Shocking in Paris

Strolling the boulevards raises questions about what’s immoral


Jay Walljasper | November 2005 issue

In Paris recently, enjoying a weekend of urbane adventure en route to Ode meetings in Rotterdam, I indulged in one of my favorite extravagances: buying art. It proved a particularly fruitful trip because I snapped up a Renoir, a Monet, a Robert Doisneau photo and some classic Art Deco posters at good prices—generally no more than a euro.

I collect postcards, you see, and there’s no better place to scout for them than Paris. The famous museums all offer spectacular selections (I busted my budget at the Musee d’Orsay gift shop) and the book stalls along the Seine feature genuine old masters from the 1930s and earlier. Strolling down any boulevard, you’ll hit a souvenir store or bookshop with a half dozen racks out front offering many tourist views of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre but also some artistically intriguing images in miniature.

Outside a bookshop on the Rue Ste. Antoine I noticed that the lower half of one card on display was discreetly covered up by paper, as you often see with girlie magazines in American supermarkets. That immediately caught my attention. Paris, after all, was long famous for its dirty postcards and nudity seems no big deal today in its streetside postcard galleries. Journalistic duty compelled me to further investigate the situation. The face of a lovely redhead poked up above the paper shield on what appeared to be the cover of an American pulp novel of the ‘50s and when I pulled out the postcard to see what Parisian shopkeepers deem too lurid for public consumption, it revealed a grinning man shooting the woman with a handgun.

I was a bit shocked. There was no blood, no gore; it was mild by the standards of U.S. pop culture today. No one would have thought twice about it back home. Moral fervor in America is saved for true outrages, like singer Janet Jackson’s nipple accidentally being exposed on national television during the half-time show of a football game.

But I feel the French (or at least the clerks at that Parisian bookstore) are right in this case and America has it backwards. Violence is obscene, even on a postcard, and poses a significant moral dilemma for modern society. Sure, a campy cover from a cheap novel may not incite young children to commit murder yet the casual acceptance of violence in the U.S., Japan, and numerous other cultures does have consequences. When bloodshed and human cruelty lose their shock value, life is cheapened in some profound and sad way.

The artistic depiction of the naked body, as you can discover in Paris’s numerous art museums as well as its postcard stands, can inspire noble and uplifting emotions. Beauty is central to the culture of all civilizations, and sexual attraction is the driving force that keeps the human race going. But celebration of violent images, especially those rendered in a graphic or chillingly emotionless way, inspires corrosion of the human spirit. When bloodshed and human cruelty lose their shock value, life is cheapened in some profound and sad way.

Solution News Source

Shocking in Paris

Strolling the boulevards raises questions about what’s immoral


Jay Walljasper | November 2005 issue

In Paris recently, enjoying a weekend of urbane adventure en route to Ode meetings in Rotterdam, I indulged in one of my favorite extravagances: buying art. It proved a particularly fruitful trip because I snapped up a Renoir, a Monet, a Robert Doisneau photo and some classic Art Deco posters at good prices—generally no more than a euro.

I collect postcards, you see, and there’s no better place to scout for them than Paris. The famous museums all offer spectacular selections (I busted my budget at the Musee d’Orsay gift shop) and the book stalls along the Seine feature genuine old masters from the 1930s and earlier. Strolling down any boulevard, you’ll hit a souvenir store or bookshop with a half dozen racks out front offering many tourist views of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre but also some artistically intriguing images in miniature.

Outside a bookshop on the Rue Ste. Antoine I noticed that the lower half of one card on display was discreetly covered up by paper, as you often see with girlie magazines in American supermarkets. That immediately caught my attention. Paris, after all, was long famous for its dirty postcards and nudity seems no big deal today in its streetside postcard galleries. Journalistic duty compelled me to further investigate the situation. The face of a lovely redhead poked up above the paper shield on what appeared to be the cover of an American pulp novel of the ‘50s and when I pulled out the postcard to see what Parisian shopkeepers deem too lurid for public consumption, it revealed a grinning man shooting the woman with a handgun.

I was a bit shocked. There was no blood, no gore; it was mild by the standards of U.S. pop culture today. No one would have thought twice about it back home. Moral fervor in America is saved for true outrages, like singer Janet Jackson’s nipple accidentally being exposed on national television during the half-time show of a football game.

But I feel the French (or at least the clerks at that Parisian bookstore) are right in this case and America has it backwards. Violence is obscene, even on a postcard, and poses a significant moral dilemma for modern society. Sure, a campy cover from a cheap novel may not incite young children to commit murder yet the casual acceptance of violence in the U.S., Japan, and numerous other cultures does have consequences. When bloodshed and human cruelty lose their shock value, life is cheapened in some profound and sad way.

The artistic depiction of the naked body, as you can discover in Paris’s numerous art museums as well as its postcard stands, can inspire noble and uplifting emotions. Beauty is central to the culture of all civilizations, and sexual attraction is the driving force that keeps the human race going. But celebration of violent images, especially those rendered in a graphic or chillingly emotionless way, inspires corrosion of the human spirit. When bloodshed and human cruelty lose their shock value, life is cheapened in some profound and sad way.

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