent faire annuler ses spectacles. À Nantes, où il doit se produire jeudi, plus de 5000 places ont été vendues.

[8 Jan 2014]  The latest development in the unfolding drama/farce/grand-guignol:

Deux lycéens brièvement placés en garde à vue pour une «quenelle»
L'un des jeunes posait sur une photo devant un ananas, référence à la chanson «Shoah nanas» chantée par Dieudonné, parodie polémique du titre de «Chaud cacao» d'Annie Cordy.

[10 janvier 2014]  True to his modus operandi of trying to silence the ludic truth, with the police power of the State, F. Hollande now threatens to go after the newspaper that revealed his trysts:

[10 I 14 -- This Just In]

[21 I 14]  Weiteres:

6 II 14]    Another political gesture, popular in France, but unlike the quenelle, rewarded rather than censured, is returning, in church, to that sartorial state which prevailed before the Fall, though with morals very much post-lapsarian:

A reader comments:

Encore un beau message... les quenelliers coupables de "bras d'honneur" sont devenus des ennemis de la république quand des profanateurs d'églises en deviennent eux l'un des symboles.

[Update 9 avril 2014]  And now, this outrageous development.  Members of le Barça caught in this shameless display of what has been called the "double upraised quenelle":

Eine Schande !!

Taubira has demanded an immediate investigation.

[Note:  Some of the above is satire, some is straight news.
The point is, it's difficult to tell them apart.
And now that The Onion has purchased the struggling New York Times,  it'll be even harder.]

[Update 13 June 2014]  From Le Figaro:

Affaire de la «quenelle» : nouvelle provocation d'Anelka
Actuellement sans club, Nicolas Anelka continue de faire parler de lui. Jeudi, quelques heures avant le coup d'envoi de la Coupe du Monde, l'ancien attaquant aujourd'hui à la recherche d'un club depuis son départ de West Bromwich Albion a publié via son compte Twitter une photo qui risque de provoquer la polémique. L'ancien international venu à Kinshasa (RD Congo) afin de soutenir l'action de la fondation caritative d'aide à l'enfance de Youssouf Mulumbu, ami footballeur et ancien coéquipier, apparait avec un t-shirt «Superman» stylisé.

[Update 5 September 2014]  Banned in Belgium:

Fie! Je bent politiek incorrect!
[Update 13 Sept 2014] And now, in Germany, another symbol is banned:

[Update 1 December 2014]  And now -- from the Left -- a sort of “counter-quenelle”:

Police group wants Rams players disciplined for 'Hands Up' gesture; NFL declines


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