In recent weeks, the French reality-TV series Loft Story has become the country’s biggest pop-culture phenomenon since the 1998 World Cup. Nearly half the nation tunes in for Loft Story episodes; the show has been honored with no fewer than three front-page stories in the highbrow daily, Le Monde . Conversely, France’s Minister of Culture, Catherine Tasca, lamented the show’s “cynicism,” and hordes of protesters have marched outside the show’s Paris set, angrily demanding the immediate release of the loft’s occupants.
Loft Story is based on the Dutch voyeur-TV production Big Brother , a 24-hour surveillance program that also spawned an American series of the same name. Much has been made of the Gallic version’s blithe attitude toward sex– Loft Story ‘s cohabitants are
instructed to couple up, and there has been plenty of, well, coupling –but the true French twist is that the winning couple will receive not $1 million, but a house. France is a nation obsessed with home-owning, so Loft Story watchers can tune in with a pure conscience–”It’s dirty,” they can say, “but hey, they’re doing it for a house .” Finally, there’s also a whole class subtext that still resonates deeply in hierarchical France. I was thrilled, for example, when I recently found out that the posh-sounding Jean-Edouard had enjoyed a midnight romp in the loft’s swimming pool with Loana, a former go-go girl.
For the French in New York, however, the Loft Story craze has become a growing source of frustration. My friends hang up on me when I call home during the viewing times. I feel like I missed out on the kind of drunken, mad party that usually has your friends gossiping for months and you feeling like a moron–except that in this case, my entire country attended. Even my father seems distracted by the fuss. A man who’d rather be caught eating at McDonald’s than watching prime-time TV, he mentioned Loft Story in one of his weekly e-mails. (Then again, he was bemused at how the country that had given the world the sophisticated movie hit Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie could also have produced this .)
Still, I’m fascinated. And though it’s something of a dirty little secret, I was happy to find affirmation at that French-favored hangout, Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. on Madison Avenue, during lunch on a recent Saturday. Sitting next to me were a French man and woman–she a resident, he a visitor–exchanging news about the homeland. Before the crabcakes had even made their way to the table, she asked hesitantly, “So, this Loft Story –have you seen it?”
The man, who later introduced himself as Jean-Pierre Leduc, a 62-year-old dealer in wines and spirits, had indeed seen it. “To me, it’s a non-event,” he said with a wave of the hand. “If people had a certain intellectual level in there, you could have interesting debates. But the level is so low!” He sighed. “It’s all, ‘Hey, how are you?’ ‘I’m all right, how are you ?'”
Mr. Leduc understood why broadcasters were interested in Loft Story . Money, he said. He understood the contestants–they’ll win a house (!). Loft Story ‘s viewers, he didn’t get.
“I’m a voyeur myself,” Mr. Leduc said. “If a couple is making love in the building across the street from yours, I won’t avert my eyes.”
He paused. “Well, if they’re a good-looking couple, that is. But there –” he said, rolling his eyes and referring to the loft across the ocean, “nothing. Not a thing. They talk, that’s all. I couldn’t watch more than five minutes.”
On a recent afternoon on a modest stage in the Lower East Side, John Perry Barlow posed a daunting vision for the future. A large-bodied man with more than a passing resemblance to the late actor Burl Ives, Mr. Barlow hypothesized that one day, the mild-mannered Internet we know today will be a “global metabrain, with every synapse on the planet continuously connected to every other synapse on the planet.” He also suggested that in the same future, humans will recognize the existence of non-carbon-based life forms–including, remarkably, wisdom itself–with their own human-like life cycles and health issues.
Mr. Barlow, a cattle rancher from Wy-oming who was formerly a lyricist and road manager for the Grateful Dead, was one of the 20 or so authorities who convened at the Angel Orensanz center on Norfolk Street last June 1 and 2 for “manTRANSforms,” a futurist seminar assembled by Sputnik, a seven-year-old New York market-research firm. Over two days, Mr. Barlow and other individuals billed as the “world’s most forward-thinking physicists, philosophers, authors and artists” attempted to answer that compelling, always-easy-to-unravel interrogative: Where are we headed as a species?
At least they tried. I asked Mr. Barlow–the co-founder of a futurist organization called the Electronic Frontier Foundation–if the manTRANSforms speakers shared a common thread. “Belief, clarity, originality and a willingness for other people to think that they’re full of shit,” he said, wagging his cowboy boots.
Some were more full than others. Among the participants was Brian Greene, the highly regarded “string” theorist, who suggested that we might unify Einstein’s theory of relativity with a quark-based microcosmos if only we would accept six, maybe seven, dimensions more than the three–length, width, depth–we currently live in. That sounded pretty grounded compared to the theories proffered by Max More, one of the first Brits to sign up for cryogenic freezing, who elaborated on a cyborg future in which we would merge our minds with computers “for increased mental capacity, and to avoid the vulnerability of a single, physically located storage unit.” (He meant our heads.)
The manTRANSforms audience wasn’t composed of goggle-eyed Klingon lovers; the $500 ticket price all but ensured a white-collar, Nokia-bearing crowd. Sputnik, after all, assists major companies with their future planning and marketing strategies (the conference was sponsored in part by the soft drink Sprite), and most of the attendees practice decidedly earthbound corporate techniques. And they weren’t especially willing to chat about their interest in futurism. Asked by a reporter about her attendance at manTRANSforms, Ivy Ross, a senior vice president at Mattel Inc., demurred, saying it was “very personal.”
But Mr. Barlow–who worried aloud about “Time Warner, Sony, Bertelsmann running barbed wire across the open prairies of the Internet”–didn’t sound worried about the suits in the audience. Sputnik, he said, “don’t just sell information here–they sell hipness, which is another matter. And corporations might pay for hipness, but–kind of like wisdom–it’s not something you can transact. Money changes hands and, as far as I can tell, everybody goes away happy. No harm done.”
Torre! Torre! Torre !
No recent moment has confirmed Yankee manager Joe Torre’s sacred-cow status in this town more than the silence that greeted his decision to bump Yankee starter Mike Mussina from the rubber match at Yankee Stadium against the great Boston Red Sox hurler Pedro Martinez on Monday, June 4.
Mr. Mussina, of course, had split his two previous starts against Mr. Martinez, winning one in New York, losing another in Boston, pitching superbly in both. But Mr. Torre decided that it would be unwise to ask Mr. Mussina to make a third high-intensity start against Boston in two weeks. “We have to look at the big picture,” Mr. Torre said. “We can’t get caught up in one game.”
Well, last time we checked, Mr. Mussina was making $88.5 million over six years–about $14.75 million per season. Dividing that figure by the approximately 35 starts a healthy Mr. Mussina can be expected to make, the pitcher’s per-appearance sum translates into a tidy $421,429 – enough to get a nice studio apartment in Manhattan, or at least decent seats to The Producers.
At $421,429 per, it’s not too much, frankly, to ask Mr. Mussina to put on his stockings and go mano a mano with Mr. Martinez a third straight time. Even Mr. Mussina seemed to recognize this. “I didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” the pitcher said about Mr. Torre’s decision in the June 5 Times .
Mr. Torre has earned the right to make such decisions, as his Yankee teams have collected World Series rings like Cracker Jacks. But his decision to rest Mr. Mussina reeked of gooey 21st-century management coddling, like in-house massages or mandatory nap time. (Plus, I had tickets to the game.)
Of course, the Yankees still won, so Joe’s a genius, yet again.