From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Three, or who says the eighteenth century isn’t hip?

Audible Amazon book ad June 2015

This ad for Amazon’s new line of Audible books is a tease.  What is that guy reading?  What could he be reading? The setting is clearly old regime: the triangular pile of macarons and the luscious strawberry tartlets make a not so subtle wink at Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette, as do the pale blue walls with gold wainscoting and the pink ribbons in the ladies’ hair. Glimpsing David’s Napoleon crossing the Alps (1801-5) behind the hoodie-wearing hero, however, rules out that era.  Unless these are bonapartistes?  Wouldn’t they be wearing different clothes in the 1810s?

The ad must be ironic, and Amazon’s marketing folks must be inviting us to contemplate the conundrum for its intellectual acuity.[1] The juxtaposition of this plebeian young man, who is at the same time appealing and self-absorbed in his own story, with a highly affected society of upper-class power-mongers who are living in France post-1801 must be a commentary of sorts…  (And maybe the heroic painting of Napoleon is all in the imagination.)  So, what story would make sense in this context?

  1. Le Rouge et le Noir / The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  2. L’Étranger / The Stranger by Camus
  3. Au Bonheur des dames / The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola
  4. La Préférence nationale / The National Preference by Fatou Diome
  1. “In the ironic moment, I am called to a halt,” Jonathan Lear, A Case for Irony (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 11. Were that advertising could be so engaging. But sometimes it does seem like they’ve taken their lit classes seriously….

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