Yes, I know. Him again. I’m tired of having to see that face again too. I am fed up having to read another personal account of his voracious sex life relived seemingly solely through ape references: “he acted like a gorilla….he was a rutting chimpanzee”. I have trawled through enough articles about how the French don’t understand the concept of sexual assault (“merely a bit of hanky panky with the help”) and how this is all simply hypocritical American puritanism and anti-french sentiment at its ugliest and most unjust, a modern day lynching of a Frenchie.
While headlines such as “Le Perv” (Daily News) and “Sleazy Money” (New York Post) have given a slight hint of the editorial slant across the Atlantic, not everybody in Europe has taken the same hard line. Italian newspaper La Repubblica had the almost heroic title “The parable of Strauss Kahn, a powerful man obsessed with women” while La Stampa’s headline appeared to decry the negative effect women have continuously had on his CV: “Strauss Kahn, a career threatened by women” (this is after all the homeland of Berlusconi). Meanwhile in France, unofficial (and in fact illegal) polls show that 60% of the public believe in his innocence and feel that this whole media circus is one big political set up.
What becomes clear is that there are almost two stories running parallel to each other with advocates of each firmly sticking to their convictions.
The first story plays out a lot like what would happen if the 2002 Jennifer Lopez rom-com Maid in Manhattan, where a Hispanic hotel maid and single mum is gently and kindly seduced by a rich heir and candidate to the US Senate, were re-shot by the controversial (others say mentally-ill psycho) Danish director Lars Von Trier. In this version, a high-powered and well respected yet emotionally disturbed sexual predator and frequenter of satanical Parisian sex clubs, has for years been living above the law, his dark secrets out of the public eye. Taking up a new post in Washington DC, despite warnings from those around him to curb his indiscretions (such as President Sarkozy’s alleged warning “don’t take the lift alone with interns. France cannot permit a scandal”) he continues with his ways, confident that his hallway pass for the glass IMF building would forever guarantee his diplomatic immunity.
Then comes the climax of the story where our two protagonists’ lives collide in what Maureen Dowd of the New York Times interestingly describes as an American morality play: “A young widow who breaks her back doing menial labor at a Times Square hotel to support her teenage daughter, justify her immigration status and take advantage of the opportunities in America [comes face to face with] a crazed, rutting, wrinkly old satyr charging naked out of a bathroom, lunging at her and dragging her around the room, caveman-style”. Then while a poor West African hotel maid is left traumatized and in need of medical attention, this figure calmly finds himself sitting in a seat in First Class on the first flight back home, the villain’s comfortable get-away. Here he sips the complimentary champagne and possesses enough arrogance and temerity still to oudly exclaim to a passing air-hostess “Que Bel Cul!”, all minutes before being pulled off the plane by federal agents. Now he lives in his ‘golden prison’, a luxury New York apartment, completely paid for by his long-suffering wife, while back home his political allies pull all the strings to help their old friend. Oh, and did I mention that the hotel maid allegedly lives in a block for HIV sufferers, and could or could not also be a sufferer? It’s a really grim plot, almost too much so to be true…but it’s one I’ve read countless times researching this story.
The other take on the saga follows a plot more accustomed to a Oliver Stone conspiracy movie where our lead character is a talented economist and politician, so admired back home that he is even tipped as a favourite at the next Presidential election. Yet with success also comes danger and our hero sees plots against him everywhere he looks. In interviews he admits his fears of being blackmailed: “Imagine a woman raped in a car park and who had been promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent such a story” and even bravely confronts his political rival Sarkozy in the little boy’s room during a G20 summit with a firm warning: “Tell your boys to stop or I’ll go to court”. But this web of conspiracy goes much higher than domestic politics, even possibly including Putin and the Russians. Finally one day in May, while he is having lunch with his university student daughter, a paid-off member of the hotel staff sounds the alarm claiming that she has been sodomized. He is humiliatingly hauled off a plane, put on suicide watch at a notorious island prison and forced to do the ‘perp walk’ in handcuffs in front of the world’s media. Now,trapped in his luxury penthouse, his building turned into a kitsch’ tourist attraction for the hordes of Chinese tourists and patriotic Americans with their “D.S.K. Not in my backyard” cardboard posters, he is a broken man with his prestigious job taken away, family life shattered and good name tarnished.
Okay, I’ve outlined you the two sides. Believe what you want. But please let me go a day without having to see this man’s face and hear about his sex life.
Alistair Luca Renton