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In Culture, It's America 1, France 0

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 14, 1998; Page D1




France 3, Brazil 0: It looked like a great conquest for the French, their happiest day since they waved au revoir to the Nazis a half-century ago.

Instead, Sunday's World Cup soccer championship was actually the ultimate triumph of American culture, if you look at it the right way.

It happened at the postgame trophy presentation at Stade de France, just outside Paris. French captain Didier Deschamps thrust the tiny, odd-looking trophy over his head. The crowd roared. Then the music began playing over the massive stadium's PA system. It would have been a perfect time for "La Marseillaise," the stirring French national anthem.

Instead, the speakers blared the theme from "Star Wars."

U.S.A. 1, France nil.

Here was France's ultimate moment, a moment when they could have played any number of works by gifted French composers: Camille Saint-Saens, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Hector Berlioz (heck, even Celine Dion is French Canadian. She could've sung "Frere Jacques" and it would have been more authentic).

Instead, they turned to John Williams, of Long Island, New York, U.S.A., who has composed sweeping, sappy, sentimental, bombastic scores for such quintessentially American films as "E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Superman," "Jurassic Park" and all three "Star Wars" films. It was a triumph of Hollywood over the City of Light, of Spielberg over Godard and all those cynical, purposefully obfuscatory, plot-twisting directors. Cutting deeper is the likelihood that the theme from "E.T." is better recognized by Frenchmen than Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals."

Moreover, it was impossible to hear "Star Wars" during the trophy presentation without thinking of Bill Murray's legendary "Saturday Night Live" lounge singer, who invented lyrics to the theme: "STAR Wars/ Gimme those STAR Wars/ Those nutty STAR Wars‚. . ."

This would be the spot to insert a Jerry Lewis joke, but why bother? The cultural rout was complete. Proust would have admired the irony.

So what if the U.S. soccer team finished 32nd out of 32 nations in the World Cup? So what if we were thrashed by Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia? So what if we lose to the entire rest of the planet at soccer?

Nah, we're not sore. It's a dumb game, anyway.

We'd be upset if we lost the Olympic gold medal in, say, men's basketball. That's our game. Or if we suddenly discovered that some foreign country uses more duct tape. On Sunday, we beat France at Culture, which is their game. Hey, c'est la guerre, mon frere.

So, happy Francophiles have something else to think about while the victory party continues today, Bastille Day. Not that we mean to rain on your barricade. Bastille Day is France's July Fourth, the country's most intensely patriotic day, a day for France and all things French.

As Americans, and good sports, we extend a hearty congratulations to our French brothers and sisters, who, like us, are children of a revolution. And we hope the passion-filled Parisians, if they tire of celebrating on their grand Champs-Elysees, spend their Bastille Day holiday in typically French fashion: with a McDonald's cheeseburger, a Coke and a trip to EuroDisney.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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