France’s pop culture created a unique musical icon, singer and actress Dalida, born to Italian parents in Egypt in 1933. French-speakers of a certain age the world over know the words to her biggest hits: Gigi l’Amoroso, Il venait d’avoir 18 ans, Garde-moi la dernière danse.
No European artist ever collected as many international awards as Dalida. She sold 170 millions records worldwide before taking her life in 1987.
Her repertoire included the song Paroles, paroles (words, words), recorded in 1973 and sung with French heartthrob Alain Delon. It is a whimsical song about love slowly dying.
Most Québécois over 40 can sing Paroles, paroles:
“I look at you, as for the first time/Still words, always words/The same words/I don’t know any more how to tell you/Only words.”
We say thousands of words each day without thinking about their meaning.
Because of social media, words that hurt, words that cut and anger have become weapons of mass humiliation. And yet, we use them carelessly, even if we know they will be read by thousands, perhaps by your boss or worse still, your grandmother.
My mom used to say: “If you have nothing to say, say nothing” or “Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking.” She knew I was quick to express myself and could easily get into trouble. Which I did. And still do.
William Steinberg, mayor of Hampstead, used dangerous words earlier this month. He has steadfastly refused to apologize, even after being called upon to do so by the prime minister. The man has a doctorate in psychology. Surely he knows there is no such thing as peaceful ethnic cleansing?
And frustrated with the government’s reform of the taxi industry, permit owners demonstrated this week holding signs with images of swastikas and insults like “fascist”’ to describe François Bonnardel, the minister in charge.
Sorry, no matter how angry one gets, there are no fascists in the Quebec National Assembly. Not a single one. The Canadian führer, Adrien Arcand, active from 1934 until he was locked up for the duration of the war, only commanded the loyalty of some 1,500 followers, according to historian Jean-François Nadeau in Le Devoir. Not exactly a broad-based movement.
Hitler and Nazism are popular with unimaginative trolls. Arguments reductio ad Hitlerium have invaded our cultural subconscious. My colleague Richard Martineau wrote in Le Journal de Montréal about the inflated language used by the taxi drivers, “the best way to kill a debate is to empty words of their meaning. When everybody is Hitler, even Hitler is not Hitler anymore.”
“On the one hand, 15 million dead, including six million Jews. On the other, a law that requires public servants in positions of authority of all religions to remove their religious symbols during working hours. And a reform that is causing the value of taxi permits to drop.”
Not quite the same thing.
The use of social media can make things even worse. Would the sick people who tell people to go jump off a bridge on Twitter say it to someone’s face? I doubt it. As well, according to University of Alberta researchers, social media makes it easier to take things personally.
Some will argue these are just “paroles, paroles.” But every word we say, especially when we are angry, can leave deeper marks than expected.
On the Montreal Gazette’s website, a report of Sunday’s rally against Bill 21 is accompanied by a photo of a young boy holding a sign saying the bill “asks women to undress to work.”
That’s a stupendous interpretation. Removing a hijab in a classroom between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday, is not asking a woman to get naked, even if that’s how she feels.
When debating serious matters in public, inflammatory discourse should be avoided, whether it’s tweeting à la Trump or saying “Paroles, paroles” that one would not repeat in front of a sweet grandmother.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019