In this installment of the series on French-language comics food blogs I’d like to think about the food blog as a pop culture intersection or as a kind of mashup, to piggyback on Qiana’s February 24 post on 3bute and expansive vs. immersive reading. It goes without saying that gastronomy, like bande dessinée, is a significant facet of French identity. Perhaps less widely acknowledged is the fact that gastronomy has long been a battleground for France’s ongoing culture wars. In the 1970s, for example, the innovators of la nouvelle cuisine were in part inspired by global flavors, most specifically those of France’s former colonies. Detractors of the movement often used a language of cultural purism and thinly veiled racism, as Heather Mallory explains in her forthcoming A Cuisine in Revolt: Purity vs. Polution in the Construction and Aftermath of Nouvelle Cuisine. To show the degree to which the national understanding of “Frenchness” has shifted in recent decades I like to remind my students of the 2011 poll administered by the magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand wherein couscous ended up being voted the #3 favorite French dish. The poll suggests that French people think of couscous as French just as Americans tend to think of pizza as quintessentially American.
It’s true everywhere but perhaps even more so in France that one’s cooking and style of serving is an index of one’s cultural politics. The dinner table is always the site of multifarious cultural negotiations, always a mashup. This might be why one of the most popular food-oriented reality TV shows in France is focused on dinner parties rather than professional kitchens (with which the US is currently obsessed). Un dîner presque parfait [a nearly perfect dinner] features home cooks (and in the most entertaining season, food bloggers) who judge each other’s dinner parties based on flavor, presentation, and entertainment. The show’s participants are deliciously mean in their judgments and cultural biases frequently play a role in these judgments.
One of the funniest entries in Guillaume Long’s comics food blog, À boire et à manger, playfully imagines one of his meals as a mashup of Un dîner presque parfait and an album from the Titeuf series. He titles the blog post Un dîner à peu près parfait [a more or less perfect dinner] and his guests are the Swiss couple Mélanie and Philippe Chappuis [i.e. Zep], a renowned novelist and comics artist, respectively. Zep is famous in the francophone world for his Titeuf series, featuring an adolescent boy known for his comical misapprehensions of adult institutions and behaviors and for his signature use of the language (most famously expressions like “tchô” and “c’est pô juste”). The dinner becomes a surreal mashup as soon as Zep’s character joins them at the table bringing his characteristic expressions and adolescent sensibility to Guillaume’s very adult meal. The author serves a pink peppercorn salmon tartare accompanied with tagliatelle of lemon-marinated black radish as an appetizer, to which Titeuf responds “j’aime pô le poisson” [I don’t like fish]. Throughout the blog post Mélanie is narrating and recording the entire dinner for her radio show and, when Guillaume serves the main course, orecchiette alla Barese, she describes the dish poetically as smelling like a horse’s coat after a brisk run, to which Titeuf responds “La transpi de chevôl. Pourri, ouais!” [Nasty awesome! Horse sweat!] At the end of the blog post Mélanie, Titeuf, and Philippe are all shown voting on the meal with passive-aggressive commentary and numerical ratings, just like the reality TV show. The final drawing is Zep’s, of Guillaume at the stove in front of a steam plume shaped just like Titeuf’s famous hair.
I just love how Guillaume’s dinner party becomes a mashup in this blog post. It points to the significance of gastronomy in French culture and to its connectedness to other forms of cultural production, from comics and TV to radio and the blogosphere. In what other ways might we think of the dinner table as a site of intersection or mashup? How else might comics artists use the dinner table to reflect on popular culture?