Anglo-Saxons, myself included prior to moving here, tend to dismiss the French lackadaisical attitude toward their elite's personal lives as being culturally ingrained. That may be true, but it's a phenomenon that was brought about by strict law as a result of unfortunate history. In the wake of World War II, during which being outed as a Jew meant a trip to the gas chamber, people's personal lives became off-limits. Now, the same law that emerged from the Holocaust is used by celebrities to sue tabloids that publish photos or information related to their love lives without permission. Some stars even hire photographers to take such photos so they can then turn a profit. Still, there's a deep, expressed disgust here for people who blabber about someone's personal faults or private life. In most cases, it's not a bad thing, but it often means that people are loath to point out when private behavior has crossed over into the public sphere and become problematic.
This same respect for privacy has been used to sweep nonsense under the rug to the point of promoting people with stunning pathologies into top-level positions. Upon hearing that a former top political figure had perpetrated a sex crime, one media boss said it was obvious someone was out for revenge against the poor perpetrator since the interior minister -- being in charge of police -- would have otherwise just erased the incident from the books as though it had never happened.
Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet expressed concern this week that the DSK incident would put France in a bad light. It's not as if America is devoid of "great seducers" -- Bill Clinton being the obvious one that comes to mind -- but France takes it to a whole other level of permissiveness, arguably allowing far too much lenience under the guise of "respect for privacy." For example, in a 2008 Gala Magazine article, DSK's wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, was asked whether her husband's reputation as a seducer scared her. "On the contrary, it pleases me," she replied. "I understand he's a seducer. He seduced me! And that doesn't scare me, we know each other well."
But in the paragraph just above, the article explained how DSK's "young university economics students were regularly warned of the tastes of the mayor of Sarcelles for alcove adventures." As a professor at an elite French university myself, I'd fully expect to be shown the door if I ever started engaging in "alcove stories" with students, rather than have it dismissed as some kind of personal quirk. That right there is exactly where the private sphere ends and the professional and public spheres begin. I certainly wouldn't expect the president of France to promote me to be the head of a world governing body given that kind of propensity for inappropriate behavior.
Not that this hands-off approach to the personal sphere is taken when a spirited public defense is called for. On the contrary: Rather than just taking a wait-and-see, "no comment," "it's his personal life" or "I have no idea" approach, elites from all sides, and with very few exceptions, are manifesting either a deep cognitive dissonance or self-preservation in the event that the behind they are kissing makes its way back across the Atlantic and into a position that could affect them. DSK's biographer, Michael Taubmann, said that "a seducer seeks to seduce and not to force," so therefore DSK "doesn't have the profile of a rapist." DSK supporter and former presidential candidate Segolene Royale is pleading for people to not add to the crisis.
Far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, who has never until now enjoyed enough power to have to bother kissing anyone's behind, declared to "have not been surprised" and "not fallen off my chair" at the DSK news.
Parti Radical advisor Dominique Paille hinted at a possible setup, or DSK "slipping on a banana peel." The idea has since been echoed by Socialist Party members and commenters on French websites. It's also the most prevalent comment I've heard from people in the streets of Paris. Not to say that the details of the case as they've currently been laid out favor a conspiracy theory. But the French equate convoluted complexity with a high level of intelligence. That a man of such prominence could simply get caught with his pants down isn't the first likelihood that comes to the mind of an "intelligent" Frenchman. Occam's razor is reserved for Anglo-Saxon simpletons. So I've been regaled with various theories related to the possible perpetrators: the Greeks upon whom DSK was just about to foist deep austerity through the IMF; Nicolas Sarkozy; DSK's potential opponents for the Socialist Party presidential ticket within his own party; the Freemasons; the Illuminati; the "globalists"; the Bilderbergs ...
If this incident had happened here in France rather than in the USA, I guarantee that we wouldn't be hearing about it at all. If there's something the French ought to ponder, it's that.