The national edition of The New York Times, the one that lands on the doorstep here in the post-revolutionary community of Berkeley, had an interesting advertising insert Monday morning. It consisted of four broadsheet pages, the first of which appears thus: Big bold type: “For Two Hours It Won’t Kill You To Love The French.” Then there’s a big bold simple picture of a blood-red guillotine against a blue background. Then the type again: “The French Revolution.” It’s a come-on for a History Channel documentary on the subject stated above that showed tonight. That’s striking, or strange, in its own right. But the ad itself is more striking, or stranger, still.
The following three pages outline, in slightly smaller but still bold type an outline of the revolution, starting with the declaration, “You’ll love the French Revolution. It speaks freedom fluently.” The copy, in trying to convey the revolutionary spectacle, achieves outright oddness: “When the prison governor, de Launey, gave the order to fire on them, their rage achieved its full ignition in what is known as the storming of the Bastille.”
The ad copy ends, after explaining that 17.000 French men and women were guillotined in the Terror, by saying: “Liberté. Egalité. Fraternité. They’re the 3 most expensive words in French history. And, in any mans [sic] language, you’ll love that the French stood up and, without complaint, paid the price.”
Huh? Paid the price … without complaint? Not to be overly persnickety, this starts to read like something from the George W. Bush press operation, except as well all know that’s not possible because in the Bush universe the French are just one small step above true evildoers. More significant, that little declaration at the end leaves out the little matter of what followed the revolution: Napoleon running amok across sundry exotic destinations in Europe and elsewhere for the nearly two decades. Maybe the show will try to explain how the revolution’s energy was channeled in that direction.