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PARIS – France was the country where presidents could hide illegitimate children in plain sight, politicians could pursue multiple love stories, and no one printed what everyone knew.
But the French are taking a liking to reality TV shows featuring politicians – a sign that their private life has long ceased to be a lawless area in France.
The television show âAn Intimate Ambitionâ follows several politicians in their daily lives, with long heart-to-heart interviews. In this Sunday’s episode, viewers discover Marine Le Pen, far-right leader of the National Rally, gardening, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo on a bicycle and former minister Rachida Dati with her boxing gloves.
Le Pen also reveals that she has a roommate.
The relatively benign news sparked enough speculation that a National Rally heavyweight felt it needed to clean the air and confirm that they were just longtime friends. The lifestyle is part of Le Pen’s “unconventional” lifestyle, he told a group of reporters.
“No men in this house, even my cats are females,” Le Pen joked to host Karine Le Marchand on the show, according to gossip magazine Gala.
American producers would be struck by the almost endearing amateurism of the show, which was inspired by the moving interviews with Oprah Winfrey. Think out of focus close-ups of candles and family portraits, of guests slumping into sofas filled with pillows, and politicians cautiously opening up to their childhood.
But for France, it is a relatively new territory.
“It is the Americanization of the privacy of politicians,” said Gaspard Gantzer, former adviser to ex-president FranÃ§ois Hollande, himself a victim of the new taste of the French media for political gossip on privacy. “[Former President] ValÃ©ry Giscard d’Estaing posed with his daughter for a campaign photo. But such episodes were sporadic and rare.
The show, hosted by journalist Karine Le Marchand, began ahead of the 2017 presidential elections and is set to become a right of passage for French presidential candidates.
In 2016, he helped boost the presidential campaign of former Prime Minister FranÃ§ois Fillon, who was struggling to shake his image as a lackluster winger of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Many now believe that it is no longer possible for a politician to resist the exposure of his life.
“You have to exist on social media, in popular TV shows, and whether you think it’s a good thing or not, that’s the way politics play out,” a socialist heavyweight said of of the decision of the socialist presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo to participate. in the show. “But you have to get people to talk about you in the best possible way.”
A risky business
But just as everyone doubts what “An Intimate Ambition” says about the state of politics, everyone intends to tune in.
Sunday’s episode looks at the lives of five female politicians, including three running for president next year. Le Marchand says she wants to focus on women and the glass ceiling in French politics, but many viewers will be watching to find out how half lives.
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“This shows [Le Pen] like a normal human being who lives in a normal house in the suburbs, âsaid the head of the National Rally. “A lot of people think she lives in a cave full of Nazis.”
But as many politicians have discovered, using your privacy as campaign material is risky.
âIt can always backfire when you do and it gives journalists the right to take a closer look at your privacy,â Gantzer said, recalling how Fillon exposed his family and was subsequently caught up in a scandal involving bogus jobs for his wife. .
But for others, closer public scrutiny is a welcome trend.
âBeyond the measures and campaign manifestos, it is important to know whether the life of politicians is consistent with their policy, believes FranÃ§ois Cornut-Gentille, conservative deputy for the Republicans.
For Cornut-Gentille, the fall of the popular socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn shows that a closer examination is not “voyeurism” but necessary to safeguard the state.
The arrest of the former head of the International Monetary Fund for allegations of sexual assault in New York in May 2011 ended his political career at a time when he was seen as a potential presidential candidate. The charges were later dropped, but Strauss-Kahn came to an agreement with his accuser in a civil lawsuit.
“With his lifestyle, and beyond questions of morality, he would quickly have found himself at the helm of the foreign secret services if he had been elected,” said Cornut-Gentille.
But French politics are still full of areas where journalists hesitate about what should appear in the print media.
In September, the French glossy magazine Paris Match published a photo of presidential candidate Eric Zemmour in the arms of his political advisor and campaign manager Sarah Knafo, without mentioning that they were in a relationship. A married man, Zemmour is leading a conservative campaign for the family ahead of the April vote.
Zemmour supporters say his privacy will not affect his campaign, but it is unclear whether this will be tenable as political pressure intensifies.
Needless to say, participating in âAn Intimate Ambitionâ would certainly be complicated.