Lame Pop Icons: France’s (Other) Cultural Exception

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This kind of mind-boggling violence couldn’t happen anywhere but in France. Seriously.

On July 27, the imitator of a dead crooner no one outside France cares about stabbed a rival impersonator of a decrepit rock star few people beyond French borders have ever heard of (and have run from, ears plugged, if they have). Call it the Gallic Celebrity Death Match, and heed its chilling lesson: the French not only adore some of the lamest home-grown pop figures on the planet, but also live among people whose dedication to mimicking those cultural chodes now represents a public menace in more ways than the obvious one.

The regional daily paper  l’Est Republicain reports a man in the eastern city of Epinal known for his impersonation of defunct French crooner Serge Gainsbourg raced from his house Saturday and planted a knife in the throat of another local man–this one“famous” for imitating the seriously withered geriatric “rocker” Johnny Hallyday (the real Hallyday being France’s national inside  joke, who’s oxymoronically referred to by fans with arrested perceptions of time and hipness as the “idol of the young” and  the “French Elvis”. How does that work unless everyone in the country is over 50?). L’Est Republicain goes on to say the wounded “Johnny” then fled the attacking “Serge” in search of help among neighbors probably wondering how a dead guy got the best of a just-old guy. It’s still unknown, however, whether sham fans of the two faux singers then staged a mock gang fight to defend their avatar-heroes as the violence went viral. (Actually, it is known: they didn’t, probably due to being too few in number to even box, much less constitute a “gang”.)

Why the real bloodshed between two make-believe celebrities? Both men were known to have been in competition for the understandably rare work available for people who ape seriously fungoid French pop icons at local events. But their cordial rivalry became increasingly hostile in recent weeks after “Johnny” landed a day job as a municipal gardener in the Epinal neighborhood “Serge” lives in. Gradually, their  on-going trash talk about one another’s act escalated to the point where real pride over their appropriated identities exploded. On July 27, incensed at the mocking of how he portrayed his musical idol, “Gainsbourg” dashed from his house and smote “Johnny” in the thorax with a kitchen knife–causing “Johnny”, no doubt, to suffer for his art as much as his audiences when he performs.

The Est Republicain story doesn’t answer the artistically burning question of which of the two antagonists can claim bragging rights to having most accurately replicated the embarrassing shticks of the risible performers they sought to embody–and whom only the French can love (literally, it would seem). Instead, that article remains focused on the human tragedy that their passionate obsessions drove them towards. “Johnny” remains in the hospital, is expected to recover, but may never play the air guitar disguised as a nearly 70-year old man in a leopard-spotted thong again. “Serge” has been charged with attempted homicide, and won’t be playing any tough rooms this side of the Epinal criminal  court for quite a while. And somewhere back in the U.S., Jerry Lewis has to be wondering now whether being a quirky pop luminary revered in France can really be such a good thing after all.