K. A. Wisniewski

Renaming the Streets of Paris

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My courses often integrate contemporary news stories and topics in memorialization and public culture.  With a chapter in my dissertation focused on hoaxes and after my recent post of selecting a woman to be portrayed on the ten dollar bill, the following story caught my eye.

Last week, a feminist group in France named Osez le Féminisme! transformed the streets of Paris by renaming them after notable French women.

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Overnight, the group, whose name translates as “Dare to be a Feminist,” created their own version of the iconic blue street plaques and stuck them over the “official” names.  The hoax further highlighted their campaign to honor as many women as men on Parisian streets by 2019.  At present, just two percent of streets are named after women.

One street, the Quai de la Tournelle near Notre Dame, was changed to the Quai de Nina Simone. The group’s hoax also paid tribute to record-holding sailor Florence Arthaud, pioneering lawyer Jeanne Chauvin, eighteenth-century mathematician and physicist Émilie du Châtelet, and American geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock.

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In a statement released on their website, Osez le Féminisme! said: “On the anniversary of 45 years of the Women’s Liberation Movement, Osez le Féminisme! challenges Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo to address the need to celebrate exceptional, and too often overlooked, women, in public spaces.”

“Street names attest to our history: they belong to a political choice, revealing the values that the city wishes to embody . . . While men honoured on street signs are legion, only 160 women – mostly wives or daughters of famous men – are noted in Paris. Yet our history is full of scientists, writers, activists, women politicians, artists, revolutionaries, that deserve the recognition of this country.”

Sadly, few works at present examine hoaxes such as these, and I believe we need to begin analyzing such activities throughout history via a semiotic approach allowing us to give credit, weight, to them, and asking how they work to interrogate, expose, or thwart cultural values.  Of course, we’ll also need a system to categorize the hoax, since Taco Bell’s purchase of the Liberty Bell and the more recent controversy over poet Michael Derrick Hudson’s use of the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou warrant alternative models.

 

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2015 by in activism, Comedy, hoax, public culture and tagged , , , .
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