This year’s French presidential campaign resembled a gargantuan comic mashup, a clash of superheroes and supervillains who had somehow broken out of their own comic strips and onto the world stage, where each strutted and fretted his or her allotted quarter-hour until ultimately only one remained.
The final joust was a televised debate on the Wednesday prior to Sunday’s runoff in which masked Robin (Emmanuel Macron), having abandoned his erstwhile patron Batman (François Hollande), routed Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (Marine Le Pen). The blonde amazon came swinging into the studio on a vine, shrieking loudly, and did not lower her tone for the next three hours. Despite the hail of poisoned darts that came spitting from Sheena’s mouth, Robin never lost composure, but neither did he drop his mask. The 66 percent of the French who voted for him in the grand finale still have no idea who he really is. The majority of them did not so much elect the Boy Wonder as they rejected his opponent.
For six long years after assuming leadership of the Front National, Sheena had sought to obliterate all memory of her predecessor, the party’s founder and leader, her father King Kong (Jean-Marie Le Pen). Kong had terrified the natives. His daughter tried to persuade them that she had made the transition from nature red in tooth and claw to salonfähig civilization. She promised to preside over a “France apaisée,” a tranquillized France, by banishing the predatory beasts who had turned it into a Jungle (as the refugee camp at Calais was known until the government razed it and dispersed its residents to shelters around the country). Once the beasts were gone, Sheena promised to tighten border controls to keep them from returning.
The 66 percent of the French who voted for Macron in the grand finale still have no idea who he really is.
The villagers who remained could then live quietly, trading tranquilly among themselves with their own currency rather than the hated euro, which she insisted had made them poorer. But in the final days of the campaign, when it became apparent that nearly three-quarters of the French were reluctant to cut themselves off from the continent and resign themselves to autarky, she suggested that they could trade with shells gathered on their own shores as well as with euros. And with bark canoes those who wished to remain in touch with the rest of Europe could paddle home with the occasional Polish ham or Italian handbag or even German automobile rather than subsist on homegrown rutabaga as during the halcyon days of the Occupation, which her father Kong evoked from time to time with nostalgia.
Sheena’s petulant confusion in the final stages of the campaign contrasted sharply with the Boy Wonder’s imperturbable composure. Her attacks concentrated on the series of secret identities he allegedly assumed when not preening for the cameras in his superhero guise.
Rather than the bold independent he claimed to be, a man of “both the right and the left,” Sheena painted him as the protégé of the consummately unpopular incumbent, who would continue his allegedly failed policies of labor market liberalization, fiscal austerity, and subservience to Germany. Robin, she insisted, was not a superhero at all but a tool of the Americans, of “Anglo-Saxon” neoliberalism, and of the faceless Eurocrats in Brussels. He was an instrument of high finance, not just a former banker, not just a former investment banker, but a former “Rothschild banker.” Yet these slings and arrows bounced harmlessly off Robin’s breast thanks to his miraculous shield, which Sheena claimed had been custom-tailored for him by the media, the faithful servants of the Americans, Eurocrats, and Rothschilds.
As for custom tailoring, it should be noted that the Clark Kent of this campaign, François Fillon, who had once been the favorite, failed to make the final round after it was alleged that two bespoke suits worth 13,000 euros had been ordered for him by a lawyer who claimed he had often served as a fixer for African heads of state seeking influence in Parisian political circles. Clark returned the suits to the tailor Ardys, but the episode sapped his superpowers, coming as it did on the heels of allegations that he had paid his wife and children for no-show government jobs. For who could for a single moment imagine Superman under indictment for corruption?
Refractory to the Boy Wonder’s charms, the die-hard Lanternists preferred to keep their consciences pristine.
With Superman sidelined by scandal, the Green Lantern (Jean-Luc Mélenchon) emerged as a possible dark horse late in the race. Mélenchon availed himself of a magic lantern: with holograms he was able to give speeches in several cities at once, and his silver tongue seemed to exert a diabolical attraction on the susceptible among the young. While he had nothing but contempt for the Queen of the Jungle, he was equally dismissive of the Boy Wonder. The choice between the two was akin to the choice between the black plague and cholera, he averred, and two-thirds of his followers agreed that rather than choose their poison they would prefer to abstain or cast a blank ballot. The Green Lantern, though the most erudite of the candidates, failed to suggest that his youthful followers read Albert Camus’s The Plague, which might have reminded them that in some dilemmas the refusal to choose is tantamount to surrender. Refractory to the Boy Wonder’s charms, the die-hard Lanternists preferred to keep their consciences pristine.
They were nevertheless unable to prevent Robin’s election, however much it pained them to witness it. Hence the Batman dynasty will continue under bold new colors, even if the discredited Bruce Wayne must now withdraw into ignominious retirement. Will the Boy Wonder succeed? The answer is not really within his power. It will all depend on what help he receives from Wonder Woman (Angela Merkel) and The Hulk (Wolfgang Schäuble). Unless they are replaced by the X-Men (Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel). All four of these Germanic titans wish the Boy Wonder well and know that if they are to continue to prosper in their own domain across the Rhine, they must help him to succeed. But how? No definitive answer has yet been formulated. Which is a pity, since the fate of democracy in Europe may well depend on it.