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October 18, 2020

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Netflix series sparks controversy

LOVE it, hate it or love to hate it, the smash hit Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” which perpetuates long-held fantasies about the City of Light involving berets and pleasure-loving Parisians, leaves no one indifferent.

After “An American in Paris,” “Funny Face,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Amelie,” the rose-tinted, romantic vision of Paris — with Instagram a new arrival — is once again laid out in all its glory in one of the most-watched series of the year.

Many French critics have castigated the 10-episode series, tired of seeing Parisians portrayed as suspicious concierges, unfriendly bakers, obnoxious waiters, snobbish, lazy and flirty.

The American heroine of the series, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to take the metro and lives in an attic room once supposedly used by maids that is implausibly big, above a handsome neighbor who is just as implausible.

It’s a sugarcoated reality that irritates Lindsey Tramuta, an American writer who has lived in Paris for 15 years.

Tramuta wrote “The New Paris” and “The New Parisienne” in which she tries to show there is much more to the city than old-world brasseries and corner cafes.

“We’re in 2020 and we’re still recycling the old cards,” she said, pointing to an economic and social reality overlooked in a city that has experienced jihadist attacks, the Yellow Vests protest movement and massive strikes. “It’s not a harmless series of cliches. When Paris is incessantly portrayed that way for generations, it contributes to a problematic long-term under-standing of the place itself.”

One of these problems is the so-called Paris syndrome, the acute disappointment felt by some tourists when they arrive in the capital and see it as it is.

For Tramuta, the rose-tinted portrayal “is an example of the way Paris is exploited by film companies, luxury brands and authors. It makes the city look like an Instagram-filtered playground.”

Also criticized for magnifying the French-American culture clash, “Emily in Paris” has nevertheless found success in recycling the decades-old cliches — and Netflix is entirely at ease with that.

“If Emily had come to your city and not Paris, what would the big cliches of the series be?,” a Netflix employee joked on Twitter. “Take Emily in Marseille — it’s always sunny, the old port smells of sardines and Jul wanders the streets,” referring to a rapper born in the French Mediterranean city.

For Agnes Poirier, the author of “Left Bank,” a book about Paris’s post-war intellectual and cultural life, “all cliches have an element of truth or they wouldn’t be cliches. Also, cliches die hard. And compared to American cities, yes, Paris looks and feels romantic and the French have a different and more tolerant attitude about extramarital affairs and marriage.”

‘Silly and funny’

“Paris and Parisians fascinate for what are now, alas, purely historical reasons,” Poirier said, referring to books and films that have created the image of unrestrained sexuality and living the good life.

Ines de la Fressange, a fashion designer and co-author of the bestselling lifestyle book “La Parisienne,” says the cliches might be romanticized notions of Paris but with some truth to them.

“We often forget that Americans see Paris as a type of Disneyland — Emily takes a selfie with a pain au chocolat,” de la Fressange said. “But in New York, we are amazed by the Empire State Building. Right now, Paris is suffering from a lack of tourists. If cliches on gastronomy, elegance and beauty make people want to come here, it’s not a problem.”

And the series, created by Darren Star, who also created “Sex and the City,” has sparked a deluge of tweets from foreigners saying they want to live in Paris after watching the series.

“It’s a silly and funny romantic comedy that a lot of foreigners can relate to,” said Lane Nieset, an American freelance journalist who specializes in travel and gastronomy and has lived in Paris for nearly two years. “For Americans, the French still represent the epitome of class and sophistication, and during the pandemic when they can’t travel, it makes them dream — it’s an escape.”


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