Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Flip Flop Riff Raff

Sacrebleu! Love or loathe flip flops, they have a knack for reinventing themselves, and for stirring passions. This time, the riff raff comes from Le Louvre museum in Paris, a venerable institution that prides itself on its autonomy from the French Ministry of Culture's Réunion des musées nationaux -- an organization charged with promoting France's cultural patrimony through education and commerce.

And commerce it does, with museum stores throughout France selling anything from Géricault etchings to Picasso mugs. In so-called French high culture, the Rmn is despised as merchants of the Temple, but its initiatives, and revenues, help preserve France's cultural assets.

So what's the riff raff about? Mona Lisa. The jewel of Le Louvre's collections. On flip flops. A Rmn killer app, with 4 to 5,000 pairs sold every year. Prominently displayed in the museum store, right under the Temple's nose. Le Louvre is not amused. The museum doesn't mind the cash Rmn's "hip/flip" products bring, but it minds being caught frolicking with the merchants.

France has always had a metaphysical malaise reconciling culture and commerce. Back in the 1980s, Le Carrousel du Louvre -- a mall adjacent to Le Louvre whose development helped finance the museum's expansion -- generated such violent passions that they nearly tanked the project. And this is just an example among many. Call it vices privés vertus publiques. French cinematographer Claude Chabrol excels at depicting this unique aspect of French society.
illustration via E24

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