Emily in Paris , a series that does not skimp on Parisian clichés. AllocinatedMonika Siejka , University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) – University of Paris-Saclay
When the fireworks burst announcing the end of the Sense8 series at the Eiffel Tower on October 22, 2017, onlookers were surprised: they did not know that this was the filming of a scene from the Wachowski series. , streaming on Netflix. This episode is called "Amor vincit omnia" and if the title makes sense with the narrative frame of the series, it also illustrates a cliché that the audiovisual uses without counting, that of Paris capital of love.
Clichés and stereotypes get bad press: they often signify a lack of originality or creative laziness. This is why one can quickly pass from an amused smile – in front of the photographic frenzy of Chinese couples in wedding attire around the Eiffel Tower – to a strong annoyance. In the globalized imagination, Paris evokes the cliché of romantic love and we would like the city not to be reduced to that.
Play on clichés
The American series produced since the end of the 1990s take hold of the stereotypes of a city that symbolizes love, fashion or gastronomy, to better promote, on the contrary, the values of the American “home, sweet home”.
Thus, in the series Gilmore Girls (2000-2006) very anchored in Stars Hollow, a small imaginary town in Connecticut, Lorelei marries Christopher in Paris (S7 Ep7). However, this Paris, glimpsed with views of the Seine and a walk in the market, is shown as an unreal, almost false cliché, like the heroine's wedding. The hotel service is also mediocre in Paris, the French do not work like the Americans… we can't wait to go back to the United States!
Similarly in Sex and The City (1998-2004), Carrie Bradshaw wanders sadly through the city and calls her friend in New York to express her disappointment. She soils her pretty shoes on inevitable canine excrement and spreads out at full length at Dior because of the rain (S9 Ep19-20). Even if she finds love again on the Pont des Arts: can't wait to return to New York!
The Marvelous Miss Maisel (2017-2019) offers a romantic and bohemian Parisian incursion closer to the original cliché by inscribing it in the general tone of the series. This indeed plays with the stereotypes of the bohemian life of New York in the 50s and 60s in the service of the emancipation of its heroine. In season 2, no longer supporting the rigidity of her married life and New York social conventions, Midge's mother, Rose Weissman, leaves for Paris and rediscovers her taste for life. Gone to look for her, her husband will also transform. The husband's interpreter, Tony Shalhoub, comments :
“In Paris, they are getting younger, wearing looser clothes and drinking more! This city pushes them to let go. The love she exudes breathes new life into their relationship. »
Capital of love, Paris represents at the same time the place of rediscovered freedom and creativity. This strong nod to the cliché of Paris in the 1950s, a city of emancipation for Americans, is not devoid of subtlety and humour, since it encounters the parallel stereotype of an idealized New York. Nostalgia for the "good old days" feeds on clichés, the series tells us implicitly.
Geolocation of the stereotype
But what Paris is it? Many are exasperated by the recurrence of places, the conformism it expresses: the Seine, a few bridges, in particular that of the Arts (the little padlocks of love, now disappeared, invaded Instagram in their time, let us remember) , the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre. Not to mention the improbable routes and distances: take the metro at Abbesses and get off at Arts et Métiers , go in just a few steps from Montmartre to the Eiffel Tower...
In the name of dramatic efficiency, the time and places of fiction are constructed away from reality, even when they aim for a certain realism. You have to move quickly from one place to another of the action. The logistical and economic conditions of filming are also not unrelated to the production of stereotypes by the industry itself.
Interrupted during the pandemic, the continuous increase in filming in Paris has resumed with a vengeance, accounting for 102 feature films and 76 series , i.e. 7,000 working days . Tax credits and support funds aim to promote Paris and Île-de-France, as proclaimed by the slogan “Choose Paris” of the eponymous annual trade show. This represents almost 19,000 permanent jobs and an overall payroll of €1.9 billion, including temporary contracts. The fight against the relocation of filming is therefore strong and the competition between the sites very real.
It works the same way in the United States. Indeed, it should be remembered that the filming locations are sometimes disconnected from the locations staged by the series. It is thus in Hollywood studios that the three versions of Experts were shot, despite being located respectively in Las Vegas, New York and Miami. Dick Wolf, the creator of New York Police Judicial , also opposed the diktat of the Californian lights to shoot in New York, in order to give his series the gray atmosphere of the city. But for New York Police Blues Steven Bochco chose Hollywood, for a result hailed by critics and spectators. The impression of truth of a series is therefore not necessarily linked to its geolocation.
Emily in Paris: paroxysm of the cliché or efficiency of the dream?
From its launch in October 2020, Emily in Paris has met with worldwide success, matched only by the sarcasm that accompanies it in France. Its creator Darren Starr, who had already dreamed of a glamorous New York with Sex and The City, has nevertheless applied the same iconographic procedures. He chooses emblematic places (the bakery, the place de l'Estrapade, cafés on the terrace) and recurring walks (the quays, the bridges of the Seine, the illuminations). This time, it offers the American view of Paris of a young heroine with improbable outfits, the Instagram girl of Carrie Bradshaw in the #Post MeToo era. Infuriating the critics , the capital is both idealized and dilapidated, the Parisians arrogant and inhospitable. American clichés against Parisian clichés, the series plays with these oppositions which could recall those existing between the province and the capital. It has nevertheless generated a spectacular real estate craze from Anglo-Saxons and invites tourists on an Emily-in-Paris Tour , just as it had done for New York and Sex and The City . The dream is priceless.
Construction and deconstruction
One could even argue that, most of the time, the representation of a city makes sense precisely by combining stereotypes and actualizations of these same stereotypes. This is the case in the American series which closely associate the monuments of Washington and the presidential power, to the point of completely invading a credits like that of House of Cards . Miami combines a gleaming storefront with violent underlying criminality ( Miami Two Cops , Dexter ). New York is such a powerful symbol that the credits of The Sopranos simply play on the road that leaves the city for the suburbs of New Jersey to evoke the strength of the bond.
But it's a city little known to the general public from an iconographic point of view that won all the laurels: Baltimore, with the series The Wire . By refusing to pass moral judgement, David Simon and Ed Burns' series immerses the viewer in the open-air drug market in Baltimore and forces them to reject all associated stereotypes. In doing so, it offers a mirror reflecting an urban condition that goes beyond the very framework of the city and is addressed to everyone.
The same goes for Paris. This also explains the success in France and abroad of the Engrenages series since 2005. By choosing for its criminal investigations empty, fallow, abandoned spaces that oppose the Palais de Justice de la Cité or the neighborhoods of offices of lawyers in western Paris, the series scrutinizes a city that is both recognizable and unknowable, near and far. A city that is in the image of its characters and vice versa, articulating the stereotypes of places and heroes in a permanent shift.
Far from any binary judgment on stereotypes, the series therefore gain in richness by questioning them, sometimes digging into our memories to resuscitate old neighborhoods that have disappeared, such as the Palais de Justice from the time of the Île de la Cité, or the Quai des Orfèvres, which have housed so many detective series starting with Maigret.
Will Paris always be Paris?
Far from being fixed, the image of Paris is changing profoundly through the series. We could extend this reflection to the image of France elsewhere, that of the neighborhoods of Marseille ( Plus belle la vie ) to the migrant areas of Calais ( Years and Years ) which renews the perspectives of the stories.
No representation of Paris can therefore claim to give a unique and objective image of it. His stereotypes are dated, fragmented, they are sources of frustration or nostalgia. They also constitute a form of fictional heritage for any new writing, any new perspective.
In fact, they all participate in making Paris elusive, both “always” Paris and “never” Paris, fascinating creators again and again.
Monika Siejka , Teacher Researcher in storytelling, leadership and management, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) – University of Paris-Saclay