Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jean Sarkozy, The Figurehead

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy is currently in French media nearly everyday, his son, his son Jean Sarkozy has made his own headlines relating to his political agenda. His advancement into the upper-tiered political realm of France has often been accused as nepotism due to Jean’s young age and lack of experience in the political work force. While nepotism angers many because it values birth right and not merit, it readily occurs in all areas of the work force, particularly of that in the political and entertainment industries. President Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean have also in part helped to change the dynamic of French politics by focusing more on entertainment culture, superficiality, and the use of figureheads in political power. President Sarkozy’s much publicized marriage to Italian supermodel, Carla Bruni and his son Jean’s quick rise to fame and power due to his good looks, charm, and upbringing has shifted French politics into popular celebrity culture. Based on Jean’s rapid entrance into the French political sphere, a question to consider in terms of French politics is whether or not appearances, wealth, and celebrity culture are taking precedence.
Jean Sarkozy was born September 1, 1986 in Neuilly Sur Seine, a wealthy suburb just west of Paris and is the youngest son of Marie-Dominique Culioli of current French Republic President Nicholas Sarkozy as of 2007. He followed his father’s political ambitions and enrolled as a law student in the Parisian University, Panthéon-Sorbonne. Jean’s life has often been subject of tabloid drivel, from his attractive features, to his marriage to Jessica Sebaoun, an heiress to Darty Store fortune, which is successful chain of stores specializing in electronics. At the young age of 21 Jean became involved with the Paris Municipal elections and also was elected to General Council of Neuilly Sur Seine in 2008. Jean was involved with the Union for Popular Movement or abbreviated as UMP, his father’s rightist party and was made party chief in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, Jean’s hometown and the suburb Nicholas had been mayor of for many years prior to his presidency.
Jean Sarkozy seems to have an aura about him that is well recognized by the press. His blond hair, broad smile, and attractive features are constantly subject to gossip magazines and his life is a constant fixture in European tabloids. This kind of popular celebrity characteristic about Jean, transcends his personal life and affects his political one as well. For instance, Jean used his alluring qualities to show that some conservative, rightist young people were not opposed to President Sarkozy’s decision to reduce jobs for teaching in the spring of 2008. While many people from the leftist movement took to the streets of Paris to denounce the President’s decision, Jean, the then 21-year-old and head of his father’s rightist party in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, was demonstrating how young people can not only become involved in politics but can be conservative in their ways of political thinking. Jean began “Jeudis Jeunes” or “young Thursdays”, where groups of young conservative people would gather in cafes and were welcome to ask questions of important political leaders who were guests in these meetings. Being born into a wealthy and prominent family allowed Jean to easily call upon celebrity visitors as well to these meetings, which displayed his privileged life. At this time, President Sarkozy’s approval was at an extremely low point after just a year of having a relatively high rating over socialist candidate Ségolène Royal. Having a young, handsome, Sarkozy in the political picture of France at this point caused people to have more of a liking toward Jean now that they were no longer as happy with his father.


This was not the first instance of nepotism displayed and one of the reasons for this to be accepted by many French people was partially because of the allure and presence Jean Sarkozy possessed making him a “figurehead”. A controversy occurred in the fall of 2009 when President Sarkozy recommended his son for the job of head of the development agency, EPAD, overseeing La Défense the large financial district which has plans to expand and will hopefully rival some of Europe’s top financial centers. This area is home to around 2,500 top corporations including Société Générale bank. This position was familiar to the President who had assumed the same position earlier in his life. Jean Sarkozy was a mere 23 years old at this time at had not yet even completed his law degree causing many to criticize this blatant form of nepotism. Jean Sarkozy at this time, already a councilor in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, was criticized and was deemed “prince like” and a “golden boy” by his critics. He was given the nickname “Le Dauphin” as well, which in English roughly translates to a young heir to a French throne. The decision to appoint the young Sarkozy was supported by the rightist party he was a member of, and Patrick Devedjian, a member of the UMP, attempted to assuage people angered over Jean assuming such a powerful position by stating that age should have nothing to do with competence. However Jean was fiercely criticized by the opposing party and a member of this Socialist group, Michelle Delaunay, was quoted as saying that “nepotism and provocation” was involved with the decision to allow Jean to be given a very powerful position with little no experience. While President Sarkozy later admitted that he might have made a mistake in his thinking, the idea of giving a prominent position to such a young person with little experience and incomplete schooling shows that Jean would have assumed more of a “figurehead” position because of his family, appearance, and charisma.


Jean Sarkozy individually and the Sarkozy family collectively are constantly in the French press for both entertainment and political news and in ways have used this kind of media attention to their advantage. Jean has been recognized in tabloids for his handsome looks, his relationship with an heiress, and his appeal to as one interviewer put it “teeny boppers and little old ladies in Hermes.” A simple internet search for Jean will glean just as many celebrity gossip websites as political ones. However, Jean’s exposure and presence in the media stems from his familial life. His father’s life is also constantly documented in tabloids and his second marriage to Italian supermodel Carla Bruni has been subject to media scrutiny and praise for the past several years. However despite the glitzy personal information and at times harsh criticism thrown upon the Sarkozy family, this kind of self-promotion actually appears to help politicians because it makes them seem accessible. These public and private spheres are crossed and create a certain image for politicians. For instance, President Sarkozy is often shown exercising which is a tactic used to show that he maintains a healthy lifestyle showing and that he is capable of handling a powerful job. President Sarkozy has also moved up politically by learning how to use the media to his advantage. He works well in front of a camera and has used television as a means to convey his charisma and has been known to bolster ratings for political television shows he appears on. His talent for television also appears to be something that he is proud of as he is quoted in an interview in December 2003 for Le Journal du Dimanche discussing his personal favorite moment of the year, which was television debate, he had been a part of with large amount of viewers. Jean Sarkozy has emulated these actions from his father and has held is own in television interviews answering questions eloquently, dressing sharply, and gazing intently at his audience. In his first television interview, he expressively and fluently speaks about his devotion as councilor to Neuilly-Sur-Seine and discusses how he has emotional ties to it because he was born and raised there. These endearing qualities are taken from his father’s skilled hand at using media to his own advantage and present him as a figurehead because regardless of his appearance or character, there is no doubt that Jean, particularly at the time of the interview, lacked the experience of ascend as quickly as he had been doing had it not been for his “star power.”


The role of figureheads, star power, and appearances taking precedence in politics does not only occur in French media. In fact other instances of this kind of nepotism that seems to be overlooked because of the glamour and allure of a “star” in the political world is comparable to that of the Sarkozy family. For instance, Governor of California, Arnold Shwarzenegger married his wife Maria Shriver, a member of the one of the most prominent political families in America. Had he not had the advantages, support, and star power of his own from his career and marriage, it is doubtful that he could have attained such a powerful position. In Europe, the same kind of nepotism is occurring with members of British parliament. A well known former talk show host, Robert Kilroy Silk, a figure in entertainment media turned member of parliament, provided work for his wife in a nepotism scandal that seemed to be sweeping across parliament as a whole. Obviously, Silk in particular was a charismatic man with a history in television and could have also been deemed a “figurehead” himself.

Jean Sarkozy is a prime example of a figure within politics because he comes from a prominent political family, possesses natural charm and good looks, and is supported by his father. This causes some to question whether or not it is becoming commonplace to lack merit for a political position if the person in question is famous, alluring, and appealing to masses of people. Even if someone is a “celebrity” should this be good enough to reason to abandon experience and skill in the work force and particularly in the French political system?

Link to Jean Sarkozy's First French Interview, courtesy of France 24 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qc4gkj9PZc

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