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French Artists Strike Out Against Evil American Empire

Théâtre Royal de Luxe, a street-theater company in France, decided to sue an evil American multinational giant, or so it seems. But there are complications: Royal de Luxe is at the confluence of political connections, government subsidies, Coca-Cola commercialism, perhaps even world domination—and certainly, awesome art.

While it performs a variety of street shows, Royal de Luxe is internationally known for its giant marionettes that are suspended from reinvented construction implements or fantasy vehicles. Actors in livery, perched on the implement or swarming around the giant’s ankles, pull on ropes to get the giant to open its eyes, move an arm, turn the head, walk step by halting step.... The shows have been a huge success around the world.

Jean-Luc Courcoult started the theater company in 1979 with a play on the streets of Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. Over the years, styles changed, and the company moved around a bit. In October, 1989, while in Toulouse, according to its own website, “the company received a call from the mayor of Nantes who offered subsidies and the use of a warehouse on the banks of the Loire River.” It was “an offer that could not be refused.”

And that generous mayor? Jean-Marc Ayrault, member of the Socialist Party. He’d been elected a few months earlier, and has since been reelected time and again, while also having been elected to the National Assembly. He who in June, 2012, became the Prime Minister of France. Voilà.

The subsidies of Nantes amount to €300,000 per year currently, just to make sure the theater company remains based in Nantes, though it performs all over the world. Its shows in Nantes are remunerated separately. Last summer, for example, Royal de Luxe produced “Rue de la Chute” with 15 performances—well, 14, one was cancelled—for which it received €800,000. Thus, in 2012, city subsidies amounted to €1.1 million (nearly $1.5 million).

But now it announced that it would sue Coca-Cola Company, whose brand is loved and despised around the world. Over Santa Claus. Or rather a Coca-Cola spot that aired starting in November. It featured a giant Santa Claus marionette.

Turns out, Coca-Cola had contacted Royal de Luxe last May. “They wanted a 12-meter-tall Santa Claus,” the company announced angrily. The 39-foot giant would have to be animated in the same manner of their other giants. But Royal de Luxe declined because it “always refused to serve a brand.” It only accepted corporate sponsorships.

Coca-Cola got the job done elsewhere. Fans, who saw the spot and thought that Royal de Luxe had produced it, expressed “their surprise and repudiated such a collaboration,” the company said. Maybe they wondered how an idealistic group of artists could sell their soul to the evil American marketing empire, or something. The whole team was shocked that Coca-Cola “could appropriate our creation this way,” groused executive producer Gwenaëlle Raux at the time. “I find it scandalous, it’s so flagrant. You recognize the scenographic writing of Jean-Luc Courcoult.”

Royal de Luxe rushed to explain “the deception” to its fans. But now, after some soul-searching concerning the spot—”a sad plagiarism of our giants,” they called it—Royal de Luxe, “faced with such a parasitic, highly injurious usurpation,” acted decisively and “instructed its lawyers to take legal action.”

Alas, Royal de Luxe has no right to Santa Claus, nor has it ever created a Santa Claus giant. And giant marionettes aren’t uncommon. So why does Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus suddenly raise Royal de Luxe’s ire?

The scenographic writing of Jean-Luc Courcoult. In other words, the show as a whole: the giant is trucked to location, the box opens theatrically, the giant rises, opens the eyes, makes gestures, moves the head, and begins walking step by halting step. There are differences, though: Royal de Luxe uses actors in livery who pull the cords that make the giant move; Santa Claus’s ropes were handled by actors who played enthusiastic people from the neighborhood.

Whether or not Royal de Luxe has a case, the symbolism stands out: a French theater company, subsidized by the taxpayer and connected to the Socialist Prime Minister, turned down a major production job because it didn’t want its soul to be sullied by commercialism. Then it lashed out at the worldwide symbol of American mass-marketing and capitalism, pitting its hand-crafted marionettes, its art, and perhaps a couple of lawyers, against a truly giant legal machine. A theme for their next show.

Eurocrats claim that periphery countries are on track to gain competitiveness because wages are falling. But the cost of labor also contains pension schemes, taxes, etc. that might increase with austerity measures. And other production factors, notably capital, are missing. Read.... The Fairy Tale of Rising Competitiveness in the Euro Periphery.

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Reader Comments (12)

Instead of sueing Coca-Cola they should get creative and have fun with the idea of being copied by a brand of such stature.

They should take the opportunity rather than turning it into another group nagging against the machine.

And how does this effect markets I wonder...
December 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterconcerned citizen
Artists of the world should organise a boycott of Coca Cola. When the share value dips they should start shorting the stock. Short the losers into oblivion, I say. The Hedgies would soon join the feeding frenzy. This could be an Artwork called "Collective Power Outage". Relevant to the Market too.
December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
They turn down corporate money because they are busy leeching off the taxpayer. Typical.
December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD
The Corporations have taxed you for everything you have @JamesD. They've taken your planet, your freedom, your ability to think, your dignity, the space in front of your eyes with their advertising, the future of your children, your democracy, your autonomy, your ability to organise collectively with your neighbours, your belief in social collective organisation itself. They fatten you up with their sugary pap and lull you into passivity with their corporate media mind control. They have turned a once great country into the world's biggest debtor. They have ensured that you are the serfs of a criminal cartel who extract tax in the trillions. Exxon Mobile takes more of your taxes than the entire food stamps system. The Banks will have your great grandchildren paying tax for their present criminal fraud. Turn your attention on them. Any civilised community will employ artists to uplift its people. It is a better use of collective wealth than oiling the wheels of fraud and gluttony. Coca Cola are disgusting.
December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
Roger - that's a powerful statement!
December 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
But so well stated. And oh-so true.
December 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDennyA
I read your article in French. Is the text above the original?
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMoggio
Looks like it's not the first time the concept has been exploited. I remembered a TV spot and looked it up;
I don't know if the guys at the character shop have an agreement. but it definitely looks a lot like the Royal de Luxe construct.
Roger Yates: kudos, very well said.
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGloppie
Moggio – Thanks for finding both versions. This is the original. The excellent (and big) French site translates some of my articles into French and republishes them. This article was one of them. Other websites might pick them up from there.
January 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
Max Keiser has suggested shorting coke - maybe he can lead the charge if Wolf Richter contacts him - or maybe Wolf is a fan of coke...
January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhenrik yde
Henrik - Max, Stacy, and I are in contact. I've been on Max's show twice. Links to both videos are on the right. Love his show. And I'm not a fan of Coke (I don't drink corn-syrupy stuff ... I stick to tap water, craft beer, wine, and fresh OJ). But I'd be careful shorting Coke (as much as it may "deserve" being shorted). There are just too many people addicted to this stuff. And while the Fed and other central banks are printing with all their might, stocks might not reflect reality.
January 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
Corporations cannot force you to buy their products.
Corporations cannot send you to war.
Corporations cannot put you in jail.
Corporations have not commited genocide throughout the world.
Corporations cannot demand anything from you.
Yet they are evil?

If corporations didn't provide products and services that people actually wanted for prices that are competitve in a free market, then they would go out of business. Unlike government, Coca Cola does not have a monopoly and, frankly, does far more good in this world than the French government. Take a look at their charitable contributions. Look at all of the people they employ. Look at all of the taxes they pay (more than some country's GDP). All without force and coersion of their customers.

On the other hand, the French socialist government is forcibly taking (stealing) money from hard working French people who have no choice but to submit (or go to jail), and giving it to artists who believe it is more noble to beg or steal from the government (ie the people) than earn earn their money. Pathetic.
January 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterReason&accountability

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